Toddlerhood is a magical stage. You love everything about your cute little toddler. But you get totally exasperated when your toddler is throwing a tantrum. And tantrums are almost inevitable.
Your toddler is bound to throw tantrums sometimes. And while it is easiest to react to your child’s tantrum with a tantrum of your own, it is important that you don’t.
Below is a list of things you must not do when your little one is throwing a tantrum.
Do not do these 8 things when your toddler throws a tantrum
Do not feel embarrassed and judged –
Tantrums almost always happen in public places like grocery stores, malls, airports and during school drop offs and pickups. And as your child screams and shouts – you can feel all the eyes around you boring into you and judging you for being a bad mother. As difficult as it may be – ignore this wave of embarrassment.
Your two-year old is not throwing a tantrum to be difficult and embarrass you. Your child is only trying to tell you something. She/he is either tired or hungry or needs connection and attention. The screaming and shouting and lying on the floor is all because she/he does not have the communication skills and vocabulary required to convey what she wants in words.
What to do
Listen. Your child is trying to say something. Don’t try to shut her/him up because you are embarrassed. Listen to your child with the aim of understanding what your child wants and why with patience and genuine interest. Once you have heard what your child has to say – repeat it to her/him in clear words with a simple answer. In most cases – just being heard and understood calms toddlers down.
Also Read How to Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem
Do not give your child a time out –
One of the most popular methods of dealing with tantrums is – giving the toddler a time out. However a time out may not work in many situations especially if the child is throwing the tantrum because she/he wants more attention.
Most tantrums are thrown by toddlers in situations where their parents are focused on other things for a long time – such as at super market or an airport. At such times – the parent is classically ignoring what the child is saying or asking for in order to attend to other more important things. This makes the child feel unimportant and ignored. Finally, in a desperate attempt to get the parent’s attention – the toddler throws a tantrum.
What to do
When a child wants attention – it is easiest to deal with the tantrum by giving the child the attention she/he wants. Stop what you are doing. Pull your child into a hug and calm her/him down with soothing talk. Reassure your child with “I love you” and admit to your child that you are sorry you have been too busy to listen and that you are all ready to listen now.
Do not attempt to calm your child down with junk food
When a toddler is throwing a tantrum – distracting the child and calming her/him down with a chocolate or a cookie or some other junk food seems like the best idea in the world. However, it is probably the worst idea in the world.
Many tantrums are caused by hunger. Hunger is essentially a drop in the blood glucose level to a point where the brain is unable to function normally – and hence panics and makes the child behave abnormally. When a child is given a junk food item like a chocolate or a juice to drive away the tantrum – the child calms down for a few minutes because of the blood sugar spike caused by the junk food. The spike is quickly followed by another blood sugar crash – which leads to another tantrum and craving for some more junk food.
What to do
It is best to avoid tantrums by giving children healthy wholesome meals at frequent intervals. If the brain has enough glucose to run on – and is not subjected to repeated blood sugar spikes and crashes caused by junk food – your toddler is unlikely to throw tantrums. Carry healthy food with you if you are stepping out.
Don’t begin scolding your child there
When your 3-year-old is screaming and shouting – it is natural to feel like shouting back at your toddler. But never do that.
Your toddler is in emotional overdrive when she/he is throwing a tantrum. She/he is most likely feeling overwhelmed by her/his own emotions and that is the cause for the tantrum. She/he is confused and upset because of sadness or anger because she/he did not get something she/he wanted and that is what is causing the tantrum. Adding to your own turbulent emotions to your child’s emotions is completely unhelpful and unproductive.
What to do
Emotions can only be calmed by rational thought. Help your child to calm down and think. Explain to your child why she or he is feeling emotionally overwhelmed in simple words. Say something like – “I know you are feeling upset because we couldn’t stay at the park for longer. But you know Mamma needs to cook before everyone starts feeling hungry. So let’s go home and play a game together as I cook.”
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Don’t carry hurt feelings and grudges for hours and days
When your toddler has thrown a tantrum in front of people who are important to you or at an important occasion when good behaviour was expected and desired, it can be easy to feel upset for a long time. Many parents nurture grudges against their toddler for days for embarrassing them at important moments. This however is useless and can also be counterproductive.
Kids between 2 to 5 have very short memories. They live in the moment. As soon as the reason for their tantrum is addressed – which may be the lack of food or sleep or attention – they instantly forget all about the tantrum. However, when they see their parent upset they get confused and unhappy and scared. And this can lead to another tantrum. The tantrum is easily forgotten but your reaction to the tantrum when amplified and extended over several hours and days – it can impact your child negatively.
What to do
Once the tantrum is over – just let it go. Do not hold a grudge against your child for embarrassing you. Understand that no toddler throws a tantrum to make life difficult for the parents. Toddlers throw tantrums because they are unable to express themselves and are physically and mentally incapable of doing all that they desire. Once the tantrum is over calmly think of the cause of the tantrum – which could be hunger fatigue or over stimulation and try to avoid that in the future. Also, give your child all the love and attention that your child may have missed during the tantrum.
Don’t give in to unreasonable demands
As children grow older they discover that when they throw tantrums in front of a lot of people and embarrass their parents – the parents quickly give in even to their most unreasonable demands. Once they know that they can arm twist their parents into submission with their tantrums – they repeatedly throw tantrums in such situations.
As a parent it is most important to be consistent in your interactions with your child. You are your child’s pillar. When you are uncertain – when you give in under pressure – you frighten and confuse your child with your inconsistency.
What to do
Be firm and consistent in your decisions and expectations. Do not allow your child’s bad behaviour to change your mind or your decision. Always remember however, to be reasonable and kind with your expectations. Do not expect the behaviour of a 5-year-old from a child who is just 2 years old. And you will be fine.
Don’t blame yourself
It is easy to fall into the miserable pit of guilt about your inadequacy as parent when your child throws a tantrum. When your toddler is throwing a tantrum and everyone around you looks at you with disapproving and accusing eyes, it is easy to start blaming yourself for your child’s tantrum and behaviour. Blame however is unhelpful – especially when you direct it at yourself.
Toddler tantrums have two components. Toddlers throw tantrums when their basic needs like food and sleep and attention are not met with. Toddlers also throw tantrums because they do not have a vocabulary large enough to adequately express what they want to say.
What to do
Identify the trigger for your toddlers tantrum. Is it hunger, of fatigue or over stimulation. Make a plan to reduce this in future. Also endeavor to build your toddler’s vocabulary and teach your child how to use language to say what she/he wants in a socially acceptable manner.
Punishment does not work, especially for toddlers.
Toddlers are unable to connect actions with consequences – and so punishing a toddler is useless. By the time the 4-year-old has undergone the punishment she/he has in all probability – completely forgotten about the tantrum that she/he threw and is therefore unable to connect the two things.
What to do –
Do not confuse discipline with punishment. Discipline is teaching the child the ways of the world. To discipline your child you must lead the way and set a good example. Do not scream and shout when things do not go according to your plan. Do not hit. Show your child that problems are sure to crop up – desires will not always be met – and at these times it is important to focus on problem solving rather than screaming and shouting.
So – what should you do when your child throws a tantrum? Respond to your toddler’s tantrum. Do not react to it.
How to respond to tantrums?
Remember – When your toddler throws a tantrum – it is most important to remember that this temper tantrum or meltdown is not intentional. It is not a deliberate attempt to trouble you, embarrass you or manipulate you.
Understand – Just like you – your toddler wants to behave well too. Your toddler wants you to be happy so that you love her/him more. But your toddler has a tiny incapable body, an incomplete brain and a poor vocabulary and underdeveloped communication skills. And for all these reasons – your toddler is easily overwhelmed by situations and circumstances that do not affect you. And when your toddler cannot contain her/his emotions any more – she/he throws a tantrum.
Discover – When your toddler throws a tantrum – don’t criticize the behaviour and become a distant, disapproving parent. Instead try to discover the cause for your child’s tantrum so that you can prevent it in future.
Notice – If you look carefully you will discover a pattern. Notice. Is your toddler throwing tantrums at bedtime? Is your toddler throwing tantrums before school?
If your toddler throws bedtime tantrums – it may be because your child is too tired. Or because your child started playing too late and did not have enough play time before going to bed.
If your child is throwing tantrums before school – it could be because your child has not had sufficient sleep the previous night. Or because your child is hungry because of not eating breakfast. The tantrum could also be caused by separation anxiety or fear. These can be overcome by patiently explaining to the child – what to expect and allaying fears with examples from real life.
Every tantrum in every child must be examined and analysed in the context in which it is happening. The endeavor should be to prevent the circumstances that lead to the tantrum.
Stamping out the tantrum after it has started by giving a blanket treatment like a time out – is unhelpful and can only lead to mounting frustration for both the parent and the child.