Toddler tantrums – why they happen and how to deal with them
It was never this hard before!
Around the age of 18-24 months, toddlers begin to experience a whole new range of emotions that they aren’t yet able to fully understand. The slightest little thing can set them off instantly, while you live in fear of the fireworks. Depending on your child’s speech development, she may not even be able to communicate properly, which only adds to her feelings of frustration and helplessness. Your toddler is not in charge – you are – but for the first time, your authority is being questioned and challenged. It’s time to roll up your sleeves and prepare for battle.
The control factor
Your little one needs clear boundaries in her life, because without them she’s growing up in free fall. For the sake of feeling safe and secure, she needs to know that you’ll always look after her. She also needs to know who’s boss. So from the very outset, show her that you won’t be persuaded by any amount of pleading, screaming or carrying-on. Even if it happens in public.
If you have set a rule that results in a noisy outburst, stick to it calmly. Do your utmost not to appear shaken by your child’s behavior, and never give in for the sake of keeping the peace – this only sends out a clear message that you don’t mean what you say.
Many tantrums are caused by your toddler’s growing independence conflicting directly with what she is and isn’t allowed to do. So gradually give her more control over her life – allowing her to pick her outfit, her hairstyle or her sandwich filling will help develop her sense of self. Likewise allowing her to go out in the rain without her much detested coat will actually teach her more about how mommy knows best in the long run – without having to lay down yet another rule (plus you can always hide said coat in your bag)!
Prevention can be better than a cure
Your toddler’s environment may well influence her behavior. Hunger and tiredness can easily cause a mini explosion, so provide her with healthy snacks in between regularly spaced meals and make sure she gets enough sleep. Keep an eye on her hydration levels too, as thirsty toddlers can be just as crotchety.
If a particular ‘friend’ causes your child’s behavior to worsen, consider taking a little break from social occasions that might set off or inspire tantrums. If she hates surprises, tell her what is going to happen ahead of time, discuss any concerns she may have, and give her a couple of gentle reminders if you think she’s forgotten. If you suspect that tantrums are arising because of jealousy (perhaps she feels a sibling is getting more attention), then set aside special one-to-one time when you can show her exactly how important she is to you.
Coping mechanisms for your toddler
Losing control can be unsettling, so after she is calm, talk to your toddler about her feelings and make some suggestions about how she could handle things differently. Always encourage her to use words rather than actions and explain that no one will listen to her while she is screaming. Admit that you sometimes feel angry too, but that you have learned to express this in a different way. Teach her to step back, take a deep breath and count to ten before reacting, and try to explain how tantrums make other people feel.
Coping mechanisms for you
Time outs aren’t just for kids. If you’re concerned that you’ve reached your limit, first make sure your child is safe and then walk away for a few moments to take a breather. Go to another room and regain your composure. The fact that you have left might well demonstrate to your toddler that her actions can have unexpected and unpleasant consequences, and shock her into silence.
It will get better. You don’t see seven-year-olds throwing themselves on the ground and wailing about how unfair it is that they have to tie their own shoelaces – their friends would laugh them out of town! Tantrums are a passing phase that every parent must endure to some extent – it’s called the Terrible Twos for a reason. So take heart in the fact that it won’t last forever. Promise.