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The Best Tips I’ve Found for Dealing with Tantrums

by krismkoch

Ok, so I admit it. I got cocky. I thought I had this whole tantrum thing on lock. I read a book that was really insightful, and thought I knew how to manage the whole tantrum thing and that James was growing out of them. But recently, they’ve come back with a vengeance, and I’m wondering if they ever really got better, or I just wasn’t around for most of them (#workingmomproblems) and then using bribery to avoid them (#workingmomguilt).

Honestly, with a new baby coming, a challenging job that often spills into my home time, trying to close on a house and renovate before baby, and everything else on my plate, I just wanted to check the toddler discipline box and call it a day. But I realize that’s not fair to James and that this is an ongoing thing. Sadly, my job wth him doesn’t go away because we have another one coming or because I am too busy with work to think about healthy meals/discipline/potty training, but I am not proud to admit that recently it has, and I’ve been so exhausted that I’ve let a lot go ā€” potty training on some weekends because we were traveling or I didn’t want to deal; healthy eating because I was too tired to cook or more likely, he wouldn’t eat the healthy food I made and I didn’t want him to starve so I let him have cheddar bunnies and a frozen waffle for dinner; tantrums because I didn’t have the energy to figure out a new method of dealing or I was too frustrated to figure out the real root of the problem (usually that he wants my attention and I’m on my phone trying to work at the same time).

I woke up this morning feeling really guilty about it all after a weekend of not being particularly proud of all the ways I dropped the ball. I know that I’m being really hard on myself and I keep telling myself that I’m doing the best I can, but it doesn’t feel like it. It certainly didn’t when we were at dinner with my husband’s family and our son was running all over the place like a madman, demanded the iPad and then threw it, demanded ice cream cone and cookies (it was a buffet and the desserts were out in full view) despite not eating any of the more nutritious dinner choices and less nutritious choices (fries) I offered him, and just was being an all-around crazy tyrant. In fairness, he was exhausted. I took him off schedule to drive up to the lake on Friday night so Andrew could go fly fishing in the morning and then things just got off schedule and then Dakota kept waking us up all night barking at deer and it was just a total clusterfuck, some of which was out of my control. Top that off with the fact that I was exhausted and I snapped more than I care to admit both at James and Andrew, and just ignored a lot of bad behavior because I didn’t know how to deal and didn’t have the energy to stay up late reading about how to fix it.

Bottom line: I woke up feeling like the worst mom on earth. But I don’t have time to feel guilt right now. There’s just too much that we need to get done in the next few months, and I can’t put mommying on hold while I figure out how to do it better. Part of it is there’s so much advice out there, and it’s hard to know what to do and then some of it works sometimes and not others and in the heat of the moment, it’s hard to remember which advice to take and to take it rather than getting desperate or frustrated. So… I decided to reread all the advice I had gotten, been trying, and been given and narrow it down to the best advice that I’ve found actually works for dealing with toddler tantrums.

Walk away

If your toddler hits you, say “Ouch that hurts. Hitting hurts. We don’t hit. Iā€™m going to give myself some space until you are ready to xyz”. Then walk away and ignore them until they are done. If your child is hitting or biting you, you can also get up and say, “I am going into the other room now, because I don’t want to play with you when you hit/bite.”

Give them a place to cool off

If they’re throwing a tantrum and being destructive, you can say, “Do you need a break to cool off in your room/crib/quiet corner?” Yes, it’s basically the equivalent of a time-out, but a) they’re in on it and b) it’s giving them the space to cool off and calm down in a less punitive and combative way.

If something is thrown or used as a weapon, take it away. 
No threats. Just take it away. They can get it back at a later time and yes, they’ll throw a tantrum, but there needs to be consequences and when they engage in dangerous or destructive behavior, it needs to be stopped right there and then.

Find out the root cause

Tantrums are often signs of being overtired, hungry, over-stimulated, etc. If you look out for the signs, then you can think about what’s causing them and fix it. Like yesterday, I should have realized that James was way overly tired, and left early to let him nap. Sometimes you can’t do anything about it though. He wasn’t going to crawl under the table and nap while the rest of us ate, but at least I could have been more empathetic to his behavior and towards myself. As much as possible, trying to prevent those things helps, so sticking to a schedule really helps and making contingency plans for when you’re off schedule can help too.

Acknowledge why they’re mad/upset

At the end of the day, tantrums are pretty understandable. They have big emotions, don’t have the tools to necessarily deal with them, and have so little control. All they can do when you take something away or do something they don’t like is scream over it, or so it may seem to them. An important tactic I’ve learned is to acknowledge that James is upset and state why. “James is mad. James wants the iPad”. It will usually calm him down for a sec, but the trouble I’ve found with this method is that if he doesn’t get what he wants after I acknowledge it, he goes back to throwing a fit. That’s when I usually try distracting with something else. (“You can’t have the iPad but let’s read a story, or we can go to the park.”) Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Remember: This too shall pass
One of the most helpful tips i got is to remember that this is totally normal and kids go through periods where they throw a ton of tantrums, they don’t and then they do again. Remember it’s not forever and it will get better. …

Stick to your guns

This is really hard because sometimes you just want it to stop, or you want to go or you don’t want to deal with the tantrum that will ensue, but toddlers are testing their boundaries. If they learn they can get away with something by throwing a tantrum, they’ll continue to do it. If you threaten to take away a toy if they hit the dog with it again, you have to take it away. If you tell them they have to get in the stroller if they want to go to the park, wait for them to get into the stroller before you take them to the park. It’s hard, frustrating, and sometimes seems futile, but it’s important to follow through and for them to learn that there are consequences and they can’t get what they want by misbehaving.

Don’t get caught in a power struggle

It can be frustrating and you can be tempted to force them to get dressed/use the potty/get in the stroller, but trying to reason with a crazy, tantrum-throwing toddler is tough if not impossible. Also, I try to think about how they must feel ā€” no one wants to be forced to do something. So unless it’s to keep them away from danger or something they just have to do, try to get them to buy in. Make it a game, bribe with a reward you feel comfortable with, refuse to go somewhere or do something they like until they do it, walk away and tell them you’ll be there when they’re ready to get dressed/read stories/take a bath, etc.

Model alternate behavior

When they hit, gently block them or grab their arms, and then show them how to touch gently. Gently stroke their face or arm and say “gentle”.

Try deep breaths

This is for both you and your child. Encourage your child to take some deep breaths to calm down and show them how to breathe in and out.

Don’t give them attention

This plays into walking away. If you try to soothe or placate too much, they’ll learn to throw a tantrum every time they want attention or something to go there way, so walking away and ignoring when possible (they’re not a danger to themselves or others and you can bare it) works better long term. It”s hard especially when you’re in public, but try to avoid bribing them with a toy, candy, etc. or trying to placate them with hugs or yelling. Just ignore. If you’re in public and its getting out of hand, you can restrain them in the stroller or shopping cart or just remove them from the situation and take them home or somewhere that they can cool down.

Be consistent

This is really the most important. It’s hard especially when you’re tired or exhausted but if you’re consistent, they’ll learn the consequences for their behavior and that they can’t get away with it, or get what they want from throwing tantrums. Remember: You are teaching them how to deal with frustrations. Just like sleep training, it’s tough and can even feel heartbreaking, but it’s actually in their best interest.

Be present

Often tantrums can be a way to get attention. It’s so hard, but when you’re with them, be with them ā€” sans phone and other distractions. Give them some one on one play time each day where you focus your attention on them and show them how important they are. Investing time in your child will result in better behavior overall. Sometimes tantrums are really just a sign that they want to be cuddled, loved, played with.

Any other good tips for dealing with toddler tantrums? Please share!

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