We often think of tantrums as an inevitable consequence of having a toddler, but you can reduce the tears and over-the-top reactions with consistent and creative parenting.
Even with your best parenting, all kids will have the odd tantrum. They are a natural reaction to a world built for big people, with boundaries in place that little people don’t understand, and especially when they don’t have the words and skills to express their desires.
If you can’t say, “but Mum, I want to play a while longer” the reaction is likely to be, “WAAAAHHHHH!”.
10 tips for reducing toddler and parental tantrums
1. Model the behaviour you want
Mainly, don’t have tantrums yourself in front of the child. If you need to go outside to kick a brick wall or scream, do it. If you lose your cool, your kid will think that’s a great new game – getting Mum/Dad to lose their cool. It also shows the child you think this is acceptable behaviour.
Show your children you are open to new ideas and events, not easily disappointed, and flexible – for the most part, they will follow suit. If you have calm, rational reactions to challenging situations and persevere in the face of difficulty, your child will learn to be calm and persevering, too.
2. Don’t give in once you’ve said “enough” or “don’t touch”
And think very carefully before you say anything, so you NEVER go back on your word. Once you have allowed something, even once, your toddler will think it is now and always an allowable activity. If your child knows you will change your mind easily, they will push for this.
Stick to your own rules without making a big fuss over it.
3. Give incentives
When you have to leave a place or finish an activity, give the incentive of a next thing to look forward to. “We have to leave now” is nowhere near as enticing as “we have to leave now so we can do some finger-painting at home!”.
Keep your eye on the prize – reiterate the incentive often (elaborate if you need to, but don’t change it) until you achieve it.
4. Give them warning
Give a ‘five-minute warning’ before nappy changes, activity changes and leaving a place your child is enjoying. Say WHY these things are necessary (“We need to change your nappy so you don’t have a wet bum, we need to go so we can get to Grandma’s”).
5. Carefully choose your response to tantrums
Save your ‘big reactions’ to good behaviour; kids love to please us, and consistent praise of good deeds, words and actions brings more of them. Some small transgressions are best ignored, others with a gentle reprimand.
Tantrums tend to ensue when toddlers are hungry, tired or over/under-stimulated, and can be avoided by paying close attention to your child’s needs and providing snacks, quiet time or a nap before they realise they even need these things. And don’t overload toddlers with choices and activities at these times.
6. Keep it simple
When giving directions to your toddler, use simple language you know they understand. Repeat your directions a few times or change the words you use if they don’t get it. Touch your child on the shoulder and say their name before you give directions so you know you have their attention.
Rather than expecting them to pick up the blocks on the floor or put away their shoes when they are engrossed in an activity, choose transitional times between activities for these kind of tasks.
7. Set important boundaries
Some things are annoying for toddlers as they are objects their parents often touch, like hot mugs of coffee, but which are totally out-of-bounds to them. Make your life easier by ALWAYS watching where you put your coffee, not ever letting young children play with cups and mugs (it’s much harder to go back if you allow it even once), and teaching WHY it is important not to touch …”the mug is HOT.’
Cultivate in-built instant reactions to “Hot!” and “Stop!”. Hot means keep your hands away. Stop means go no further, or freeze where you are.
8. Use positive directions/redirection
Take the focus AWAY from the object/activity you want to dissuade, and focus on something new that is allowed. Don’t harp on about the disallowed activity (this brings the focus back to it), make the allowed activity/object seem new and exciting.
Get down to their level and look them in the eyes when you speak. If you are showing them something and want their attention, tap, scratch or use noise to show them where you want their attention.
9. Teach them the right words
If your child wants a drink or is hungry and is using crying, whining noises or anything other than words to tell you, explain the way to ask for what you think the child wants — “yes, I want juice” or “no, I don’t want it” etc. My toddler thinks this is a great game, watching Mum talk to herself like this, and he finds it so funny that is defuses most whinge-attacks.
10. Tell the child how to, rather than NOT to, do something
Say “pat the dog gently” or “glass can break – touch it like this”. Toddlers need experience of how to do things and if told constantly NOT to do things, their frustration levels rise and tantrums ensue. Be patient when instructing your child – then count to five and be patient again!
I hope these tips can go some way towards helping communication between you and your toddler, and keep toddler tantrums to a minimum.
Keep on parenting with love, gentleness, compassion and consistency and you will bring positive change to the life of your family.