Manage Meltdowns: Tips for Handling Toddler Tantrums

Learn how to handle your toddler’s tantrums with patience and understanding

Toddlerhood is an adorable stage of childhood – their big eyes and chubby cheeks, the sweet way they mispronounce words, their unbridled joy over the simplest pleasures life has to offer.

Then there are the tantrums – their intense passion isn’t reserved solely for simple pleasures. Toddlers can be loud, relentless, and have absolutely no shame about embarrassing their parents in public. It can be challenging, to say the least. The good news is that this behavior is temporary and with patience, perseverance, and a variety of tools to manage outbursts, you can handle your toddler’s tantrums with ease.

Quit the fit

Toddlers learn about their world in a way that’s similar to how scientists work through an experiment. They test, observe, revise or repeat, and draw conclusions based on results. Unlike scientists, they’re dealing with the additional challenge of having a limited ability to communicate and they have very little concern for potential outcomes.

Try to remember that tantrums are part of their testing process; they’re learning. Also, your reaction to their behavior is an interesting part of the experiment for them – what effect does their behavior have on yours? How much power do they actually have?

Toddlers are at a strange phase where they’re exploring their independence and are uncertain of the set boundaries. Sometimes tantrums are going to happen; here’s how you can help.

Remain calm

In the heat of the moment, it’s incredibly difficult not to show your emotions. However, sometimes the reaction is more important than the outcome when it comes to a toddler’s tantrum. If you show that you’re emotionally affected, they recognize that tantrums hold some measure of power. Even if your blood is boiling, stay calm – speak in an even tone, maintain an indifferent expression, get down on your child’s level, make eye contact, and acknowledge how they feel. Using a quiet tone of voice may require your child to stop being loud to hear from you. Try to stay patient and remember that it will all end soon.

Maintain focus

When a tantrum occurs in public, it’s easy to get caught up in the possible opinions and judgments of the people around you. Don’t worry about that – this only leads to additional emotions, and honestly, people either understand or they don’t. You have no control over others. Assume everyone has experienced it and recognizes that you’re doing your best, and focus on your child instead. Stay in control and work on soothing, distracting, or removing your child from the situation that’s caused the behavior. Try to refocus your child’s energy on a task, instead, such as: “Can you find a pen and paper in my purse? I need your help making a list.” The task doesn’t matter; the change of direction does.

Choose your battles

You don’t want to give in all the time, but you also don’t want to engage in a power struggle over something that’s unimportant. If the answer is no, try to delay the request instead – for instance, tell them yes but not until after dinner.

The best way to enjoy your toddler is to keep their tantrums in perspective. Appreciate their desire to learn by pushing boundaries, stay patient, remain committed to the task at hand, and engage wisely. Tantrums are inevitable when you’re raising a toddler; rise above the behavior and remember that toddlerhood and its tantrums are both temporary.

The Virginia Infant & Toddler Specialist Network helps improve the quality of care for infants and toddlers through extensive resources, services, and education for caregivers. Learn more about how we can help you improve the standard of care.

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