Dealing with tantrums

It’s a situation every parent dreads, when your usually sweet-natured toddler suddenly becomes a screaming, yelling pint-sized terror.

Nothing will test your patience more than a toddler in the midst of a full-blown tantrum. Knowing these meltdowns are part of childhood development will be no consolation when your child has morphed into a wailing demon – usually in public.

Toddlers are learning to assert their independence, but it can be difficult for them to deal with strong feelings.

They don’t have the vocabulary to tell you they’re upset about something, so they show you the only way they know how – by having a tantrum.

The best way of dealing with meltdowns is to try to prevent them happening in the first place. This can be easier said than done, but recognising the signs that your child is about to lose it can give you time to try to avert an outburst.

Avoiding tantrums

  • Act quickly to distract your child. If you can take their mind off what’s upsetting them they may forget why they were on the verge of losing it.

  • Try to understand why they’re having a tantrum. Sometimes it’s due to a problem that’s relatively easy to fix, such as hunger, or it may be because they’re overstimulated, and need to be moved to calmer surroundings.

  • Have realistic expectations. It’s very hard for a two-year-old to spend 30 minutes in a trolley looking at all kinds of bright, colourful and exciting things on display but not being able to touch or play with any of them. Combine this with being hungry, tired or bored and you have all the ingredients for a meltdown. So be prepared. Shop as quickly as possible, let them hold some items that can’t be damaged if they drop them and have a snack on hand or a toy they can play with.

  • If they’re upset or sad about something – their favourite toy is broken or they’ve had to say goodbye to a grandparent – offering a comforting cuddle may be all that’s needed in order to calm them.

  • If they’re angry or frustrated, try to offer a solution they can understand. For example, if they’re about to throw a wobbly because you won’t buy them a particular toy at the shops, remind them about a similar toy they have in their bedroom, and talk about how much fun they can have playing with this when you get home. This may not work if they’ve started to melt down, but it’s worth a try.

Dealing with tantrums

  • If they’ve reached the point of no return, you may have to forget about trying to reason or negotiate with them. They’re unlikely to listen and it may wind them up even more. They may respond better to being put in time out.

  • Remember children are individuals and what works for one may not necessarily work for another.

  • Get to know what works with your child. Some kids will only calm down if you wrap your arms around them, hold them close and rock them or speak soothingly to them until the tantrum has subsided. other children hate to be touched like this and it will only make them even more furious. Ignoring them may be more successful.

  • Don’t shout or scream back at your child, this may only wind them up further. Plus, they learn from copying your behaviour and if you yell back at them they will come to the conclusion shouting at each other is the only way of dealing with their strong feelings.

  • Some kids respond well to the silent treatment, especially if they’re throwing a tantrum because they want to dictate how a situation will turn out. If you ignore them they may eventually realise throwing a tantrum doesn’t get them what they want. However, make sure you don’t ignore them for too long and that you’re ignoring their bad behaviour, not them.

  • If you can remove your child from the situation, do it. Pick them up and carry them away, telling them in a firm but not angry voice that you don’t like their behaviour. Don’t go on too much and once they start behaving properly, make sure you remember to praise them for being good.

  • Do not give in to their demands. This is very tempting when your child is rolling around on the floor in the shopping mall, bellowing, “I want those lollies,” but if you give in and buy the sweets, all you’re doing is teaching them they can get anything what they want simply by throwing a tantrum.

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