Ahhh, tantrums! Whether we’re dealing with the terrible twos, a threenager, or much older, throwing a tantrum is one of the most annoying, frustrating, and frankly, infuriating things our children can do. As I’ve worked through them with my toddler, I’ve envisioned myself kicking and throwing things in my head. And I’m naturally pretty calm and even-keeled! How are you supposed to stop tantrums without losing your cool? I’ve learned a lot of tricks that have taken our tantrums down to almost zero, and helped to take the edge off my emotional response.
Stop Tantrums Before They Start
- Make sure your child is getting enough sleep. We put our daughter to bed at the same time every night, except for occasional special events. And she “naps” two hours every day. Sometimes she’ll sleep the entire time, and other times she’ll quietly play in her bed. I don’t care what she’s doing as long as she’s logging that quiet time. On the rare occasion that she doesn’t get adequate sleep, I can tell a difference in her temperament. She’s more easily frustrated, and much quicker to spiral out of control emotionally.
- Make sure they’re not hungry or thirsty. I can’t even blame my daughter for this one, because she might have inherited her hangry-ness from me. Sorry, babe! Just because I can run errands for 2-3 hours without thinking about food, doesn’t mean that my daughter can. I always pack a few snacks in her bag – applesauce pouches or boxes of raisins – to try to squash hanger (Hunger anger?! I’m gonna say that’s a word!) before it evolves into a tantrum.
- Make sure your child isn’t overexerted. Every kid is different. We recently joined my sister-in-law and three-year-old nephew at Sea World. My nephew spent ten hours at the park having the time of his life. My daughter made it about two hours before I could see the exhaustion setting in, making her more susceptible to a meltdown. In a world full of hustle and busy schedules, it’s hard to cater to your child in this area. But try to break up events so that they don’t all fall on the same day. Or if you can’t, try to schedule in breaks on those extra busy days.
- Pick your battles. Your child will be more easily frustrated if all they ever hear is “no”. Should my daughter run back and forth on the couch? No, that’s dangerous. Can she rearrange the dining room chairs into a “car” in the middle of the living room? That’s super annoying, but sure, why not? Kids need an outlet to run and yell and get a little crazy once in a while.
Stop Tantrums When They Happen
- When tantrums start because your child can’t do something by him/herself, offer to “show” them, rather than “help” them. My daughter wants to do everything by herself, but becomes frustrated when she’s still trying to put on the same shoe five minutes later. I’ve found that offering to “help” her only upsets her more, because she wants to do it all by herself. Instead I ask, “Do you want me to show you how you can do it all by yourself?” Mind games, I know. But framing it that way ensures her that I’m showing her a little secret, and not taking over or undermining her big-girl-ness.
- When tantrums start because your child wants something they can’t have, offer them an alternative. My daughter would live with her cousins if I’d let her. She regularly cries when we have to leave them and tells me, “I love them so much!” Siiiiigh. Rather than focusing on the fact that we have to go, I talk about when we’ll see them again. When she’s sad that we can’t go to the beach (because Daniel Tiger went to the beach, bleh), I tell her that we can use our imaginations just like Daniel! She lays out a “beach towel” on her bedroom floor, puts on sunglasses, and sunbathes, occasionally taking a break to “shovel sand” with a spoon, or teach our poor dog how to swim.
- Distract them. It’s not that we don’t want our kids to experience a full range of emotions, and learn how to navigate each. But sometimes they focus on negative emotions for too long, making those emotions feel even more overwhelming. My favorite distraction is our dog. “What is Petey doing?! Petey, stop licking your stinky toes!” My daughter thinks anything our dog does is hilarious. If the stinky toes don’t work, I narrate another thing he does to make her laugh. When he’s rubbing his face on the carpet, I say, “Hey, get your booty out of the air!” Make an observation as if you yourself are distracted by something odd or funny, and they’ll likely follow.
- Don’t give in. Behavorist B.F. Skinner found that if we know something’s possible every once in a while, we’ll keep trying, knowing there’s a chance! If we don’t believe it’s possible, we’ll eventually give up. It’s so tempting to give into tantrums to make them stop, especially if it’s happening in a public place. But our kids will remember that a tantrum got them the candy they wanted once, and so are more likely to try again.
- Remember that your response in this and other stressful situations is teaching your child how to respond appropriately. I constantly watch my daughter mimic my words and actions, both good and bad. That’s how they learn! So if I scream and throw things when I’m unhappy, I shouldn’t be surprised if my child does the same. I can’t hold my toddler to a higher standard than I hold myself.
Stop Tantrums Without Losing Your Mind
- Keep your child’s developmental stage in mind. We want to hold high standards for our kids in the name of discipline. But after expecting my daughter to behave in a certain way, I often research my expectations to find that children don’t develop that skill until several years down the road. It brings me some sanity in the midst of a tantrum when I realize that my daughter is still growing and learning, and that the skills and behavior I’m seeking are still in the works.
- Remember that you don’t act perfectly 100% of the time either. In fact, sometimes I’m throwing a tantrum in my head. I’ve just learned how to keep it in my head after 30+ years of practice. We all experience negative emotions, and learning how to process and appropriately display those emotions is a skill that many adults haven’t developed yet. It makes sense that my toddler isn’t an expert yet.
Wrap It Up
Tantrums are maddening, but they don’t have to cost you your sanity. By being mindful of what triggers tantrums, how to redirect our children in the middle of tantrums, and how to put them in perspective, we can stop tantrums from feeling so painful and occurring so often.
What tricks have you learned to stop tantrums? Share in the comments below!
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