Thwart the Toddler Tantrum: 12 Tips to Try

Julie Ryan Evans

toddler tantrumAh toddlers, they're some of the most adorable, amazing, entertaining creatures on earth. They light up the world with their innocent observations, unending affection, and delight in life's simplest things.

UNTIL ... they aren't, and they're reduced to whining, screaming puddles on the floor -- usually public floors -- that make parents want to throw tantrums of their own. Throw in a sibling to fight with, and mommy wants a permanent time out.

Kimberly Clayton Blaine, author of The Go-To Mom’s Parents’ Guide to Emotion Coaching Young Children, offers 12 tips to help thwart bad behavior before it begins and deal with it when inevitably happens despite our best efforts.

1. Set limits and expectations all along the way. Parents often make the mistake of thinking that discipline starts once children are older -- not babies. But Blaine says it’s a good idea to begin providing guidance and setting limits as early as infancy. This sets your child up for success -- if she knows what the boundaries and expectations are from the beginning, then when she’s two you won’t be trying to undo all her bad habits or behaviors.

2. Don’t let your own issues affect your discipline. If you’ve had a bad day at work or are just plain exhausted, it can be much easier to operate on a short fuse and let even the tiniest things push you over the edge. Before you interact with or try to redirect your child, make sure that you aren’t letting your own personal anger or problems affect the way you react toward your child.

3. When your blood starts to boil, take a grown-up time-out. Blaine suggests that parents take a grown-up “cool-off” time when you find yourself too angry to deal with your child. Once you feel calm and collected, return to your child to address the situation at hand.

4. Keep communicating. The earlier you establish a healthy line of communication with your child, the more effective you will be in communicating discipline or behavioral changes to him. No matter what age your child may be, Blaine says, it’s important to keep communicating your thoughts and feelings with him.

5. Discuss your feelings about what you see. When our kids misbehave, we often neglect to tell them how their actions make us feel. But Blaine says that by explaining to your child that it makes mommy sad when she sees her children fighting or not sharing with one another, we help them to begin to understand the effect their behavior has on others, which in turn makes them more likely to react differently the next time.

6. Let children know that parents DO understand. Acknowledge and validate your child’s feelings while setting limits. Let her know that you aren’t just handing down a punishment and you do realize that she is experiencing emotions, too. When she knows that she is being heard and understood, she is more likely to listen to what you have to say as well.

7. Give the child a good behavior to use in place of the bad one. Children can’t learn how we want them to behave unless we replace their bad behavior with the one we want to see or expect. When your child misbehaves, be sure to follow up your “We don’t run inside” with a helpful suggestion for what he can do -- like “But we can run and jump and play all we want to outside. Would you like for me to go out and play with you?”

8. Redirect your child’s attention. If your little one is throwing a tantrum in the grocery store or having a meltdown over the toy her little brother just stole, then Blaine suggests redirecting her attention to another activity or train of thought. Have her help you on a “scavenger hunt” to complete your shopping list, or sit down with her in another room to play a game or read a book. Pulling her away from the situation at hand will help you both to calm down and move forward.

9. Do what you say you’re going to do every single time. Being a parent takes a lot of patience and sacrifice. And that means following through on discipline even when it’s inconvenient or unpopular. If the consequences you employ as discipline are merely empty threats, your child will know as much and the behavior will never change. If the consequence of continued bad behavior is leaving the fun birthday party, don’t just threaten it -- leave the birthday party. It might feel awkward and be inconvenient, but the payoff will be a child who knows you mean business.

10. Make encouragement one of your top tools. Discipline doesn’t have to be only about the “don’t do thats” or the “because I said sos” (and it shouldn’t be!). Children love nothing more than to please their parents, and your encouragement is worth its weight in gold. Make sure you offer encouragement when your child follows through on a good behavior. If he knows you can be pleased, he will work hard to make it happen time and again!

11. Take some time to talk it out. If your child is over 3 years old, Blaine suggests having her sit with you and think about her actions; then ask her what she can do differently next time. Taking a “thinking time” or “cool-down time” helps her to become an active part of her discipline, so that it feels less like a commandment being handed down and more like a decision and effort she is a part of.

12. Brainstorm ideas for better behavior. While it may seem obvious to us how our kids should behave, it’s not always so black and white for the kids themselves. Blaine says that we as parents need to be vigilant about offering solutions and brainstorming ideas with our children -- because there will be times when they may not know what to do and will need our guidance. Write down a list of behaviors that are a problem and brainstorm together how they can react differently, so they have solutions to choose from the next time those situations occur.

The list provides some good food for thought for sure -- some more realistic than others.

For example, number three -- take a grown-up timeout sounds like a good idea, until you close your eyes to inhale for one minute, and your toddler has dumped sugar in the dishwasher and cut her bangs.

Then things like number 11 (talk it out) don't seem so realistic either, because there are simply no words, at least ones that should be used in front of a toddler anyway.

Which of the above is the most difficult for you to employ? What are your best tips for thwarting toddler tantrums?

Image via mdanys/Flickr

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