Two words that strike fear in the hearts of moms everywhere: Toddler tantrum. They always seem to happen in the worst of places at the worst of times. The good news, however, is that you can actually foresee a tantrum coming and try to head it off before it happens. "One of the best things you can do is to think ahead and see if you can figure out what sets your child off," says Tovah Klein, PhD, and author of How Toddlers Thrive. "If you know some aspects that increase the chances of a tantrum, such as missing a nap or being hungry, try to prepare ahead to avoid them."
But if your best efforts fail and your toddler becomes "overwhelmed by her emotions" (that's a nice way of saying she's kicking, screaming, and arching her back), there are things you should avoid doing as they could make the situation even worse.
Here, 7 things never to do during your toddler’s temper tantrum.
- Laugh. Temper tantrums can be amusing at times, but think about it: Is it right to laugh in your child's face? "At this point when the toddler is upset, the message of laughing is that his feelings are ridiculous," notes Klein. "The toddler interprets this as they are bad for having such feelings." A sense of humor is crucial in parenthood, but it’s best never to laugh at the expense of your child.
- Imitate him. This may be your way of lightening up an otherwise stressful situation, but as with laughing, poking fun at your child and the way he feels "is shaming and demeaning to them," explains Klein. "It also teaches them that it is okay to make fun of other people, especially people who are having a hard time. It's the opposite of what most parents are hoping their child is learning -- which is how to get along with others in kind and caring ways."
- Lose your cool. It isn’t always easy, but don’t get pulled into your toddler’s frenzied orbit -- instead be the calm in their emotional storm. By being reassuring and calm, your toddler will be able to gather themselves more quickly and settle down again. "They need us to stay close, listen, and not lecture or yell at them," explains Klein. "It's the adult caregivers who help them move out of the heightened arousal and eventually calm down. They can't do it on their own. When we fly off the handle, it makes them more upset and adds to their feeling scared, ashamed, and bad about themselves." Try to come up with a way to talk yourself down when you feel yourself starting to lose control. Klein suggests saying something to yourself like: "She won't tantrum forever" or "He's just so little."
- Take it personally. Contrary to what it seems, your toddler isn't acting out to hurt you. "It's important to take a step back, exhale, and remember that this person screaming and flailing is actually a very little person, still trying to figure out life, and who lacks the ability to control their emotions at these moments," says Klein. "It's not about us. It's about the child who is feeling beyond upset and does not know how to handle it. When parents take it personally, it tends to upset them more and make the situation worse for the child."
- Walk away. "[This] can be the most terrifying action to a child," notes Klein. "If you say to a hysterical child that you are leaving them, they will panic. The message is that they are unloved when they are feeling terrible. These are feelings of being abandoned just when they need to know a parent will love them, no matter what." When a child is upset, he is most in need of the parent, as being so upset actually scares the child, who is already in a heightened emotional state and needs to be assured he is not alone. Note: If you're extremely upset, you may need a break, too. Klein suggests turning around, closing your eyes, taking a deep breath, and reminding yourself that this is a very little person who will not always be this way. Do what it takes to re-ground yourself and be there for your child.
- Resort to bribery. We've all been there. Our child starts going bonkers in a restaurant, so we give them a piece of candy or our iPhone (and we likely feel guilty about it). As long as this isn't the norm, it's okay. "If you are in a tight spot and need to use distraction or bribery, go for it," says Klein. "When used in these tough moments, it can work, but not if it's used all the time. Use it in those crisis moments when you need a way out and you suspect it will work. However, don't use it as your all the time go-to." You don't want to set a precedent with your child that if he acts out, he'll get an ice cream cone.
- Try to reason with her. There's no point, as they are incapable of hearing or being rational at that moment. "When emotions take over, thinking abilities are gone," explains Klein. "Don't over-talk them or try to convince them of anything. Instead, use simple language and few words (I am here; you are upset). Trying to cajole, bribe, beg them out of it usually makes it worse and upsets them more."
More from The Stir: How to Diffuse a Tantrum in 10 Seconds Flat
How many of these things have you done during your toddler's tantrums? Did they backfire?
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