Chances are, if you have a toddler or preschooler, you’ve had to deal with a tantrum.
Your little baby is growing into a mini person with his or her own ideas and feelings. So OF COURSE they now want to express them!
But how do you tame them without crushing your child’s spirit?
Step 1: Determine if it is real or fake
A lot of parents assume that when a kid starts screaming, they’re just trying to manipulate.
That just isn’t true though.
There are MANY times where that is the case, but there are also many times where it might not be.
My son has autism and sensory processing disorder, so more often than not, his tantrums, or meltdowns, are caused by overwhelm.
Sensory issues aren’t the only explanation though.
- Has your child had a hard day?
- Did she sleep poorly the night before?
- Is he hungry?
- Is she feeling ignored?
Those are all possible reasons for a tantrum, and while some can still be “fake” tantrums, they all are stemming from a need. So first try to meet that need before getting angry.
Is the need that she just wants candy though? Yeah, don’t give into THAT kind of tantrum.
I will say, that my 18 month old little girl is pro at tantrums already, and sometimes you just have to walk away. This “kind ignoring” is necessary for “fake” tantrums.
Step 2: Get to their level
Have you ever had a boss talk to you like they knew everything, and you came away from the conversation feeling belittled and angry?
Your toddler and preschooler, while much younger, can still have those feelings. They just aren’t able to express them yet.
So you need to get down at eye level, and speak in a way that they’ll understand.
Tantrums are not the time to pull out your college vocab. Even using words like “angry” or “upset” might be too hard to understand.
Use basic words like “sad” or “mad.” Calming a tantrum is not a time to teach. It is a time to calm. The teaching will come afterward.
Step 3: Use a calm, yet firm voice
This works for a real or a fake tantrum.
If it’s fake, your child needs to know that you aren’t budging.
If it’s real, staying calm is key. I love the quote by L. R. Knost:
“When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.”
It is SO EASY to become frazzled and angry during a tantrum, especially when it is taking place in public.
Trust me. I’ve been there.
I’ve been the mom with a screaming 16 month old and a wild and laughing 3 year old who is running and pulling all the food off of the shelves at Walmart. (I call tantrums “meltdowns” for my son since they don’t always present in the form of crying and screaming. Sometimes he gets really wild and that is his version of a meltdown.)
It is really embarrassing. I can always feel the stares and the judgment. But the key is to think of your child, NOT the people around you.
I have looked really funny getting on my knees in the middle of an aisle, gently grabbing my son, and getting really close to him while talking in words he understands.
“How are you feeling? Are you feeling sad? Forest sad. So sad. Why are you sad? Oh, you wanted to open the fruit snacks now? I’m so sorry, I wish I could, but we can’t open them yet! We have to buy them first. Will you help me buy them? Oh thank you! Then we can open one in the car.”
I have raved about Dr. Harvey Karp in many posts because his books Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block are two of the best books (in my opinion) on handling young child behavior. In his books he talks about how to approach your child and get on their level. You should DEFINITELY check the books out!
Step 4: Follow through
Did you tell your child that they would get a treat if they were good in a store?
Well, were they?
If they weren’t, then follow through!
I went to Target the other day with my kids (and that right there was my mistake) and it was seriously a nightmare.
My son was sprinting and WEAVING in between clothing racks, my daughter was pulling nursing bras off of a shelf, and it was a disaster.
I had tried bribing to get them to behave (because yes, I do that) and it didn’t work.
So what did I do?
I grabbed the few things I had gotten and went straight to checkout.
My son then asked, “where my treat?”
My response, “no buddy, you weren’t a good listener, so no treat today.”
Did he like that response? Of course not. But I had to follow through. And then get myself out of the store as fast as possible.
You have to mentally accept that people may judge, but that’s their problem, not yours. If they have kids, they’ll most likely get it. If they don’t, then they don’t have a clue. So just ignore all of them.
Step 5: Plan ahead
If your child is prone to tantrums, then plan your outings ahead. Granted, this doesn’t help with tantrums in the home, but I find that the in-home meltdowns are a lot easier to handle than the public ones.
Plan to go grocery shopping or to a doctor’s appointment at a time while your child is awake and not hungry. You want the stars to be aligned as much as possible with outings, so do your best to meet your child’s needs before you go anywhere to ensure the best behavior possible.
Step 6: Establish calm down routines
Does your son love Daniel Tiger? Sing the “when you feel so mad, and you want to roar” song every time.
Does deep pressure help your daughter to calm down? Offer a big hug or show her how to press her hands together really hard to calm down.
Do deep breaths help your son when he gets worked up? Get to eye level and breathe with him.
For my son, what works best is talking him through it. I ask him how he is feeling (sad, mad, scared, etc.) and then I try to determine the cause (tired, hungry, his toy broke, etc.).
After that, we work on a solution, and thankfully, this technique works pretty well!
So tell me, what are your favorite tips for calming a tantrum? Let me know below!
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