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How to Handle Toddler Tantrums and Meltdown?

toddler tantrum
24 May, 2017

How to Handle Toddler Tantrums and Meltdown?

Toddler tantrums and meltdown are practically inevitable. Even if you set out to parent in a kind and connected way, tantrums can happen. They happen because tantrums are a sign of emotional overload. Tantrums are a request for loving guidance. Tantrums are emotional outbursts.

During a tantrum a child may meltdown, cry and scream. Sometimes children also hit, kick, bite and bang things during a tantrum. Tantrums happen when children are overwhelmed. Overwhelm can come from being scared, frustrated, tired, hungry, confused and uncomfortable. Children of all ages can have tantrums, but toddlers in particular are more likely to have tantrums. This happens because the toddler brain is still very immature and impulsive. It is not a sign that they are naughty, bad or spoiled. Tantrums don’t have to rule the early years and can be an opportunity for parents to offer unconditional love and guidance.

What are some ways to help our toddler avoid tantrums?

The best way to deal with our children’s temper tantrums is to avoid them in the first place. Is it really possible to stop temper tantrums from happening? Sometimes. Here are some ideas to try:

  • Give your child positive attention. Some children require a great deal of attention which can be exhausting for us – and it’s usually those children who may act up because they want even more attention. They may feel that our response to a tantrum is better than no attention at all. Try getting into the habit of catching your child being good and rewarding her with attention for positive behavior.
  • Give your child control by offering choices. It is sometimes possible to stop tantrums from happening by giving children choices and some control over their lives. “Do you want to sit next to me or your brother?” Try to consider your child’s perspective at the grocery store. Maybe your standing rule is: “Parents get to decide all the things that go in the shopping cart.” Try letting your child participate. “You get to choose the juice at the store. Do you want apple or orange?” With older children, establishing limits and boundaries is important, especially when giving them choices. Make sure you set the parameters of negotiation ahead of time as well. Avoid protracted public discussion that will inevitably lead to disappointment and possibly a tantrum.
  • Have appropriate expectations. Try to limit or make waiting time fun for young children. Avoid taking them to places where they must be quiet or sit still for long periods of time. Hungry or tired children are more likely to act out with tantrums, so be prepared with snacks and make time for rest. With older children, recognize their ability to assume some responsibility for their decisions; including how they spend their time and their money.
  • Choose your battles. When your child wants something, consider the request carefully. Is it outrageous? Maybe it isn’t. Choose your battles and accommodate your child when you can.

What really help toddler when they have tantrum?

  • Less is more:  A lot of children get so worked up when they are in pain or frustrated and we forget that they really can’t tune in to what we are saying.  It’s hard to cry, protest all while trying to absorb a teachable moment.  Say less. Listen more. Be present, and don’t worry about teaching during the tantrum
  • Make Peace with Tears. Tears are not the enemy or a sign of parental failure. It is a normal, physiological and emotional reaction for a young child to cry and express unhappiness.  A lot of parenting advice talks about “how to stop tantrums” and to “ignore” tantrums.  Letting your child feel her feelings and cry when they feel overwhelmed is so vital to their long term well-being. The sooner we make peace with the idea that our child may at times have a tantrum, the easier it becomes to respond in a kind, calm and connected way. It also teaches children that they can get upset and then move forward.
  • Listening to a Tantrum is not the same as giving in. You can listen to a tantrum and validate feelings and still keep your limit. The safer a child feels the sooner their tantrum is likely to subside. A calm, confident presence gives your child a sense that they are OK, even if they didn’t get their way.  Listening and validating also gives your child words to fill up their emotional vocabulary, which is vital to developing emotional intelligence and self-regulation skills.
  • Make corrections in a connected and calm way: I will not let you kick me.” Is enough to make it clear that the tears can go on, but that hurting you is not acceptable.  Lecturing on and on as the child cries and tried to hurt you will only escalate the tantrum. Another calm correction is to carry or accompany your child out of a public area into a more private space. It might sound like:  “Let’s find a better place to be right now. Follow me.” Or simply walking away together. 
  • Negotiations and Redirection? It can be tempting to redirect or bribe to stop tears. Under most circumstances, it’s best to avoid that.  Instead, accept the real feelings and show faith in both your child and the limit that you have set. If you don’t believe in that limit, then your child has no reason to respect it either. This isn’t the same as being rigid or inflexible and more so about being calm and confident.  Distractions and redirections also negate our child’s real feelings and their right to discharge the emotional overload. Typically, this means you will see more frequent tantrums and not less.
  • Learning happens best after the storm and when children feel well. Your message about sharing, not hitting, not buying sweets etc…will all  sink it much better once your child is calm. Save the teachable moments for when your child is back to calm.  Self-regulation skills (i.e. not having a big tantrum) develops gradually. It will take a few trials and errors, much listening and patience. Children also learn a lot from observing their trusted adults self-regulate too.  So, it’s ok if you need to walk away for a moment and calm yourself down as well. Lastly, strive to keep appropriate expectations, meet your child’s needs and to use a connected approach to discipline. This way your child will continue to trust and seek out your guidance.

Remember, temper tantrums don’t last forever (although sometimes they may feel like they do). They’re usually not cause for concern, and they decrease in frequency and severity as our children get older and learn to control their emotions. As our children gain a better grasp of themselves and their world, their level of frustration decreases. Less frustration and more control mean fewer tantrums – and that makes everyone happier.


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