Toddler tantrums and how to survive them
You’ve probably seen those Facebook posts doing the rounds, of 'reasons why my toddler had a tantrum' and had a giggle to yourself. We laugh because we can relate! Often it seems there’s no rhyme or reason behind the tantrum - from throwing themselves into a puddle because you dared ask them to put a raincoat on, to the full face of silent rage because you wouldn't let them play in the toilet water.
We know how empowering it can be to have strategies in your parenting ‘toolbox’, so we’ve put together the following tools to help you support your child through tantrums and hopefully head one or two off at the pass!
Show the love
When it comes to our toddlers, and helping them through this difficult season of big emotions, big reactions and big challenges, the first tool is love. It can be so hard not to react with the same level of intensity we’re getting from our child, especially if we’re caught up in feeling like their reaction to us using marmite instead of peanut butter is a complete overreaction!
Whatever outward emotions they are showing, just remember their little hearts and heads are probably feeling overwhelmed (and maybe even a little scared) at the churning of emotions they’re feeling inside. If we can take a deep breath and show them we love them unconditionally, they can safely ride the wave of emotion knowing we have their backs.
There are any number of ways you could choose to show your love, depending on the circumstance. You could get down on the floor with them, just having your physical presence there is reassuring. You could gently draw them in for a cuddle on your lap. If they don't seem like they are in any shape for physical touching, you can tell them you love them, you are right there and ready whenever they are. You could offer them a pillow to punch to let out their frustration. Above all, tell them you love them no matter what.
Perception is everything
When we take a step back and look at how we’re perceiving our toddler's tantrums (and therefore reacting to our toddler), it’s easy to see how if we can change our perspective we change the dynamics that lead to the tantrums.
By perceiving the tantrum as our child communicating their need for help (in the only way they know how in that moment) rather than an unreasonable response to your request to sit up to the table, we can moderate our own reaction.
Well-known parenting commentator Janet Lansbury says "Testing, limit-pushing, defiance and resistance are healthy signs that our toddlers are developing independence and autonomy. If we say “green”, toddlers are almost required to say “blue”, even if green is their favourite colour, because if toddlers want what we want, they can’t assert themselves as individuals."
Set the stage for success
Managing our own expectations of our toddlers is key to helping them with their emotions. If we expect too much, we are effectively setting them up to fail in that moment. Age appropriate tasks and a 'working with them, not against them' attitude can make all the difference. We wouldn't expect our three-year-old to do our seven-year-old's homework, so why would we expect them to tidy up their whole room like we might expect our seven-year-old to do? That's not to say we don't ask things of our three-year-old, but we ask things that are achievable for them, and things we can work with them to achieve.
Ariadne Brill, who writes for Positive Parenting, suggests using language that invites cooperation. For example:
I’m looking for two assistants to set the table! Any takers?
Let’s work together: I’ll put these books on the shelf, would you like to put blocks away or animals in the drawer?
We still have five minutes before leaving, anyone need help with anything so we leave on time?
I am happy to keep you company while you sort your books.
Of course, there are days where even our most cooperative, clear, polite and kind request is met with a tantrum of epic proportions! To quote Janet again: "During the toddler years, our most reasonable expectation is the unreasonable. Expecting the madness makes it far easier to keep our cool”.
To sum up, in the midst of a tantrum:
tell them you love them
sit with them
offer a hug or hold their hand.
Handing them a pillow to punch
Giving them physical space but stay close for the cuddle when they are ready
Putting music on to cuddle-dance to.
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