Camilla McGill is a trained and experienced parent coach. Here she shares her top tips for dealing with todder tantrums.
Why do toddlers have tantrums?
Toddlers fly into rages at things that may seem trivial to adults.
“I have watched with horror as my sweet little boy has transformed into a raving monster, screaming and kicking, inconsolable and deaf to anything I say and all because I’ve said he can’t have the ipad or I don’t have any ice cream in the freezer!”
If parents understand why their small children are so upset it may help them to remain calm themselves and to deal with the tantrum more effectively. If we know that a behaviour is developmentally normal and maybe even beneficial for the child’s development it helps us stay calm and respond appropriately.
We need to take into account our child’s temperament. Children are born with certain temperamental traits and it is our job as a parent to help to guide our children to better behaviour or responses taking these traits into consideration.
Some children have more intense or persistent temperaments, some find it hard to adapt or are more impulsive than others all of which will contribute to some children being more volatile and prone to tantrums than others. This isn’t a bad thing, we just need to understand these types of children and use the best strategies to help them.
Understanding children aged 1-4
Children of this age can be egocentric – they see the world from their own perspective and think it is designed to meet their own needs – they often can’t share very well (it does not mean they are selfish), they interrupt, whine, nag and have tantrums when they don’t get their way.
They are developing a growing awareness of self and test their power by saying ‘no’.
They want attention – and they want it now. They are programmed to seek attention as a survival instinct. They have no time perspective and don’t like to be rushed. Parenting writer and psychologist Steve Biddulph says: ‘Rushing is the enemy of love’. Toddlers have a different pace from adults and have different agendas from adults.
They are impulsive and have not yet developed much self control.
They can be stubborn, change their minds frequently but don’t like change in routines.
They are sensitive to atmosphere; excitement, upset and tension. They can be emotionally volatile and are easily frustrated.
They are developing language and since their expressive language is undeveloped toddlers can get very frustrated when they can’t make themselves understood.
They have very strong feelings and have not yet developed ways of expressing their feelings appropriately so when they want a something that they can’t have they might well have a tantrum or be rude if they can’t get it.
What are 7 tried and tested techniques to help deal with tantrums and rudeness?
When you get a warning sign that they might be about to have a tantrum use a distraction – the more exaggerated the better: ‘Do you know I saw a pink elephant walking down the street today’ Your child might think it is funny or you could ask a question ‘Have you ever seen a pink elephant?’
2. Stay calm
Breathe deeply from your abdomen, tell yourself you will be putting petrol on a fire if you shout or over-react. Some children are really persistent and it is incredibly hard not to be worn down by them. It might help to remove yourself for a few minutes to avoid shouting, as long as it is safe for the child for you to do so.
3. Hold tight
Remember children are scared when they lose it, so it can really help to hold them tight and say ‘Mummy really loves you so much. You are having a hard time right now I can see. I love you so much though and you will calm down soon.’
4. Describe their emotion
Imagine how they might be feeling and put it into words to help your child understand what feeling is driving their behaviour. This makes them feel less frightened at a time when they can feel very overwhelmed. ‘You are so angry, you wanted to go to the sweet shop and Mummy said no. You are really disappointed because you love to buy chocolate and you can’t have it because it isn’t sweetie day today. I understand, it is really hard for you.’
5. Offer praise
Think of a tiny thing to praise your child for. This helps shift their mood and you want them to feel good about themselves again which helps restore behaviour. ‘Look at that, you are so upset that you can’t use the ipad but you didn’t try to snatch it back when I put it away.’
6. Praise don't punish
When the tantrum subsides, don’t be tempted to ‘punish’ or criticise your child. This will NOT help them learn not to have another tantrum. Just say ‘It is so good that you have calmed down now, that was really hard for you. Do you want to take a few more breaths to feel better?’, ‘What are you going to choose to play with now?’
7. Action replay
If your child has used rude language or a rude tone of voice, get them to do an ‘action replay’. Once the emotion has subsided say ‘I think you are ready to ask me in a polite tone of voice. Ask me nicely what it is you want’. They may be reluctant to do this, in which case you just wait it out till they are ready and DO NOT give the drink, story, toy until they have asked politely.
Camilla McGill is a trained early years teacher and a trained parent coach. She is the founder of My Parenting Solutions, which gives parents a wide range of practical solutions to both everyday and more specific challenges. With over 17 years of professional experience working with parents and as a mother of four children, Camilla provides tried and tested solutions to the problems and challenges that so many parents face.