Toddler and tantrum are two words that can run off our tongues as easily as ‘bacon and eggs’ or ‘salt and pepper’. They naturally go together! And when your toddler has a tantrum often you find yourself facing an avalanche of ‘advice’, some of which isn’t what your child needs. In the first of a two-part series on dealing with tantrums, I will share 5 mistakes not to make when dealing with toddler tantrums (and why these aren’t helpful).
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#1. Ignoring your toddler
Ignoring includes pretending the tantrum isn’t happening, leaving the room, walking away.
A young child having a tantrum is in emotional distress. He needs your calm presence to regain his equilibrium. Ignoring your toddler is experienced as abandonment – at a time your child needs you most.
#2. Laughing at him
Would you like to be laughed at when you’re feeling vulnerable and overwhelmed?
There is a brief window before meltdown happens when the rising emotion and energy can sometimes be diverted into laughter, that can defuse a stressful situation. But a helpful interaction is always about laughing with your toddler – not laughing at your toddler.
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#3. Having a tantrum too
Whether it’s a genuine meltdown or a mock of the child’s tantrum. You as the parent are the adult. Your child is out of control. She needs to know someone has a handle on the situation when she has ‘lost it’. Your child needs you to model mature behaviour.
#4. Telling her to ‘Be good’ – to behave herself
At that moment she is behaving herself as best she can. Your child’s brain is still under construction. When you tell her to ‘be good’ you are giving her a sense that, right now, she is ‘bad’. She’s not bad. She’s overwhelmed.
Imagine how you would feel if in moment of distress and tears your loved ones told you to ‘behave’ or to ‘be good’, rather than calming and comforting you in your distress.
#5. Respond by telling him you love him when he tells you he ‘hates you’.
It’s not helpful because you’re taking literally what he is saying, instead of listening to what your child is trying to express with his limited vocabulary.
When he says, ‘I hate you’, he probably means, ‘I hate how you are being right now.’ And perhaps he has a point. Stop and check in with yourself whether you are rushed, being over-insistent over a no-big-deal matter, or behaving in some other way that might be pushing your child’s button unnecessarily. (If so, rein in your own behaviour and apologise for it).
His ‘I hate you’ might mean he hates the limit that you are setting right now. And that’s okay – that’s part of life that’s hard for a toddler to adjust to.
So What Is Helpful When Your Toddler Has a Tantrum?
We all know how stressful a toddler’s meltdown can be, particularly when it happens in public. We might even say this behaviour is ‘head-wrecking’.
But it’s not actually his tantrum that wrecks our head. It’s the stories we tell ourselves about the child’s behaviour that wreck our heads. Have you ever reacted to your child’s tantrum with any of these thoughts?
- ‘What will other people think?’
- ‘My child’s turning into a brat?’
- ‘I can’t control him.’
- ‘She’s defiant.’
- ‘She’s going to end up in big trouble one day.’
None of those thoughts are true. They are figments of your imagination running as wild as your child’s tantrum.
When your toddler has a tantrum, don’t believe those crazy thoughts; it will only get you more wound up. Stay in the present. Focus on your breathing. Choose to stay calm.
When you steady your breathing you steady your thoughts.
Tantrums with older children are different. We’ll get to that next month.
To discover more about how to move from reactivity to recreating calm and connection, you’ll find key insights and practical tips in Val Mullally’s parenting book ‘Behave – What To Do When Your Child Won’t’.
Sign up for Val’s newsletter on www.koemba.com to make sure you don’t miss the introductory offer of her forthcoming parenting book, ‘Baby + Toddler On Board’.
Toddler tantrums are a big concern for parents. We’d love to hear your comments, stories and questions in the comments below.