Inside: Learn essential tools for taming toddler meltdowns, reducing future tantrums, and supporting your child’s emotional development.
“Well, here we go,” I thought as my 2-year-old went from cute to screaming-pile-of-toddler. I’d seen this before. We were entering the dreaded tantrum phase.
As a childcare provider, toddler meltdowns hadn’t bothered me much. When one of my daycare kids had big feelings, I would follow the steps I’d learned in my child development classes. Once they felt better, we would move on with our day.
Sticking to those steps as an exhausted mom turned out to be more challenging. When tantrums started happening on a regular basis, I found myself feeling overwhelmed by my son’s big feelings and doubting my skills at handling them.
After a particularly rough day, I decided it was time to take a step back and make a new plan to deal with toddler tantrums. I needed tips on how to stay calm, keep my son safe, and support his development.
After reviewing my notes and researching tips from the experts, I put together this new plan. It has made a big difference for our family, and I hope it does the same for yours!
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The Most Important Thing to do During Toddler Meltdowns
You don’t have to join your child in his big feelings. You’ll be much more effective in helping him if you keep your cool, accept what is happening and offer compassionate support.
Your child has a right to have a tantrum. You have the right to not participate. ~Amy McCready
If you feel stress coming on, try Dr. Laura Markham’s suggestion to “Stop, drop and breathe.”
The first priority during a toddler meltdown is keeping your child, yourself and those around you safe. Depending on the situation, you might find it helpful to:
- Make a safe space. Nudge furniture and hard objects away from flailing limbs. Quietly remove possible projectiles.
- Move to a safe location. If you can’t make the space safe enough, carefully move your child.
- Set clear limits by saying “I’m going to stop you from hitting,” while gently holding your child’s arm to prevent the blow from landing.
- Hold the child. Personally, I only hold my child if I can’t make it safe any other way.
Sometimes it’s necessary to restrain a child who is having a tantrum. Many of us equate physical restraint with violence and anger. But it is possible to physically hold a struggling child with gentleness and compassion. ~From Becoming the Parent You Want to Be by Laura Davis and Janis Keyser
Everyone Wants to Feel Understood
Take big feelings seriously, even if the cause of seems silly or cute. Acknowledge feelings by saying, “It looks like you’re mad right now,” or, “It looks like you’re frustrated that the block tower fell down.”
Acknowledging proves that we are paying attention, makes a child feel understood, accepted, deeply loved and supported. ~Janet Lansbury
Stay close and listen to what your child has to say. This can be the most challenging part – especially if the tantrum goes on for a while! Resist the urge to “fix” the problem or to distract your child.
Say less. Listen more. Be present, and don’t worry about teaching during the tantrum. ~Ariadne Brill
Meet Basic Needs
Although it’s generally a good idea to let tantrums wind down on their own accord, there are times that other factors get in the way of children finding resolution. ~From Becoming the Parent You Want to Be by Laura Davis and Janis Keyser
If your child is hungry or tired, do what you can to meet his basic needs as soon as possible. You might say, “It’s past lunchtime and I’m wondering if you’re feeling hungry. Let’s go find something to eat,” or “I’m wondering if you’re feeling tired. Let’s find a quiet place to have a cuddle.”
An invitation to positive timeout may help him calm down enough to address his needs.
Use Your Powers of Deduction
Once the tantrum winds down, take mental notes. What happened right before the tantrum? Was your child hungry or tired? Was she overstimulated? Figure out what is likely to trigger your child’s tantrums and focus on prevention.
Our children need our help when they are overwhelmed by emotions. They need us to keep them safe, accept their feelings and offer support. When we handle tantrums in this way, we help our kids develop the skills they need to cope with life’s challenges.
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