5 Simple Solutions for Your Toddler’s Epic Temper Tantrums

5 Simple Solutions for Your Toddler’s Epic Temper Tantrums

The grocery store triggers my son for some reason.

It never fails. We’ve made it successfully to the milk aisle. I’ve managed to bypass the display of Hot Wheels without him noticing, and it’s fine; we’re fine.

He’s got his water in his robot-themed sippy cup.

He’s got his little bunny friend (the stuffie that fixes any and all problems in his world, besides Mommy.)

And we’re fine. He’s chill. It’s all good.

Just as I’m making room for the milk in the cart, however, he throws his bunny friend. I tell him “no,” and give it back with a stern warning about throwing his bunny. He either doesn’t get it or doesn’t care; he throws it again, this time with a maniacal giggle.

I pick up the bunny and relocate it to the back of the cart, where my son can’t reach it.

But he tries.

And then it really gets going. There’s some flailing; some futile reaching and stretching of fingers. Then there’s a flurry of angry babble and tiny balled fists. Then comes the screaming and wailing.

My boy sure knows how to throw a temper tantrum.

Folks: it’s okay. It’s normal, and while it’s hard to leave a full cart of groceries in the store to deal with a screaming, demanding tyrant — er, toddler — it’s both necessary and doable. I’ve seen my fair share of toddler tantrums, and while I’m no expert in child development beyond what I have figured out as a parent, I have worked out how to handle tantrums in healthy, productive ways, rather than flipping my lid (spoiler: that’s not a productive solution.)

I’m a firm believer in parents helping parents with their hacks and learned-the-hard-way lessons, and today, I’ve compiled the whys — and more importantly, hows — into one handy-dandy article for you.

First, though, let’s look at the “why” factor. If you don’t care, you can skip on down to the solutions, but my analytical brain had to know.

Tantrums are a sign of normal child development

While tantrums suck, it might help to know that your child is not actually possessed by angry demons.

I think that’s pretty good news.

Tantrums are common between the ages of 1 and 3, although my littlest didn’t start them up until after 18 months. The most common age is around 2 (bingo! He turns 2 this month!) but children as old as 4 have tantrums too. Tantrums vary in their, shall we say, ferocity? They also vary in frequency, however, to my knowledge, no parent escapes the toddler years without a tantrum or two.

Or if they do, they very wisely stay silent on the subject.

Your toddler might tantrum when tired, hungry, or sick, but let’s assume you keep on top of those things — they’ll still flip out from time to time. The reason is usually language or freedom-related frustration.

Toddlers crave independence and discovery, and when they can’t express a need or want or they don’t have control over something, they react with tears and rage, since they (literally) don’t have the words to express them.

Which is super fun for us parents.

Tantrums involve two parts of the brain: the amygdala, which is responsible for feelings of fear, essentially, and the hypothalamus, which helps control things like heart rate. In simple terms, when a toddler has a tantrum, their amygdala detects something negative and threatening, and the hypothalamus starts throwing hormones at the problem, such as adrenaline.

That’s why toddlers sometimes get red and sweaty at the peak of their tantrum; it’s their body doing its thing. That’s also why you can’t reason with your toddler in these moments (if it’s even possible to reason with them; that certainly hasn’t been my experience.) Remember when I said it was a bad idea to flip your lid during your toddler’s tantrums?

Enter the prefrontal cortex — your prefrontal cortex.

This is the part you start to play in your child’s tantrum drama: flipping out will only fan the flames. What you need to do before anything else is calm down.

Blahblahblah — how do I stop temper tantrums?

I know, I know. I scroll down to the good stuff, too.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for tantrums, as they are not all the same or caused by the same trigger. There are a few tactics you can deploy, however, to avoid a catastrophic toddler meltdown!

1. Breathe

Before anything else, calm down. Don’t yell or scream or stomp your feet — an adult-sized tantrum doesn’t usually stop a toddler-sized one.

Take some slow breaths and collect yourself. Fight the urge to yell back, and remember that your toddler is just figuring out how to navigate their negative emotions, and that they suck at it for those first few years.

Also, let’s be honest — some grown-ass adults still have tantrums when they don’t get their way. Imagine how hard it is for toddlers to cope with those big emotions?

2. Take immediate action (especially if they’re being aggressive)

I’ll use my son as an example again since he’s such a good one for this particular topic. He has recently discovered that hitting and throwing things is a great way to get out that frustration he feels when something isn’t going his way (also a totally normal response during a tantrum.)

But it’s not allowed, and he finds out immediately each and every time.

Note: any attempts at stopping a temper tantrum in its tracks will almost assuredly create an even bigger tsunami of tears and rage before it subsides completely, thanks to all the work their little brains are doing during their episodes. That’s just the nature of the beast, especially if you’re “doing it right,” so to speak.

If they’re hitting and/or throwing things, the best solution is to remove them from the situation (or remove the thing they’re throwing, even if it means that they’re losing their lunch.)

You can simply move them to another section of the room with an object that comforts them, like their favourite stuffie, or if, like me, this tantrum takes place in the grocery store, you can take them with you out to the car for a few minutes until they settle.

Grocery store staff would much rather hold your cart of groceries for you for a few minutes than deal with the persistent sounds of a wailing, screeching toddler wafting through the store.

Save this move for those epic tantrums that you know won’t simply fizzle out with a mere distraction, however. Time outs, and anything like a time out, should be used sparingly to be effective. There has been a lot of debate about time-outs over the years, and while I think they’re often overused, they can be helpful if you’re careful about when you try one.

Try looking at a time out as less of a punishment, and more of an opportunity for your child to learn to calm themselves down.

3. Distract them

More often than not, I can avoid having to haul my toddler out of the grocery store dramatically by creating a distraction.

This does not mean I give in to his demands. Make sure you don’t do that (more on that later.)

Point out something you think they’ll find interesting, such as a colourful display of popsicles, or better yet, ask your toddler to help you decide between two different kinds of products. Often a toddler is experiencing frustration over a lack of control, so giving them some control can help stave off a full-fledged tantrum. Asking them what colour something is works too, if they know the words — anything that can give them some control in their current situation.

If your toddler has already reached a level 10 tantrum, however, they’ll completely ignore you, so make sure you sense and try to tackle the tantrum before it reaches that level. Again, this isn’t always possible, but I’ve found some success with distractions and simple questions they know the answers to.

4. Ignore them

This is entirely situational, but since tantrums happen just as often at home, this is a good tactic.

As long as they’re not hitting or throwing things (although, if they simply throw a soft toy, you can quietly take it away without inserting yourself in the drama) you can try ignoring them for a spell.

You’re essentially doing nothing to help or worsen their tantrum by doing this, and it gives them a chance to settle on their own. Sometimes, kids (just like adults) just need to feel that anger pulse through them before it really subsides. Expecting our little versions of ourselves to never get angry is beyond unreasonable, especially when they’re so new to those big, scary emotions.

5. Hug the rage and snot right outta them

Sometimes, your little person is just overwhelmed, and a well-timed offering of a hug can fix things. I sit near my son and open my arms, and I ask him if he wants a “running hug” (he likes to run at full speed into our arms; it’s his favourite game.) Most of the time this works; he smiles through his tears and returns to the sweet little boy he is as he runs into my arms, and the tantrum is forgotten.

Never underestimate the power of parental affection. It can heal so many hurts.

Take note of what caused the tantrum

Sometimes, you can avoid future tantrums by learning what causes them in the first place.

For example, my son’s grocery store tantrums are a result of boredom — he doesn’t want to be there. It’s not very engaging, and it feels like we’re there for a million years to him.

I get it. I don’t want to be there, either. I was getting far too used to grocery delivery during the height of the pandemic, and it’s taken me a few trips to get back into the swing of things — no wonder he gets frustrated in there.

I’ve since learned a few ways to dodge this particular tantrum. One, it’s better when he gets to ride in the cool, car-themed cart with the flames painted on the sides and toddler-sized steering wheel he can spin with glee.

I have also learned to bring a toy car that I can whip out once he starts to get fidgety (did I mention that he loves cars?) I always bring a different toy to change it up, but toy cars are great in the grocery store; we can play together as I shop by “driving” the car along the handle of the shopping cart.

Does it work every time? Nah. But we’ve avoided so many tantrums by simply playing together. In the end, I think that’s all he was looking for in the store — Mommy’s attention. And maybe something to keep his busy brain buzzing.

Toddlers crave the simplest things.

Although they’re perfectly normal, you don’t have to like them

Tantrums are not insurmountable — there are things you can do to alleviate them.

New parents find out the hard way that the “terrible twos” don’t end when their child turns three (“threenagers” are also a thing — consider yourselves warned.) As toddlers grow into children, there’s a lot of processing going on in their heads, so tantrums are a normal reaction to that.

It’s literally mind-blowing. It’s too much to handle for most of them.

What they need from us is some patience and understanding. Remember, you threw epic tantrums too when you were little. Maybe you still do, who knows?

Growing up is hard.

Let’s help them while they’re little. Let’s help make it less hard. I promise you, this stage is a blip in time and while you probably won’t miss tantrums, you might miss the days you could outsmart your child.

My seven-year-old is a bright girl who is full of sass, and now that she has the words to express her disappointment, it’s a lot harder to win her over with hugs and distractions like I can with my son.

Tantrums suck, but they’re not the end of the world — although, your toddler may disagree. Breathe, reset, and tackle the tantrum with as much grace as you can muster, and you’ll get past this trying stage just like you got through each and every trying stage before it.

You’ve got this.

 

This post was previously published on MEDIUM.COM.

 

 

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