Top 10 Tips To Curb Tantrums, and The Absolute 10 No-No's
We all need some tips from time to time on managing our child's behaviour, and the below are some tried and tested approaches when it comes to curbing tantrums, with a few things to absolutely not do when your child is having a meltdown. Feel free to email us with your thoughts - do you have any particular tips or tricks when it comes to stopping a tantrum? Hit us up, we always love to learn.
Top Tantrum Tips
1. Hold space for your child's feelings in a calm manner by validating and empathising
A large part of toddler frustration comes down to their lack of control, making them always feel inferior to adults. When a toddler has a meltdown, it is important for you to acknowledge their feelings, whilst staying calm and in control yourself (nothing sets off a toddler more than a screaming adult). Validate your child's feelings and emotions, and be empathetic to them. For example, "I can see you look upset that we cannot go to the park today because it is raining, I would feel sad too."
2. Encourage your child to label their emotions
For example, when you're child is showing their emotions ask them how they are feeling, "are you feeling angry?," or "are you feeling sad?". You can extend this to when you are out and see other people, acknowledging their feelings too, "Oh look at that woman, she is so happy." This is very important as over time it will help them recognise their emotions, which is the first step before they can verbally communicate their feelings with you. You can take this one step further, and teach your child not only how to label their emotions, but how to communicate with words when they are feeling frustrated or angry instead of with actions. For example, teaching your child that instead of hitting their baby brother when he snatches a toy, he can instead say, "I'm feeling so mad." This re-directs their attention and also encourages them to have an alternative way of expressing through words as opposed to through physical or aggressive behaviour. There's a great Daniel Tiger episode on this principle, which works wonders when explaining to your child how to communicate when they're frustrated!
3. Reduce your verbal language during a meltdown and increase your non-verbal body language
One of the main things adults do wrong when dealing with toddlers in sensitive situations is to talk too much. Research has shown that talking too much can lead to negative effects in a child, when it comes to calming down a toddler. Utilise calm, centred, open body language, using touch to comfort them
4. Decrease stimulation and have a quiet place for them to go
Moving your child away from lots of noise can encourage them to deal with their intense feelings. This is not a naughty corner but a quiet place where they can calm down, maybe a sofa or at the dining table.
5. Get down to their level (phsyically)
Eye contact is very important when dealing with a toddler in a vulnerable or sensitive position. Get on the floor, and be on their level. Research has shown that this can make a toddler feel calmer in tantrum situations.
6. Use other ways to say 'no'
Instead of saying "no ice-cream today," re-phrase to "I like ice-cream too, but it's for after dinner."
7. Distract and re-direct
Re-direct your toddler to another activity or space but only when they are ready. This can help them quickly get over their feelings and engaged in something else.
8. Support them to problem-solve
Once they have calmed down, sit with them and discuss how they can make the situation better for themselves, "I know you're feeling sad that the swings at the park are busy, but can you see any other activity that is available? Can you show me?"
9. Create a safe space for your child to talk
This is an important one, as even if your child is very small and not able to fully communicate properly, if you are consistent with this one-on-one practice, whereby you ask your child how they are feeling, and encourage them to talk about their likes and dislikes, eventually over-time, you create a safe-space where your child feels comfortable talking about their feelings with you. This in the long run can really help build up a child's emotional intelligence, which is a huge benefit for almost all aspects of life, as well as strengthening your relationship with your child.
10. Learn your child's triggers
Each child is unique, and in order to manage your child's behaviour over-time it is worth picking up on their triggers and what makes them feel better. Observing these things will help you settle your child in a much calmer way, particularly when you're out and about and people are around, which can usually add to the stress during a meltdown.
The No-No's during a meltdown
Telling your child there's nothing to cry about is likely to make the tantrum worse. Respond calmly and mindfully, acknowledging your child's feelings, giving them the space to feel everything and sympathise with them e.g. "Yes, I know it's not nice when your baby sister takes your toys, I can see you're feeling really sad about that."
2. Shaming and Humouring
Shaming or making fun of your child for reacting in a certain way which does not agree with you, can potentially create some deeply rooted problems, whereby your child stops feeling comfortable sharing in their feelings in front of you.
3. Put on the TV or Ipad to curb the tantrum
Although this is an easy go-to response to stop a tantrum, research shows that this is not a good idea as it does not allow a child to learn how to regulate their emotions. Learning how to regulate emotions is an essential part of development and adding screen time in the middle of a tantrum prevents this self-regulation from occurring. It can encourage a child to use media as a means to regulate their emotions, and can encourage increased negative emotions when media are taken away.
Telling your child, "I'll fix it" or "I'll get you a new one" can encourage future bad behaviour every time they do not get their way, They can come to believe that having a tantrum is an easy way to get what they want.
5. Reasoning with your toddler
Again, this comes down to too much talking. Your toddler's rational brain is not engaged during a tantrum, and too much talking is likely to make the situation worse.
6. React aggressively, screaming and shouting back
We can all agree that children are impressionable. They model behaviour and so are very able to copy the types of words and actions that you use at home, even if you are not aware of it. Reacting aggressively during a tantrum can show your toddler that you, as a wise and grown-up adult, shout and scream when you are frustrated. In turn, through modelling your behaviour, your child is able to do the same.
7. Give a time-out
This used to be a very popular technique, however, research has shown that time-outs in many cases do not help solve the problem, as the child is shamed and put away with often little to no explanation. They are often done when emotions are heightened on the adults part, and then the child is left feeling confused. A better way to approach this is to instead to a 'break time' where you explain calmly what the child has done that was not appropriate, and you allow them to sit down, perhaps on a chair away from everyone else but still in view, where they can diffuse. The difference to the traditional time-out concept is that they are not kept alone and they spoken to about their behaviour calmly. Often many tantrums occur when a child does not get the attention they want, and so giving this one-on-one attention during a tantrum can help to diffuse things.
8. Re-direct with a treat such as chocolate
This is a total no-no. Similar to TV, it will likely encourage bad behaviour in the long-run, whereby your child expects a treat every time they throw a tantrum. The sugar spike that occurs after a treat will likely cause more sweet cravings and can lead to another tantrum. You can however, re-direct with a healthy snack and if you know your child is prone to tantrums in certain situations for example, when you go to the supermarket, prepare some healthy snacks such as fruit or cucumber sticks or a yogurt pot, to have ready if they need some distraction.
Toddlers are not capable of connecting actions with consequences, so by the time a four year old has undergone punishment, they have likely forgotten about the tantrum they threw and therefore unable to connect the two things. Do not confuse discipline with punishment.
10. Feel embarrassed or judged
It is so easy to feel embarrassed when your child is having a meltdown in a public place. We've all been there. And yes, it feels kind of mortifying. But kids will be kids, and sadly there is no quick cure to stop tantrums in a developing child. Feeling embarrassed or judged will likely negatively effect your response, and your ability to calmly and rationally deal with your child. Just remember that every single mother in the entire world to have ever lived has had to deal with a tantrum. Even Beyonce. Hold that with you, especially on your worst days.
If your child is expressing physical aggressive behaviour always intervene. And be mindful when dealing with tantrums, that even equipped with an array of tips to help prevent or diffuse a tantrum, toddlers are developing and have big emotions, and despite best efforts and best intentions sometimes it is near to impossible to avoid a big meltdown. Give yourself grace, and your child space to deal with their growing emotions. As frustrating as they can be for mums, tantrums are a normal part of development, and not intentional by your child.