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How to tame a toddler tantrum

How to tame a toddler tantrum

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Understanding your toddler’s tantrum is the key to coping with them. Here are 5 ways to help head them off!

Sharing a home with a toddler means knowing what a truly epic tantrum involves – we’re talking arms, legs and lungs all going full boar. 

Understanding them is the key to coping with them – and sometimes, heading them off!

The good news

A tantrum, while unpleasant to deal with – especially if you’re dealing with a serial tantrum chucker, is actually a valuable opportunity to teach your toddler important life skills. 

Psychologist Giuliett Moran from Empowering Parents explains a tantrum is your toddlers way of expressing uncomfortable feelings that they are yet to understand and unable to express more appropriately. If you handle it right, you’ll be helping them build resilience, coping strategies and stronger communication skills for the long run. 

In the moment, it can be hard to keep a cool head yourself, especially if it’s becoming a pattern of behaviour or you are busy or stressed yourself. 

It can also be hard not to take it personally. However, putting yourself in their shoes can help you stay cool. 

Think of it this way – when you are angry, upset, anxious, tired or hungry; you are also more prone to losing your temper, however, you’ve had time and guidance to learn to identify what you’re feeling and how best to deal with it. 

Toddlers are no different in experiencing these feelings, they are just yet to learn how to name them, understand them, and work through them – that’s where you come in. 

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So what can you do to help them? Here are 5 ways to tame a tantrum as recommended by Giuliett

1. Help them learn to name the feelings behind the tantrum

Listen to what they are saying, recognise and name the emotion that you observe and acknowledge how they might be feeling.  

In the long run (and the effect can start to be seen quicker for some kids), this allows them to identify and explain their feelings - having a name or label for the emotions is an important first step. 

2. Validate their experience

By saying “I understand you are frustrated because your brother keeps taking your toy”, you’re allowing them to own their feelings (and we all have them), and acknowledge it’s a legitimate feeling. 

Conversely, it’s important not to invalidate their feelings – for example “don’t be angry, he doesn’t mean to do it.” 

This can lead children to believe that their emotions are wrong or invalid and they are bad for having them, which can then lead to them internalising their emotions and letting them build up. 

Equally, it’s important not to shame them for their feelings – for example, saying “why are you being such a crybaby?” 

3. Help them develop strategies to deal with their feelings

This is one that can be done post tantrums, with the goal of being able to remind them when they are getting worked up – for example “I can see you’re becoming angry, take a deep breath?” 

It’s a good idea to reinforce the behaviour with praise when they use their strategies. “Wow, you did such a great job taking a few deep breathes and asking for help when your brother took your toy?” 

4. Set limits

This is the key part of dealing with a tantrum in the moment, and it will take time to work. 

While toddlers need to understand that having feelings is okay and normal, they equally need to learn acting inappropriately is not. 

Try “I know you’re upset that we have to leave your friend’s house, but that doesn’t mean you can throw things and scream.” 

5. Model good behaviour

If you find yourself or others in the house prone to ‘chucking a tanty’, why not work through the steps above and come up with strategies that work for you when you need to calm yourself.