Tuesday Tips: how to deal with toddler tantrums?

How to deal with toddler tantrums

Last week we got an email from one of our readers, asking for a post on the topic of toddler tantrums. Her two-year-old is just starting to have some bouts and tantrums and she said she’s desperate for advice from fellow mums.

I think this is a bit of a tricky topic, because it is so dependent on one’s personal parenting style and, ahum, patience. For me, the most important advice regarding tantrums, is that it is crucial not to indulge the child’s demands… (not easy!) — because if you do, throwing a tantrum will become a means of getting his way!

I also believe that often, if not always, a tantrum is just some kind of act of desperation. When Casper has a tantrum, which does happen every now and then, I often feel he is just hungry, tired, or hurt. He has difficulties recognising these feelings of unease, and even if he could, he would have difficulties expressing himself because he is still so little. He still needs help to communicate his feelings.

So he doesn’t feel well — and doesn’t know/recognise it — so he gets really, really angry because I don’t let him watch Miffy on the tv ; ). But in reality, he might just need a banana! Truth is, I get cranky too when I forget to eat, or when I don’t sleep well, and I am not the nicest person to have around. And even for me, it is sometimes difficult to recognise that I’m in such a bad mood because I’m simply hungry! (My husband knows me better than I do, and gives me something to eat! Haha!)

So here’s what I do when Casper is having a fit. First, I ask if he’s hungry/tired/hurt. (Do you want a banana? Some water? Does your tummy hurt? Are you very tired? Do you need a hug?) If that doesn’t help, and he keeps on going, and a distraction doesn’t work, and he won’t stop after I’ve asked him a few times, I will actually put him in the hallway. Sometimes I feel you just have to be strict, break through the tantrum. Do something sudden. Raise your voice. Show them you don’t approve of this behaviour. In my case this always helps, but I can be a little strict sometimes… This really depends on your personal parenting style!

So my personal strategy is: first, ask if there is a problem. If there is, give food/ put to bed / give hugs etc. If that doesn’t help, ask him to stop. Then, the hallway (or in any case, I show that I’m displeased about this behaviour). I also like to remember that this is just a phase, and once the child will grow to be able to express feelings better, things will get easier.

Now please share — what are your thought on tantrums, and techniques to deal with them? I would love to hear!

xxx Esther

PS Photo taken last year, when Courtney visited us in Amsterdam and Casper threw tantrums all the time!


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Comments (31)

Allison
May 19, 2015

Tantrums are so often frustration (made worse by being tired or hungry) and I find that “do you need a hug?” with arms held wide, often resolves things. We try to name emotions to help our littles learn to understand what they are feeling. It can also help to acknowledge that we understand what it is they feel/want, even if we aren’t going to give it to them. Mostly I try to distract and move out of the phase of acknowledging the tantrum quickly though or else it can prolong it. If I’ve tried to help and it’s just escalating, I will say “when you’re ready, I will be over here doing … And you can come join me”, and then walk away so there is no audience.


May 19, 2015

I totally agree with Allison! I wasn’t sure at first, but a hug and talking in a calm voice really works!


Janelle
May 19, 2015

I use Allison’s suggestion too. “Do you need a hug?” works wonders for me.


Rachel Parker
May 19, 2015

Brilliant article Esther. Thank you x


May 19, 2015

Haha I love this photo and Ivy’s “get over it” face! lol I have a 6-year-old that still throws tantrums regularly and a loud mama that snaps easily when nothing of the above helps – food, rest, conversation or even time-outs! She is one very feisty little girl and I wonder who she got that after :/ Have any suggestions on how to keep your cool even after a whole day of loud and in-your-face kind of tantrums? And how to not feel so bad when they finally fall asleep and look like the most peaceful kids on the planet? 🙂
And you’re so right about the food – I think all mamas with more kids (or even just one) forget to eat all the time! Sometimes I remember I skipped almost all the meals only in the evening when the kids are already asleep. :S


Esther
May 19, 2015

🙂 my 6.5 year old twin boys are still prone to tantrums! It’s a whiny stage more than a “throw yourself on a floor” but I’m very tired of it, too. I’m very strict and the boys have much shorter “leashes” then their American friends (I’m old-school European, raising kids in the States). I do raise my voice to get their attention when all fails after repeatedly asking the child to stop. And I take away privileges or they have to earn them.

It’s tough being a parent! Love this article. Thanks, ladies!


Esther in Amsterdam
June 4, 2015

Polona, this is all very normal, and I don’t have any suggestions except for taking some distance. I certainly need that every now and then! Don’t forget that you’re not the only one to feel this way, that really helps. Also, some children are more difficult than others — some children can cool down from a tantrum by just a hug, others simply sometimes need another approach. But in any case, I think it’s important that we take care of ourselves really well. It’s like in an airplane — put on the oxygen mask on your own mouth before helping your child. You can’t take care of your child if you can’t breathe… xxxxx


Virginie / France
May 19, 2015

My son is 3 and is quite nervous… When it’s too much for him to handle, he breaks down in tears and sometimes hits his sister… In this case, I tell him he’s too irritated to talk so he should calm down in his bedroom. He can only throw the “fluffy ball of angry” 🙂
And he comes back a few minutes later saying “i’m calm now….”

Sorry for my english!
Virginie, from France


Esther in Amsterdam
June 4, 2015

Your English is perfect! Thank you! x


May 19, 2015

I think this is great advice, Esther, we tend to be fairly strict about not giving into demands during tantrums either. Tantrums are like a wave and sometimes you just have to wait until the wave recedes and manage the situation as best you can during it (i.e., keep your head above water). I know our two year old is nearly done with her tantrum when she tearfully asks for her bunny. We took a family trip to a new city and she had loads of tantrums because it was a new place and a new schedule, the slightest little things set her off (like her brother getting a turn in the buggy, or us deciding to walk down THIS street instead of another street). Tantrums aren’t always rational, I have to remind myself, and you shouldn’t take them personally!


Esther in Amsterdam
June 4, 2015

Haha, sounds completely familiar. Casper, the other day, threw the biggest tantrum because I chose to walk to the wc through the office door instead of through the living room door!! (In that case, BTW, I decided not to fight that battle so I went back through the living room door, haha). x


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Mel
May 19, 2015

That is a great photo. Love both girls’ reaction to Casper!
Toddlers sure can make you feel like the worse mother in the world especially if they are throwing a tantrum in public. Keeping calm, aloof from it but strict is what I used to aim for when mine were little but the reality was their stubbornness could outlast my resolve and I’d resort to raising my voice. Just wait for the teenage years, far far worse.
My sister had a novel perhaps crazy way of dealing with it. If out on the street, she would put on her headphones. She’d make sure the kid was fine but she said music helped to keep her calm as much of the noise was drowned out, although she is pretty laid back anyway. Maybe not for everyone !


mathilde
May 19, 2015

thank you for the nice post, but can I just say the picture is hilarious?!


May 19, 2015

That picture is the best one ever for this post. Love it. But, yes, in combination with asking is the child hungry or tired, sometimes my husband and I have started asking ourselves, “What did our daughter eat that is causing such an abnormal breakdown?” For some children, dyes in food/snacks or gluten can cause behavior reactions. Also, I try to take a deep breath myself, and simply slow down. All too often it’s a misunderstanding and I just need to stop and listen carefully without interrupting or hurrying. That only seems to make it worse.


Esther in Amsterdam
June 4, 2015

Yep — I agree. Good point! We’re all busy mothers, and sometimes we forget to slow down. x


May 19, 2015

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Beatriz
May 19, 2015

Great topic and article, thanks! I tried everything with my daughter. Nothing worked. I was quite frustrated (I often ended up raising my voice which made me feel guilty). One day, when I picked up my daughter at her daycare, all of a sudden, I realized that I had never seen in her classroom a child screaming, fighting or in the middle of a tantrum (the classroom always seemed to be so peaceful). I asked the teachers their techniques to deal with tantrums and they told me that quite often, the little ones have difficulties expressing their feelings/emotions and their natural way to cope with them is throwing a tantrum. The teachers told me that in these situations they never raise their voices, and kneel down, squat or sit at the eye level of the child to talk to. They also ask them whether a hug would help (they always reply yes!). I tried and it worked!


Sofia
May 19, 2015

Great capture, and sweet brave Casper! It seems like he was not intimidated at all by the older kids!
For most kids tantrums are just a phase and as parents we have not only to set the example but also to be consistent and not give in – even in early ages. i loved the banana thing, and in fact always bring one (together with some other snacks) whenever we go out. Many times it really does the trick with tantrums 🙂


Sarah
May 19, 2015

I also do what you suggest Esther. But how do you cope when you are out and about? I often find my 2nd most strong willed daughter will demand things and when I say no, will have a total melt down. I don’t give in often so I don’t know why she has resorted to behaving like this when she wants something. It can be very embarrassing!


Esther in Amsterdam
June 4, 2015

I agree Sarah, it’s a tough one. I personally still follow the routine I described, and try a clever distraction (no you can’t have an ice-cream now, but shall we look at that little doggy over there?). I’m sure you do this too! If nothing helps, I take the child away to a slightly quieter place (out of the shop, for instance) if I can. But I try to not give in (but I’m no saint, haha!). I actually believe that most of the people in the public space will understand and will admire you for not giving in to the demands of your toddler. (Also, Casper still uses a dummy, and I do pull that out in situations like you described. Maybe your daughter has a dummy, of a stuffed animal that helps?) x


May 19, 2015

Ignore the child to begin with and walk away. When they see they have been ignored, change it around. Sit your child in your laps and Hug them tightly as you can (but safely so they don’t feel suffocated). This strong hug can change the way they feel, making them feel secure and loved. It can help bring their body emotions back into control.


Uma
May 19, 2015

Great topic and, as Esther said, everyone has their own style of parenting and approaches to different situations. When my then two and a half year old threw one of her first big tantrums I tried everything. We were on a public space and I went from talking calmly to holding her to raising my voice to threatening her with not reading her books at bedtime. Nothing worked and I felt desperate, hurt, beaten and, well, deeply embarrassed. I clearly needed to do some research in the subject. I will always remember that moment as ‘the time when I first failed her’. After much reading I tried the approach that made more sense to me and that reflected the style of parenting that felt truer to how I wanted to see myself as a parent. I wanted to be the calm, loving, empathetic, experienced, secure parent I had seen in my mum. The only problem was: I didn’t think the newly learned approach would work. However, I gave it a try. The next time my feisty little girl threw a tantrum I reacted in the same way as if she had badly hurt herself. I walked to her and held her in my arms. I said, very calmly, don’t worry, mummy is here, mummy is here. I stroked her hair and held her tight. She calmed down in less than a minute. I couldn’t believe it. It worked that first time and it worked all the other hundreds of times. In fact, every time she started to throw a tantrum she would automatically come to me for that big hug and those comforting words. I think she felt I understood her pain, her inability to express her feelings, her anger, her frustration. She’s 4 now and, although she doesn’t often throw tantrums anymore (she can talk about her feelings now), the approach still works. Hope this helps – it certainly changed my perception on tantrums and how to deal with similar situations. All my children have responded in similar ways by the way.


May 20, 2015

I agree, to deal with tantrums is up to the parenting style, but also up to the child’s character. My son had maybe a hand-full of tantrums and I just ignored him. He stopped as he realised he is not getting anywhere with it. My daughter is more perseverant and ingnoring her just makes matters worse. When she flips out – which is several times a day – I have to threaten her with punishment (or punish her if the threat does not work) or put her in the hallway to calm down and even that does not always work. She has a desire to be carried and cuddled, which is lovely, but unfortunately, she always decides to have this desire when I am in the middle of cooking dinner or doing something where two hands are needed. In that case she has to deal with her issues until I am done, which can mean I have a crying kid stuck to my leg for the whole process or until I lose my cool.

Kudos to you Esther that the “terrible twos” where not mentioned once in your text. I cringe when I hear that and I cannot disagree more with that expression. Those poor kids are not terrible when they are two, they just don’t know what’s going on with them as they become more self-aware but are not able to express themselves. As you say, they need help to say or even find out what’s wrong with them. XXX


May 20, 2015

I also really dislike the term “terrible twos”!! So glad to read I’m not the only one! The comments have been great on this post! Wonderfully written post Esther!

I wanted to share one article that I read several years ago. It really helped my parenting and understanding a better way to deal with disobedience – both for my toddler and my school age children. I use this “Three Rule” tactic with my children often and it really works!

http://lisabeaman.hubpages.com/hub/Parenting-Tip-Simple-Rules-to-Help-Kids-Obey


Esther in Amsterdam
June 4, 2015

I love this idea! I sort of do this too — but I like to see it written down as an actual ‘system’ — and to make it a little funny and give the kids some authority too! 🙂 Thanks for sharing Annie! x


May 20, 2015

Great post – AS USUAL I have to say 🙂
may I suggest two topics for next Tuesdays? one is how to manage homework and self discipline. The second one is related to jealousy between sisters/siblings in general. Thanks a lot


Esther in Amsterdam
June 4, 2015

Hi Angela — thanks! Courtney wrote a Tuesday Tips about sibling rivalry: http://babyccinokids.com/blog/2015/01/27/tuesday-tips-preventing-sibling-rivalry/ . I like your other suggestion — Sara, our oldest, just started to have homework. I’ll keep it in mind for a Tuesday Tips post! x


Wendy Beaumont
May 20, 2015

Thank you Esther for listening to my suggestion & writing about this topic . I think it is one that unites all of us Moms as it just feels better to feel like we are in this parenting thing together! I have found that first & foremost as an adult & Mommy I HAVE to be in a good frame of mind, take good care of myself & try to have the right balance in life so I am set up for success with my 27 month old AND 8 week old. When my toddler has a tantrum & I am calm enough to offer comfort & come from a place of control, she & I are better for it. If I let her know I am there for her & if she wants me or doesn’t want me whilst tantrumming, its up to her-she & I both know I have done all I could. I sleep better at night when I can offer support to my kids instead of losing my cool. It happens to us all, as we are human and not perfect but in my better moments I am a supportive, calm parent whilst my toddler is dealing with uncontrollable emotions & frustrations. Its tough but two out of control beings just ends in tears! Love to all you Mommy’s we have the hardest job there is!! x


Esther in Amsterdam
June 4, 2015

Thanks for your suggestion Wendy!! x


Anna
May 22, 2015

Im glad Im not the only one who has commented similar to Uma!
Tantrums are over bubbling of feelings that toddlers cannot express or control, they literally arent able to do it, why would you punish them for that? if you ignore them or put them in time out, what are you saying to your child? You cant handle your emotions and neither can I. Is it kind to ignore someone? Would you ignore your partner in that way if they lost control? What do adults do who learn that they are punished for expressing their feelings and that they should deal with them on their own?
Its not about giving in to demands – with me, I explain why she cant do or have something – its dangerous/I cant let you have that right now because its tea soon and you’ll get full up etc. and then If she loses it (which, she hardly ever does because she knows I listen to her/give reasons for my actions) I tell her again why not and hug her if she lets me, tell her I can see she’s mad/sad and that Im there for her, that I love her.
If we teach our children empathy and respect, then they are sure to show it back. Respect from fear of you or punishment, is not a healthy way to be.


Esther in Amsterdam
June 4, 2015

Thanks for you comment Anna, I think all mothers’ parenting styles derive from a deep feeling of love for their child, but I also think that every parent is different, every child is different, every culture is different, and every situation is different. In any case, I agree with you that it’s important to teach our children empathy and respect, and giving the right example of course.


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