With each meltdown you should have a short-term goal and a long-term goal. The short-term goal is, of course, to stop the behavior. The long-term goal is to do nothing that would encourage future meltdowns. Below are the “dos” and “don’ts” of stopping a toddler temper tantrum:
Actions That Will Calm Your Child:
- Catch the tantrum early: You know your child better than anyone, right? You know his/her cues and you’ll often recognize when he/she is in the beginning stages of a meltdown. Try to redirect your child’s attention to keep him/her calm. Deal with the problem as quickly as you can, before it escalates.
- Help your tot understand his/her feelings: Toddlers cannot fully express themselves in words. They don’t know how to cope with their strong emotions. This is a huge reason why they throw so many fits at this age! Toddlers need parents to help them learn to use language to express their emotions. Help your child understand his/her feelings by describing the situation using simple words. Say something like this, for example: “You are mad, you wanted to play with that toy. You are mad that it is sister’s turn to play with it. You are mad because you want to play with that toy, but it is sister’s turn.” or “You are sad, you are sad because you want to go to grandma’s house. You want to go play with grandma. But we can’t play at grandma’s house today and so you are sad”. You want your toddler to know that you care about his/her feelings and the underlying reasons he/she may be upset. Often knowing that they are understood can help toddlers calm down faster in the moment, even when mom or dad still won’t give in to a tantrum! This will also help in the long term by teaching your child how to express feelings verbally. Eventually you may see your tot explaining his/her feelings to you using the model you have set.
- Stay calm: It’s not easy to stay calm during a meltdown, especially a public one. It would be nice if toddlers came with a “calm down” button. Even if your child is going all-out crazy, you have to stay calm. You don’t have to act like you love what your child is doing, but stay calm. Young children will not calm easily if they feel Mommy or Daddy is also out of control. Be firm, but be calm. Speak reassuringly. If you can, try to calmly distract your little one into another activity. Be patient, and remember that you may have put your own parents through a few whirlwind-sized fits yourself!
- Keep them safe: If your toddler has gone into full blown fit-throwing mode, keep your toddler safe. If he/she may throw himself/herself off of a couch, put your child on the floor. If there are objects around that aren’t safe, like pencils, pick them up. If your tot could pull something down on his/her head from a table, move the object or the child. An injury will not calm down the situation and toddlers can be especially dangerous to themselves when they are out of control.
- Ignore the tantrum for a little while: If your child can’t be reasoned with at the moment and you know s/h e is safe, then ignore the behavior or at least give your child some space to calm down alone without much intervention. Your toddler may find it easier to calm down when s/he sees your lack of attention.
- Talk about it and show love: No matter how severe, all toddler temper tantrums eventually end. Sometimes when a child has been so frustrated or angry s/he feesl sad as s/he calms down a bit. Pick your little one up, or give him/her a hug and let your child know you love him/her. Tell your little one that you understand his/her feelings, and give expectations for the future. Here’s an example: “Mommy is so glad you have calmed down. I love you so much. I know you were sad that you didn’t get to play at the park longer, but next time I know you can stay calm, okay? I’m so proud of you for calming down now”. This way your toddler gets the positive reinforcement for the behavior you want, calming down, while you give a reminder for future expectations.
Actions to Avoid:
- Do not give your toddler what s/he wants: If the tantrum started over a toy or other object, do not give in and offer your little one what was wanted. When a child is in full meltdown mode, this may not even calm him/her down anyway. Even if it does calm your child down in the moment, you will be teaching your toddler that tantrums are an appropriate way to get what you want.
- Do not start yelling or lose control of yourself: Sure, it can make you frustrated or angry when your child is throwing yet another fit, but yelling will not calm a meltdown. And it will not help you avoid future meltdowns. You have to show your child who is in control by calmly handling the situation and deciding what behaviors will get your positive attention. Be firm, but don’t lose control of yourself.
- Do not make fun of your child: This is common sense for many, but do not make fun of your child. You don’t approve of the behavior, and it is perfectly acceptable to have expectations and limits, but do not belittle your child or your child’s feelings. This will not calm your toddler down and in the long-term it will not build a relationship of security and trust.
Dealing with frequent tantrums can be difficult. There’s a reason it’s called the “terrible twos” (though they usually start well before the age of 2)! Just stay calm, do your best, and remember most parents have gone through this too and it won’t last forever! And if all else fails just remember how calm your little one is in their sleep!