Tantrum taming: Practical strategies for parents to deal with toddler meltdowns

One of the hardest things about being a parent is dealing with toddler tantrums. A child’s scream causes both blood pressure and stress levels to rise. It’s a real challenge to know how to respond to a two- or three-year-old’s tantrums! You may even think your parenting skills are to blame until you realise the cause and learn some useful techniques for dealing with toddler tantrums. “As frustrating as tantrums can be, they are common at the age between 12 months and 4 years because toddlers are still learning how to express themselves and cope with their feelings. Several theories exist on how best to respond to tantrums or meltdowns. Dr. Michael Potegal, Ph.D., specializing in tantrum research, notes that around 85 per cent of toddlers aged 2 and 3 experience tantrums,” says Sibi Fakih, Lead Curriculum Development, Kangaroo Kids. (Also read: Engaging exercises to boost language development in toddlers )

Tantrum taming: Practical strategies for parents to deal with toddler meltdowns(Freepik)

She further shared with HT Lifestyle, “Typically commencing at 12 to 15 months, these episodes peak between 18 and 36 months, gradually subsiding by the age of 4, as outlined by the National Association of School Psychologists. The expert continues to say that using treats, bribes or giving in are ineffective strategies for responding to tantrums. Right from demanding chocolates and candies to not sharing their toys with others or even crying every morning to go to school, parents need to handle it with care and reasoning.”

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“Let’s take the scenario of the week preschool opens. The initial week of preschool poses a considerable challenge for parents. It is common for children and parents to experience certain emotions. When parents leave their children in the care of teachers, the toddlers begin to cry. Studies say that an exhortation of crying is not because the child cannot be independent but because children see a lack of parent’s confidence, which the child often mirrors. Therefore, teachers and counsellors recommend that parents refrain from displaying any signs of worry or apprehension during departure and instead part confidently. Tantrums like this are closely brought solutions through doctors and caregivers,” says Sibi.

Strategies for dealing with toddler tantrums

Sibi suggested some straightforward techniques for parents to respond to tantrums in a constructive and beneficial manner.

1. Maintaining a positive mindset during toddler tantrums

It’s natural to feel overwhelmed or disheartened when your toddler grapples with intense emotions. Amidst the turmoil, it’s crucial to bear in mind a few key points:

● Normalizing tantrums: Tantrums are a standard part of a child’s development. It’s common to perceive them as a personal attack on parenting skills, but it’s essential to recognize that toddlers often struggle to manage their significant emotions.

● Communication through tantrums: Tantrums serve as a form of communication for children who may not yet have the skills to express their feelings verbally. Teaching effective communication and emotional management is a learning process that requires parental guidance.

● Curiosity as an approach: Rather than reacting solely to the surface of a tantrum, delve into understanding potential triggers. Is your child avoiding a task, seeking something, overstimulating, or trying to communicate an unmet need? Being curious about the root cause fosters a more compassionate response.

2. What to avoid during tantrums:

● Bribing: Offering rewards to calm a child may backfire, instilling a connection between misbehaviour and rewards.

● Physical discipline: Spanking, yelling, or hitting are ineffective long-term discipline methods and may contribute to aggressive behaviour.

● Giving in: While tempting, giving in to a child’s demands reinforces the behaviour, making it more likely to recur. Remaining calm and standing your ground is more beneficial.

3. Effective tips and responses to tantrums:

● Pause and reflect: Before reacting, take a moment to collect yourself. Children learn from adult responses, so maintaining composure is key.

● Validate feelings: Acknowledge your child’s emotions, even if you think they seem unwarranted. This fosters trust and communication.

● Clear expectations: Clearly communicate acceptable behaviour expectations rather than simply saying “no”. Be consistent with limits.

● Offer choices: Provide your child with two acceptable options for managing their emotions, empowering them with a sense of control.

● Communicating with teachers: Parents must be open to accepting emerging tantrums that are not observed at home. Particularly in preschools, children encounter a social setting entirely unfamiliar to them. In this environment, they may display new types of tantrums and behaviours not observed by their parents at home. To address this, preschools prioritize engaging in personal and open conversations with parents, informing them about any behavioural changes or tantrums their toddler may manifest.

● Patience and praise: After a tantrum subsides, reinforce positive behaviour with praise. This encourages future positive actions.

● Establish routines: Simple routines provide predictability, helping children feel secure. Adjust as needed while maintaining consistency.

● Teach feeling words: Equip your child with a vocabulary for expressing emotions to reduce reliance on tantrums as a means of communication.

● Introduce coping skills: Dr. Vasco Lopes, Psy.D., an assistant professor of clinical psychology, suggests a few self-calming techniques. Including teaching children to take a few deep breaths or helping them count backwards. Try to change the venue so that a different place can distract their attention from whatever is disturbing and causing them to throw a tantrum.

“In “The Whole-Brain Child,” Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D., note that toddlers struggle to express emotions through logic and words, often living in the present. They may seem oblivious to parental concerns. Asking empathetic questions like “Wasn’t that difficult?” or “Not having toys or chocolates can make you feel sad, right?” helps toddlers feel understood by their parents. Improving your response to tantrums is an ongoing process, and it’s okay not to get it right every time. Be kind to yourself and acknowledge mistakes, using them as opportunities for personal and parental growth,” concludes Sibi Fakih.

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