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How to Handle Toddler Tantrums
When your toddler throws a tantrum, there are two very important things that you need to do before you do absolutely anything else. The first thing you need to do is to take a deep breath, and the second is to stop, take a moment before you react, and put yourself in your toddlers’ shoes. The last thing that you want to do when your toddler throws a tantrum is yell at them, even though a fiery burning frustration is building inside of you and you feel the need to let it out…don’t. This will only teach your toddler that yelling is the proper avenue to handle conflict, which will lead to more tantrums and more unhappiness in your home.
Instead, look at the situation from their perspective before reacting in order to help them best understand what is wrong with their behavior. As you calm your toddler down so that you can have a behavioral conversation with them, ask yourself, “what triggered this tantrum”, then ask “was I unclear about my instructions?” (Let’s face is, mamas’ and daddy’s’, sometimes everything we think in our brains does not always make it out of our mouths. It’s very possible that your toddler did not understand the instructions they were given. Then again, it’s more possible that they definitely understood the instructions and chose to blatantly disregard them, but it’s still worth a thought! ).
If you can target a trigger, start calmly asking your toddler questions like, “what exactly is it that is upsetting you right now?”, “how did it make you feel when I did not allow you to have another cracker or to steal your sisters toy?”, and the most important question, “why do you think I asked you not to _____ or ______?” Giving your toddler a chance to explain how they feel before issuing a punishment will allow them to release their frustration and feel heard. This is actually an important trust exercise. Toddlers are going to have tantrums, but you get to control if after their tantrum they trust you more with their emotions, or less.
Once you have taken steps to understand what triggered the tantrum, it is your turn to calmly respond to your toddler. It is important that you use what is called an “I feel, when, because, statement”, or a “feeling statement” with your toddler while you are explaining to them the reasons their behavior was unacceptable. Here is an example of a feeling statement: “I feel frustrated when you do not follow my instructions because it makes me afraid that you could get hurt”, or, “I feel upset when you take toys away from your brother because we have talked about sharing and you know better than to disobey me.” It is important for your toddler to hear you talk about how their behavior makes them feel because it first, allows them to develop an understanding of proper conflict resolution, and second, allows them to see you be vulnerable with them, which helps them to trust you.
Lastly, keep in mind is that when it comes time for a “time-out” as consequence for their bad behavior, it should never be held in your toddlers’ room. Their room should be reserved for play-time, and should remain a place to feel safe and secure. Instead, choose a corner in your home or daycare to place a designated “time-out” chair. This will help your toddler to know what to expect from their bad behavior and will create boundaries for them. Also, if the time-out chair is out in the open for them to see while they play, it will unconsciously help them to keep their behavior in check because they will not want to have to go into time out.