What NOT to Do When Your Toddler Is Having a Tantrum
It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: something doesn’t go your child’s way, and before you know it, they’re on the ground, screaming and crying. You try to reason with them, ask them to calm down, but nothing works.
Parents often have many instincts about dealing with a tantrum, but we’re thinking with our (somewhat) rational adult brains. Toddlers don’t think like us. They live in a world where they’re always told what to do, and they have little control over anything. Couple that with a lack of vocabulary to express their feelings and a need to exert their independence, and you have a recipe for tantrums.
Despite your best efforts, there are things you do that can prolong the tantrum, make it worse, and even increase the possibility of future tantrums. If you’d like to avoid these actions, read on to learn what NOT to do when your toddler is having a tantrum.
Tantrums aren’t fun for parents, but they aren’t fun for kids either. When your child is having a tantrum, they feel out of control. You may feel that they can just stop, but in their minds, they don’t know how to stop. If you panic, your child will feed off that energy and prolong the tantrum.
Tantrums are also a loss of control for you. Your child is losing it, and you feel powerless to stop it. It can be incredibly frustrating for you, but you have to keep your cool.
When your child feels out of control, they need you to be the level-headed one who can bring them back to a calm place. No matter how bad the tantrum is, remain calm. Speak to your child in a soothing voice. Keep reminding them that they’re okay. If you can keep your wits about you, the tantrum will be over much sooner.
Don’t Get Angry
It’s hard not to get angry when your child is having a tantrum. From the outside, it looks like bad behavior. In most cases, your child has either been told no or is about to be punished for breaking a rule, and now they’re crying. It’s natural to feel angry when your child is acting this way. This feeling is compounded if you’re in public and you feel like others are judging your parenting.
Just as panic won’t help your child, neither will anger. Try to shift your mindset. If you can understand that your child feels out of control instead of seeing them as intentionally misbehaving, you’ll be able to manage your anger and remain calm to help your child.
Don’t Act Like Your Child’s Feelings Are Irrelevant
There are many times when your child’s tantrums will seem ridiculous. Even small things, like their milk in the wrong color cup, can trigger a full-blown meltdown. It can be challenging to take your child’s feelings seriously when they’re upset over something seemingly irrelevant.
However, you must validate your child’s feelings. If their feelings are enough to cause a tantrum, then it’s important to them. Toddlers often have trouble verbalizing their feelings, so sometimes just saying what they feel back to them can make them feel calm.
For example, your child is crying because their favorite stuffed animal is in the wash. Get on their level and say calmly, “It’s so frustrating when you can’t wear your Batman shirt. I know that makes you so mad.” Don’t try to explain why their feelings are wrong. Instead, you’ll let them know that their feelings are important.
Don’t Keep Your Child in the Situation
Sometimes a simple change of scenery is enough to shake your child out of a tantrum. You’ll especially want to move your child if you’re someplace public, like a store or a restaurant. You don’t want to disrupt others, but you’re more likely to overreact to the tantrum if you feel like others judge your parenting.
Instead, move your child to a quiet place where they feel comfortable. Their room or your car are good options. If your toddler has particularly violent tantrums, be sure they’re somewhere where they can’t hurt themself.
Don’t Give the Tantrum More Attention Than It Warrants
Once you’ve validated your child’s feelings, you don’t want to keep focusing on the tantrum. If your child needs to cry it out, then let them, but don’t let yourself get swept up in their feelings. Tantrums aren’t always a cry for attention, but if you suspect your child is trying to get attention, then it’s best to ignore the tantrum.
Once the tantrum is over, give your child a few minutes to calm down. Then try to engage them in an activity that you can do together. If your child is acting out for attention, you need to show them that positive behavior will get them attention more often than negative behavior.
Don’t Give in to What Your Child Wants
Most parents of toddlers have been in this situation: you’re in a store, your child wants a toy, and they scream bloody murder for it. You’re embarrassed, and you want the crying to stop, so you give in and buy it.
You’ve fixed the problem for a day, but you’ve also taught your child another lesson—make a big enough fuss, and you’ll get what you want. It may seem more straightforward to give in during the moment, but you’re only setting yourself up for future tantrums.
Don’t Take it Personally
Your toddler may say some hurtful things during a tantrum, especially if you’re the one denying them something. They may say they don’t like you or even that they hate you. They may storm off and say they never want to see you again.
It’s hard not to get your feelings hurt, but just as your toddler cannot verbalize their feelings, they also don’t understand the strength of their words. Tell yourself it’s the tantrum talking. You’ll have your loving child back once the tantrum is over.
Tantrums are one of the most frustrating aspects of the toddler years. Just remember that the screaming fits can be confusing for your child too. Keep in mind that you’re the parent, and it’s your job to guide your child safely through them. Keep your head up and remind yourself that this stage won’t last forever.