How to Handle Toddler Tantrums
Your toddler is learning how to deal with the complex emotions that come with toddlerhood, and they might not always make the best choices. That’s where you come in! Setting clear and consistent boundaries and helping them process their emotions in a constructive way will help them build resilience.
Whilst toddler tantrums can’t be avoided, over time you may be able to learn what ‘triggers’ them and be able to lessen the likelihood of them occurring or reduce the duration.
If you want more information on common tantrum behaviour and why tantrums occur, check out this article.
Top 10 tips for managing toddler tantrums:
- Label the feeling and let your toddler know it’s ok to feel the way they are. This could be literally saying “I can see you’re upset because it’s nap time and we have to stop playing. It’s OK to feel sad about that”. By doing this you not only make your toddler feel seen, but also help them to label the feeling next time the same emotion comes up.
- Communicate clear boundaries and be consistent. We want our toddlers to understand that while all feelings are ok, all behaviours are not. Boundaries provide structure which toddlers thrive on! This could sound like “I can see you’re upset because it’s nap time. It’s OK to feel sad because you want to keep playing. Right now, it’s time for a nap”. Also make it clear to your toddler which behaviours are not acceptable and where necessary remove them (or the item causing the tantrum) away from the situation – “It’s not OK to throw the ball at your sister. I’m going to move her away, to keep her safe”, or “I’m going to put the ball away now.” Being consistent enforcing boundaries helps your toddler learn how to cope when things don’t go their way. Make sure you discuss boundaries with your partner and other carers too.
- Give your toddler age-appropriate choices. Instead of telling your toddler what they CAN’T do, tell them what they CAN do. By giving your toddler choices, it makes them feel in control of their decisions and feeds their need to be independent. “After nap, would you like to play in the sand pit or ride your bike?”
- Prepare your toddler ahead of time. Transitions are hard for toddlers, especially when going from something fun (playing), to something not so fun (like bath time). When toddlers know what is going to happen and when, it makes them feel safe. Explain to your toddler what is going to happen next and again, give them a choice or ‘task’ so they feel involved - “Would you like to play with your duck or turtle in the bath?”
- Teach your toddler healthy coping skills. Help your toddler learn ways to let out their big feelings in a safe way. It could be as simple as moving to a quiet spot or turning music on and dancing it out.
- Understand what situations trigger your toddlers’ tantrums and plan ahead. First, you’ll want to identify the situations which trigger a change in your toddlers’ behaviour, let’s take going grocery shopping as an example. Before you leave the house, talk to your toddler about what you expect from them and what happens when they don’t follow the ‘rules’. Keep instructions simple. It might be worthwhile to bring a bag with drinks, food and toys which will keep them entertained (and their tummy full!). If you can, ask a friend or family member to come with you to support. Keep in mind that thorough planning won’t avoid all meltdowns…
- Have ‘time-in’. For younger toddlers 2-3 years its important that they feel understood and safe. So instead of sending them into a time out as ‘punishment’ when they have big feelings, practise ‘time-in’ instead to help them calm down. This means staying with your toddler through the thick of it, potentially removing them from the situation and reassuring them that you’re there for them. If they’ll let you, it’s a great time for a hug!
- Encourage good behaviour. Rather than concentrating on the things that they do wrong, give your toddler more attention and praise when they behave well.
- Mid-tantrum is not the time for teaching. When toddlers are mid-tantrum, they are not in the right frame of mind to learn. Instead of trying to reason with your toddler during the tantrum, wait until they’ve calmed down to talk about their behaviour. Keep the conversation positive and work with them on alternative ways they could have handled the situation.
- Try and stay calm. As hard as it is, toddlers feed off our energy. An adult with heightened emotions cannot de-escalate an escalated child. Try and stay as calm and cool as you can, and talk to your toddler with a quiet and confident tone. If you need to, take some deep breaths or remove yourself from the situation (if safe to do so) to regain your composure.
Some tips on handling tantrums in public:
- Your toddler may get uncomfortable with new surroundings. If they often throw tantrums at public places like shopping centres, then it is possible that they may not like to be out in an unfamiliar place and around unfamiliar people.
- Let your toddler know you are there with them. Don’t ignore them, instead give them a hug or pick them up gently and take a stroll to calm them down.
- Always take food and water with you when you go out so that you can feed your toddler if they feel hungry or thirsty.
- Take your toddler away from the crowd. If your toddler is not settling down, take them to a quiet place and let them calm down. Reassure them that you are around if they feel afraid.
- Take their favourite toys with you.
If your toddler has major tantrums several times a day or often has very long uncontrollable tantrums, seek professional advice, as there may be an explanation you hadn’t considered. If your child’s behaviour is affecting your mental health, seek support from family and friends or seek out counselling services.