We've all been there, so don't worry if your child is not always an angel. Tantrums are real and happen to the nicest of children. A tantrum is defined as "an outburst or display of excited anger," and you must admit that we adults sometimes find ourselves having tantrums of our own. Children, especially toddlers, are experiencing emotions for the first time, which often results in heightened, even exaggerated awareness of their feelings. Our job as parents is to, first of all, keep our calm, then weather the storm while providing learning opportunities for our children.
I've learned a lot about parenting through my experience as an elementary educator. One of the most valuable lessons I've learned is how to effectively deal with children's tantrums. This is not to say that my daughter behaves perfectly - quite the contrary. She is a normal toddler which means she throws tantrums with the best of them. However, I have equipped us both with the tools necessary to not only work through the tantrum and maintain my sanity, but to also use the tantrum as a teachable moment. Here is how to effectively deal with a tantrum:
Operation Distract and Ignore
It sounds harsh, I know. Some would even say putting the word "ignore" and parenting advice in the same sentence is toxic. I respectfully disagree. Sometimes, parents create even more chaos by jumping into the situation, instead of providing their children the opportunity to use their own life skills to solve the problem. Let me break this down for you.
- Transitions. Most tantrums occur in moments of transition. What exactly do I mean by that? Well, put yourself in your child's shoes for a moment. Let's say you are watching your favorite TV show when your spouse or partner suddenly storms in the room, turns off the TV and carries you upstairs, saying, "It's time to go to bed!" Do you think you would keep your cool? Probably not! We need to prepare our children for the next activity, especially if you know it is something that is going to make your child upset to walk away from.
- Count. An effective way to handle transitions is to count up or down. For instance, if my daughter is playing and I need to get her ready to go somewhere, I approach her and say, "We are going to stop playing and get dressed by the count of three." That is when I immediately start counting and once I get to three I better mean business and stick to my word, regardless of her reaction. Children feed off of indecisive parenting!
- Distract. If my daughter starts to throw a tantrum, I immediately remove her from the environment. For example, if she is throwing the tantrum in the living room where she is playing, I take her to another room, let's say her bedroom, and distract her with something positive. I might say, "Oh sweetie, which shirt do you want to wear?"
- Ignore. If she continues to pitch a fit, I ignore her. Yes you read that right. I ignore her and continue picking out clothes, singing a song, smiling, completely ignoring her negative behavior! Children love an audience, good or bad, so don't give the negative behavior your attention.
- Teach. Once she has finally calmed down, I use her tantrum as a teachable moment and say something along the lines of, "G, when mommy says to stop playing and get dressed, you need to listen and do what mommy says." There is no use in trying to do this step when the tantrum is at its peak because your child will NOT hear you! You must wait and seize the opportunity to teach your child once he or she has calmed down because that is when your child will be receptive to what you have to say.
I hope this helps you in those moments of chaos! We all go through it, so don't beat yourself up over it, and try not to lose your cool with your child! Exercise patience, use these tips and see if it helps. Please note that if your child is experiencing extreme tantrums on a consistent basis and your instincts tell you something more serious is going on, by all means, seek help and advice from your pediatrician.