Yelling, hitting, sometimes biting, and throwing themselves down on the ground for seemingly no reason at all are all key features of a toddler meltdown. In public, these tantrums can be embarrassing for parents. And in private, meltdowns are still far more stressful than a calm, happy baby.
For some people who are not actively in the throws of the toddler years, it is easy to pass judgment on these parents. In fact, the amount of stigma surrounding how children should behave in public is a very real cause of parenting guilt among the toddler parent crowd who feel powerless at stopping or preventing their children from having a meltdown.
Before you can effectively stop a toddler from throwing a fit, you have to get a handle on what is causing their irrational meltdowns. Sometimes, out of complacent oversight, parents expect toddlers to live in their world full of busy schedules packed with activities. A missed nap or forgotten snack can make a big difference in how adaptable your little one is to frequent changes and busy schedules.
Keep in mind that toddlers have not yet fully developed their communication skills. They may be unable to identify or express their emotions. Poor behavior like whining or throwing themselves down on the ground might be the result of their inability to communicate what they are needing or wanting.
Tips for preventing temper tantrums:
How to Respond to a Toddler Temper Tantrum
Sometimes, despite your best intentions, you will find yourself forced to deal with a temper tantrum. At that moment, you will have a choice to either contribute to the chaos or constructively resolve it. Many of us are programmed to fight fire with fire, meaning that if we can raise our voice louder or speak more sternly, we will somehow win the battle.
There is no rationalizing with a toddler. They are inherently irrational so forget the idea that you can use logic to reason with them, or even that you can defeat their willpower with sheer force. Taming a toddler tantrum takes a different approach.
Toddlers have big emotions and they have not yet developed the coping skills to handle them. What might seem small to an adult with adequate coping skills can feel insurmountable to a toddler. Validating their feelings isn’t so much about normalizing ridiculous complaints as it is about teaching your toddler that it is ok to feel what they are feeling.
Use the opportunity to dig a little deeper and try to identify what the tantrum is really about. On the surface, it might appear to be because ‘someone’ ate their snack. But the true problem is that they have suddenly realized they are out of a snack that they enjoyed. They are either still hungry, they are thirsty and have confused that sensation for hunger, or they enjoyed the snack and are disappointed that it is gone.
Rule out the physical causes of distress by offering a drink. This will alleviate thirst and temporarily alleviate hunger so that you can ask more questions. Then, move on to the more likely culprit of disappointment.
Try phrases like “I know that was a really good snack. It is disappointing that there is not anymore. We will have another snack after we go to the playground”.
The next time that your toddler has a snack, prepare them by letting them know this is only a small snack. They can eat it slowly and make it last or they can eat it quickly, but you won’t give them anymore.
Toddlers have unpredictable meltdowns all of the time. Some are caused by physical needs like a missed nap or hunger. Others are caused by unmet social or emotional needs. And, some are caused by overstimulation. In addition to numerous causes, every child is different. Some cope better than others, some adjust new stimuli more easily. Handling a tantrum is really about finding the cause and alleviating the pressure point.