Toddler tantrums are normal and you can handle them like a pro!
“Mom, the sun is going up!”
My son declares this every night if we are outside as the sun is setting.
I think it’s because he knows bed time comes after the sun goes down, so it can’t possibly be time for that!
He won’t stop saying it until I confirm that it is, in fact, going up.
I made the mistake of correcting him the first time he said it.
We argued for a good 20 minutes. I was trying to teach him how the sun works and that it had already come up for the day, so now it was going down. My 6 year old daughter even chimed in with her solar system knowledge…He wasn’t having it.
Eventually, we both gave up and agreed with him because his discussion was slowly turning into a tantrum.
So, now every time he says it’s coming up, I have to confirm to him that it is, indeed, coming up.
Toddlers are hard, and confusing.
One minute you want to strangle them, and in the next minute, they are the cutest things you have ever seen!
I love listening to a toddler talk, all their words are cute. I also love when they come up to me and say “I love you, mom!” It melts my heart.
However, today I’m going to talk about the hard part…tantrums.
Are Tantrums Normal?
I think as mothers, it’s natural to pose the question: Are tantrums normal?
Is this just my kid, or what!?
You’ll be happy to know that all toddlers have tantrums.
Ray Levy wrote the book Try and Make Me! Simple Strategies That Turn Off the Tantrums and Create Cooperation.
“Toddler tantrums are a normal part of child development. It’s how they show they’re upset or frustrated. They usually happen when kids are tired, hungry, or uncomfortable.” (2)
It’s easy to feel like you are doing something wrong, or that your toddler isn’t normal, but that’s not true. All toddlers throw tantrums, and they all do it in their own way, and calm down in their own way.
“Learning to deal with frustration is a skill that children gain over time.” (2)
We are here to teach them how to deal with their big emotions.
“[Tantrums] happen often in the two’s, hence the terrible twos when language skills are starting to develop. Because toddlers can’t yet say what they want, feel, or need, a frustrating experience may cause a tantrum. As language skills improve, tantrums tend to decrease.” (2)
There is light at the end of the tunnel. It is common, and usually dissipates as they get older, typically around 4 years of age. (1)
I have parented two toddlers and they both threw different types of tantrums for different reasons, and responded to discipline differently.
My daughter threw a tantrum by crying, maybe throwing herself on the floor, yelling and repeating what she wanted (in her words). Her tantrums were short lived, and she often responded well to having a time out. She hated time out. If I said she would have to sit in time out if she didn’t stop; She usually stopped. My daughter was a better toddler than she was a baby. As a baby, she was extremely colicky.
My son, however, has been way worse. He throws these tantrums that are inconsolable.
He throws things, he hits me, he slams doors, and he screams at the top of his lungs. It’s like he’s in a complete daze to what is going on around him. He is a completely different person. When his tantrums first started, I took it very personally, so I would often be in tears. It also triggered my anxiety, so it would be high for the rest of the day, sometimes spiraling into an attack. It was not good. The more I learned about tantrums and how to handle them, the easier it has been.
I think all kids are different and respond to different things and in different ways.
We have tried so many different things with our son until we found the thing that worked for us. I compiled a list of things that we have done, things we did, things do now, and things that I’ve learned. Some things didn’t work for my son, but they worked for my daughter. Others didn’t work for either of them, but maybe it can work for you!
17 Ways to Manage a Toddler Tantrum like a Boss
Ignore Toddler Tantrums
I think this is the biggest and easiest thing to do. (3) This is the only thing that worked with my son. You could not reason with him, you could not talk to him, look at him, or hug him. If you did, it only made it worse, or egged him on.
It’s hard because when he throws a fit he wants to be near me, and he’s yelling my name, but all he wants to do is yell and hit me, so I have to separate myself from him and ignore it. It was super hard at first, and it made me feel really bad, but it was the only thing that would calm him down.
My daughter would just cry and throw herself on the floor, so walking away and ignoring her was easy. She quickly learned that it wasn’t working.
Since I had to separate myself from him, I would usually put him in his room or in the crib. I would have to sometimes lock the door or hold it shut because eventually he learned how to open the door. This was one of the hardest things for me. He’s yelling my name and I’m just holding the door closed between us. All I want to do is hold him, but I know that he doesn’t want that, and he’ll just hit me.
I think this is so important. When my son first started throwing toddler tantrums, I would try to scream above him because he couldn’t hear me above his own screaming, but this only made it worse. Now, I just speak calm and soft and repeat myself. He’s usually not listening, but he can feel and see my calmness, which doesn’t add to his craziness.
From the second he starts throwing a fit, I am saying “Let’s talk about it, use your words and let me know what you’re feeling”. As it escalates, I say “Once you calm down, we can talk about it. You have to calm down so we can talk about it.” Once he is in his room and I’m holding the door, I just keep saying “Let’s talk about it, once you calm down, you can come out, and we can talk about it.” I also be sure to tell him that he can be upset, mad, or frustrated, but he can’t hit and throw things. We just have to talk about it. If he gets more mad just hearing me speak, I’ll be silent, but it depends on his mood. He’s gotten to the point now that when he’s done, he’ll say, “I’ll talk now”.
I know that this is easier said than done. I still have moments when I lose it, especially when my anxiety is high.
Speak Softly to Yourself
You have to also speak softly to yourself, or you might lose your temper. Honestly, what gets me through his toddler tantrum is how I talk to myself. I say “He is a toddler. He is learning to control his emotions. He still loves me. I’m here to teach him how to handle his emotions.” (Which is mostly through example).
Also, one time while seeing my therapist I was explaining to her that I get super anxious and upset when my toddler throws a fit, so it often ends with us both in tears. She said something, which should have been so obvious, but hit me that day, she said
“This is completely normal, and there are other mothers out there like you, who are also struggling with their toddler and their tantrums, and it often brings them to tears. You’re not alone, and it’s only a stage.”
It was so simple, but it’s so true. I don’t know about you, but this helps give me perspective. Be kind to yourself as a mom, you are doing nothing wrong, your toddler is just learning, and you are not alone.
Let them know it’s okay to feel emotions
As I mentioned above, let your kids know it’s okay to feel emotions. They just need to learn how to handle their emotions. Often when we, as parents, are trying to quiet a toddler tantrum, our kids might think we are telling them to stop feeling and bury their emotions. This is far beyond the truth. We all have hard days, and even as adults, we have days where we want to scream and throw ourselves on the floor, instead, we try to handle our emotions and work through them. (I hope). We just have to teach them to do the same.
Sometimes my daughter will be sad and I’ll ask her how she is doing and why she feels sad. Sometimes, she doesn’t know, she just wants to be sad. I say, it’s okay to be sad sometimes, but how can I help?
“Sometimes a kid just needs to get his anger out. So let him!” says Linda Pearson, a nurse practitioner and author of The Discipline Miracle. (Just make sure there’s nothing in tantrum’s way that could hurt him.) “I’m a big believer in this approach because it helps children learn how to vent in a nondestructive way. They’re able to get their feelings out, pull themselves together, and regain self-control — without engaging in a yelling match or battle of wills with you.” This trick can work on its own or in tandem with the whole ignoring bit.” (1)
Talking it Out
My daughter was really good at talking to me. She also learned to speak way before my son did (which I hear is typical). If I told her to use her words and explain to me why she’s upset, it usually calmed her down because she wanted to be heard.
My son is the opposite. He doesn’t want to talk about anything. Sometimes, I don’t even know what he wants. Other times he is shouting what he wants/wanted, but won’t talk to me about it. I wait until he calms down, and then we talk about it. I try to talk to him about why he was feeling what he felt, what we can do about it, and that it’s okay to show emotion in certain ways, but it’s not okay to do XYZ.
Get on their level
I always try to kneel down so I am at eye level with them. As they say, no one, even a child, likes to be talked down to. Coming to their level makes them feel like an equal, and they are likely to listen more.
Another thing that worked well for my daughter, and still does, but never worked for my son is having them breathe. It helps my daughter calm down and really think and feel. Then she is able to talk. My son just gets angry and shouts “stop” or “I don’t want to”.
This is probably the one thing that absolutely has to happen. You have to be consistent with what you do, or you will be sending mixed signals. You can’t give in to whatever your toddler demands, or it shows them that when they throw a tantrum, they get what they want.
My son’s toddler tantrums have gotten fewer and fewer and I believe that one of those reasons is because he knows it does absolutely nothing for him. I think it’s also because he’s older and can communicate better, but there was a time that I was afraid to be around him because he was going to throw a huge tantrum. I thought they would never end. But they do, just hang in there.
If you feel like giving in, just remind yourself that you aren’t helping them, it only makes it worse for them and you! Especially later down the road. They will only get worse.
Stick to What you Say
Make sure you stick to what you say. If you’re going to take away TV time, or put them in the corner, make sure you follow through. Empty promises only makes it worse. Your kids will slowly start to not believe what you say, and therefore, not listen. Also, don’t bargain with them. Stick to what you say the first time.
Leave a public place
If your child ever throws a fit in a public place, I would leave. I actually had an experience once where I needed to get my daughter to school, but my son decided to throw a huge tantrum.
It was muffins with mom day, so we were going to go inside and eat breakfast with my daughter. I thought that maybe once my son got to her school and saw that we were going inside, he would calm down. Nope! He only got angrier. I was about to walk out, but one of the teachers (who I’m sure was a mom) helped me out and gave him a car, which he loved. He calmed down, but my emotions were everywhere. It was a rough morning, and I didn’t enjoy any muffins.
Now, if were in public, I leave, or go to the car. Just get away because it can only end in tears. It’s hard not to be aware of all the eyes watching you, which, I don’t know about you, but shoots up my anxiety even more!
One way to handle a toddler tantrum is to avoid them. There are some strategies and routines you can put in place that help you avoid the toddler craziness:
- Stick to a schedule
- Keep things they aren’t allowed to have out of reach
- Give them chances to choose
- Let them know the rules
- Know your limits and theirs
Again, this is easier said than done. They aren’t always avoidable, but there are simple things you can do to decrease the number.
Ways to NOT Handle a Toddler Tantrum
There are a few things you shouldn’t do when it comes to handling a toddler tantrum.
Don’t restrain your toddler (1)
They say you shouldn’t restrain your toddler, and I agree. This has never worked for me. Trust me, I’ve tried. I feel like it only makes it worse. Now you have taken away every choice they have, even their movements. I think it only causes them to rebel more. You will end up getting kicked in the face anyway.
Don’t spank (1)
I lived in a generation where I was spanked. There is so much research out there now-a-days that supports non-spanking discipline approach. You can read more here.
“Spanking increases aggression in young children and is ineffective in changing their undesirable behavior.”
You can’t give in. You have to be consistent. Honestly, the easiest way to be consistent is to walk away and ignore it. Otherwise, your patience might give in. I know it’s hard, especially when you’re having a hard day, which is an even bigger reason to step away.
Toddler Tantrum Thoughts
I am by no means an expert when it comes to toddler tantrums, this is just my experience and what I’ve researched and read. It’s important to note that all toddlers are different. Something that works for you won’t work for someone else and vice versa.
As long as you kids know they are loved, they will be great!
Here are some popular resources and books for dealing with toddler tantrums:
There is a Teach Your Dragon series, which helps teach kids through story. They have one for just about anything. They have one about teaching your kid patience and how to accept no, which can be helpful.
Here are a few books recommended by professionals, and when I say professionals, I mean mostly child psychologist.
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Dr. Laura Markham
Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn
I’d love to hear you story of what worked for you!