Toddlerhood is of the most difficult periods for new parents. A large part of it is because of the infamous and frequent tantrums that children between the ages of one and four years seem to manifest on a regular basis.
Because young children are still developing language skills, trying to communicate their needs and wants — and failing to do so — can trigger meltdowns.
For toddlers between one and two years of age, tantrums are often the result as an un-met need such as hunger or fatigue. For older toddlers between the ages of three and five, tantrums generally stem from the wish to assert their wants and desires.
How is a parent to deal with these?
The Compromise Solution to Tantrums
Experts tell us to compromise, within reasonable boundaries. “You don’t have to prove you’re right,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Laura Markham.
The author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids writes on her website that “your child is trying to assert that he is a real person, with some real power in the world. That’s totally appropriate. Let him say no whenever you can do so without compromise to safety, health, or other peoples’ rights.”
But when your child has a tantrum, you may be tempted to have an outburst too!
Hold it in. Being in control makes it is easier for you to help your child. While it is impossible to prevent every single tantrum, a parent who in control of his or her own emotions, and who is in-tune with his child’s, can decrease the number, duration, and intensity of tantrums by spotting and addressing their triggers.
Keep a log of your child’s tantrums. Write down when, where, and why a tantrum happened. Once you identify the triggers or the times of day when tantrums are most likely to happen, adjust your schedule and prepare yourself for what to do when the same factors come into play.
Here are five common toddler tantrum triggers, and strategies that you can use to deal with them.
The Morning Rush Hour
The situation: Getting the kids ready in the morning when they refuse to step out of bed, missing socks, the whining and the dawdling can throw your morning out of whack. Before you know it, the whole family is teary and exhausted. And you haven’t even had your morning coffee yet!
The solution: Give yourself extra time. Set out your child’s uniform the night before. Go to bed early. In the morning, get up half an hour earlier. Use humour and rewards to encourage your kid to complete his morning routine.
“If you finish your milk by the time the alarm rings, you earn a star!” It is also important to master your need for perfection. It’s not the end of the world if she refuses to have her breakfast. Go with the flow. Why not pack a grab bag filled with packet milk and healthy breakfast bars for her to eat on the way to school?
The Child-turned-Fashion Critic
The situation: You blow the last of your budget on that pretty outfit because you know she’ll look adorable in it, only to have your toddler reject it completely.
Sometimes, toddlers say “no” just to assert their independence. Also, some texture-sensitive kids feel uncomfortable with the way a type of fabric feels or bunches around their bodies. My toddler refused to wear anything with a collar. I also had to cut off every single clothing label from his shirts as he would complain about them “poking” into his skin.
The solution: Instead of getting into a power struggle, offer your child two outfit choices—both of which you approve!
Be aware of textures and fit of clothing. “Sensitive kids can really feel the lint, threads, and bumps in their clothing. They aren’t trying to be difficult,” writes Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, author of Raising Your Spirited Child.
What if your child insists on wearing the worst sartorial combinations? If this is a sore point for you, ask yourself why. Do you feel a need to project a certain image as a fashion-conscious mother? At the end of the day, toddlers will be toddlers. They get obsessed about something and a week later, they’ve moved on. Don’t sweat the small stuff!
The Playdate has become a War
The situation: You’ve arranged a playdate only to find your child fighting with another equally insistent toddler over a toy.
The solution: At times like this, distraction may be your best weapon. Use a toddler’s short attention span to your advantage. Bring his attention to another toy and say, “See this bright red fire engine? It looks so fun! Shall we play with this instead?” Or you could break up the fight by offering a snack. “I think it’s time for some yummy ice-cream!
Meltdowns in Public Spaces
The situation: The cold stares. The hushed whispers. Don’t you wish the ground would just swallow you up when your child has a major meltdown in the toy store, the shopping mall, or the supermarket, or the car park… you get the idea.
The solution: As one mother says, “Forget about strangers. You won’t see them again.” Your priority is to attend to your child. If your efforts to calm him down do not work, swift action — like removing him from the scene — can be effective. Set the rules before entering the store. For example, you can tell him that he is allowed to choose one item and no more.
Sharon T., a daycare centre teacher, recounts an incident where her three-year-old nephew had a meltdown in the supermarket because she wouldn’t buy him candies. Sharon marched him to the car and sat beside him until he calmed down. Then, she told him that she would not bring him shopping again if he acted in this manner. Instead of launching into another tantrum, the child replied thoughtfully, “Oh, in that case, I won’t do it again.”
Sometimes, children are wiser than we give them credit for!
The Bedtime Battleground
The situation: Bedtime tantrums are not unusual. Children want to stay up when they feel they have so much to do and explore. Evenings are also precious time with adults whom they barely see during the day.
The solution: Consistency is key. Set up a bedtime routine and give yourself plenty of time to snuggle with and read to your little one before lights out. If your toddler has a tantrum when you leave the room, do not rush back immediately. When you do return, be firm. Calm her down, say goodnight and leave quickly. If she follows you out, march her back and insist she stays. You may have to do this numerous times until either she falls asleep. Over time, bedtime should get easier if you are consistent and clear about the rules.