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So, I did a post a few months ago focusing on how to tame toddler tantrums. However, I would like to go more in depth on how to calm a toddler when a tantrum happens. As mentioned in my previous post, toddlers don’t hear you if you try to explain anything to them in the midst of a tantrum. Thus, it’s important to first figure out how to help calm a toddler’s tantrum before working on solving the problem.
To start, you may have had a similar experience such as this one:
Me: What do you want for breakfast?
Toddler: A waffle!
Me: (Cooks a waffle and hands it to toddler on a plate)
Toddler: I want cereal!
Me: But, you said you wanted a waffle?
Toddler: (Tantrum or meltdown).
So, tantrums definitely are a part of the toddler years. According to What to Expect, toddler tantrums can start at around 12 months and go through age 3 and even 4. You are most likely to see tantrums occur during your child’s second and third year of life.
But, with some patience and foresight, they can be handled! And as frustrating as tantrums can be at times, tantrums can actually be a good thing. I will tell you why…
According to an article from Parenting, tantrums can actually help children heal. Thus, tantrums are a big part of your child’s emotional health and well-being.
This same article suggests that tears contain cortisol, so when a person cries, we are releasing stress from our bodies (since cortisol is a stress hormone). So, while it’s important to help our children learn to self-soothe and calm themselves down, it’s also important (even for us!) to be ok with crying.
Also, when children have tantrums in front of you, this also means that they feel safe telling you how they feel. It’s likely the child is having a tantrum (and thus expressing how they feel) after you have told them “no,” as you are building limits and boundaries for the child. And this is a good thing!
Last of all, children can learn to experience empathy. When toddlers experience tantrums, they gain a better understanding of their own emotions, which in turn, helps them build a greater awareness of others’ feelings as well.
1.Remain calm. Children can pick up on your own frustration and anger, which may escalate the tantrum even more. So, this would be the first step in helping toddlers calm their tantrums. According to one article, there are several things you can do to keep calm. You can consider walking away for a moment to help mentally prepare yourself on handling the situation, as well as taking some deep breaths. Also, give yourself time to think- What caused the tantrum? Is your child overly stimulated? Tired? Frustrated?
If we are frustrated at that moment, it’s important that we model ways to help ourselves calm down. In doing so, our toddlers are learning how to regulate their own emotions. This is why it’s important to take deep breathes, walk away and do something for a minute (such as tidying up), and then come back to the situation.
2.Find a distraction. There was one afternoon where my daughter was very upset and having a tantrum, but I can’t remember over what. However, the tantrum stopped almost immediately when she saw a ball nearby and starting playing with it. Soon after, she was in a good mood! Distraction can be something you try first in order to help calm a tantrum. There are other ways to use distraction, which can be done with sensory bottles. I have made 2 different ones that I sell on Etsy. Click here to check it out! These sensory bottles are meant to help children self-soothe and relax, so they can potentially help calm tantrums.
3.Hug your Child. You may wonder if this is rewarding the tantrum, but it isn’t. It should help your toddler calm down in the midst of a tantrum. Hugs help reduce stress, so in turn, it will help reduce your child’s distress. According to one article, hugging results in the release of the feel-good hormone known as oxytocin. Generally, hugs have amazing benefits to children, because they help children learn to regulate their own emotions and become more resilient!! If your child refuses to be hugged, that’s ok to. I would sit near your child until the emotions subside. This will still help your child feel safe and supported by you.
4.Acknowledge and validate your child’s feelings. In doing this, this can help reduce the length of the tantrum. Just like anyone else, toddlers want to be heard. So, if we label the emotion and help them understand what they are feeling, this should help reduce the distress that your toddler is feeling. For example, when my toddler has a tantrum, because her blocks keep falling down, I say, “I can see that you are frustrated. Let me help you.” And then, I also tell her to keep trying and then help her find other solutions to keep her blocks from falling down.
5.Create a “time in.” I’d consider setting up a comfortable place somewhere in the home where the child feels safe. This could be a tent with blankets, books, and stuffed animals. It should just be something where the child can calm down and learn to self-soothe. Thus, this can help with the child’s emotional self-regulation.
6.Avoid physical punishment and giving in to demands. Physical punishment has been shown to not be effective in truly changing behavior, and there could be a risk of losing control when emotions are high. Also, if you give in to demands, your child may learn to have more tantrums in the long run, because it helps them get what they want.
Remember that the tips for calming tantrums are to help your child learn to regulate their own emotions, and it’s not rewarding the behavior. After your child has calmed down, this is when you can can talk to them about what happened and work together to find a solution.
When my child has a tantrum and throws toys, this is not the time to talk to her about how we shouldn’t do that. My daughter is not using the logical part of their brain at that moment, so essentially, I won’t be heard. This is why it’s important to first get her to calm down (which I might do by letting her sit in her bed with her covers and a stuffed animal). Once this happens, we talk about how her toys will break if she does that, and that we can express our anger in other ways. I might tell her to say, “I’m mad.” I might also say to her that she can hit the couch instead.
Toddlers are a time in their life where they are feeling big emotions and don’t quite know how to handle them yet. So, we have to step in and help them. In the long run, if we can give our toddlers the tools to help them learn to regulate their own emotions, they will be able to better handle stress and be more resilient later on down the road.
As frustrating as tantrums can be, these are important teaching moments for our children and can actually help build a better relationship between you and your child!
If you’d like, you can download this free infographic on why tantrums happen and how to handle them!
Also, if you’d like further reading on the topic, see the references below, as well as my suggested book:
Orson, K. (2019). 10 Reasons your Toddler’s Tantrum is Actually a Good Thing. Retrieved from https://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/discipline/tantrum/10-reasons-your-toddlers-tantrum-is-actually-a-good-thing/.
How do deal with toddler tantrums like an expert. Retrieved from https://happyyouhappyfamily.com/handle-kids-temper-tantrums/
Three Ways to Resolve Tantrums. Retrieved from https://ninchronicles.wordpress.com/2019/02/06/three-ways-to-resolve-tantrums/
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