If you are reading this, you probably think handling your child’s temper tantrums is your weakest parenting skill. I was once like you, desperately Googling anything related to how to deal with and squash a temper tantrum.
Everything I read confirmed I was doing it all wrong, and that all I needed was to find my inner peace, count to ten, and “Namaste” my way through it. None of that ever worked, which made me struggle through this terrible phase on my own, thus presenting me with this wonderful opportunity to impart my pearls of wisdom onto others.
So, after seven years with a feisty girl and meddling my way through another set of tantrums via my three year old, here are the top 5 things I learned about how to — or, more like, how to try to — handle and prevent temper tantrums.
1. Forget about anyone else around you: This is where it all fails apart….in public, when there are people looking at you and you interpret this as everyone judging your parenting style. This is the number one reason why tantrums continue — because you can’t block everyone out and your own anxiety bubbles up and pours all over the situation like a thick gooey mess from which you can’t move.
This is me. I am the mom who wants to crawl into a hole and hide when embarrassed in public. The one who pulled her kid back into the car to try to calm her down and made it worse. The woman who was ready to leave the diner after the food was ordered because my kid was screaming about a broken cookie.
I am completely aware that I have to change my thought process and have to have faith that no one cares, or they are, in fact, judging me and will never say a word to me, or they, too, are parents and are glad it’s not them for a change.
I try this every time we are in public because it’s the hardest thing to do, and I know it’s the first thing I have to personally change.
2. Walk away: This tactic didn’t work with my older daughter. I would walk away and it would make her more anxious and exacerbate the tantrum. This, however, works with my second child. When I’m not giving into her need to eat whipped cream for dinner, and I simply walk away, she screams. Minutes later she is composed, comes over and we hug it out.
This won’t work with every child and may make him/her feel abandoned. But use this technique when you have exhausted all other options or if you know it’s exactly what is needed.
3. Give In - Yes, that’s right. You have to give in at times. Tantrums typically occur more frequently in kids from ages 2-5...though my eldest still has her share of meltdowns. How do you know when to give in? It depends on what the tantrum is about, and how your child tends to react when you try to alleviate their tantrums.
For example, my older daughter would always throw a tantrum when we had to leave a playdate. As she grew older she could articulate that she wanted time to finish her game or say goodbye. So I’d give her time prompts and then she was able to control her emotions better. It’s more about their lack of ability to communicate and express feelings through the toddler years. So, yes, if your son wants to buckle and unbuckle his seatbelt so he can do it himself, let him. Shoving him into the car quickly because you need to leave may not be the best tactic all the time.
4. Get creative- Learn the art of distraction. When my youngest challenges me at bedtime, I hide her pajamas. On the ceiling fan, on the lampshade. I tell her to find them and after each discovery she comes over and gets dressed. At bathtime, when no one wants to get out, I say it’s a contest. Whomever gets up first gets the pink towel. This is exhausting at times. I won’t lie. But, along with my husband, even I get tired of hearing my nagging voice that yearns zero results.
5. Prepare….. to a point - My husband and I feel bad about child #2. She will not experience all the “firsts” my oldest did, like going to Sesame Place or visiting the zoo in the middle of August.
Why? Because we refuse to set ourselves up to fail. We don’t push her to her limits when she’s tired or hungry. We stick to her schedule and don’t often compromise. We don’t mention things like oreo cookies we know she wants when we are out that will set her off into a demanding tirade.
We also don't take on activities that we know will exhaust us, like two birthday parties in one day — activities that will prevent us from handling a potential tantrum due to our own fatigue. It may not sound ideal, but it’s what I call toddler purgatory: a temporary time when you kind of need to adjust your life to survive this unpredictable phase of childhood.
My husband has likely read this far and is laughing to himself because, like I said, I’m not great at this. I know what needs to be done, but to execute it in the moment is very hard when you are a tired, working parent. But it happens, and it’s temporary. We, as parents, have a long way to go, with way more difficult conversations to have, like at 8pm when your second grader wants you to explain what celsius is.
Just remember when the tantrum is finally over and you are tired from whatever technique you used, take ten deep breaths, find your inner peace and “namaste” to the cabinet to sneak a piece of well-deserved chocolate.