Tantrums are like the labor pains of toddlerhood--you think you know what you’re getting into, but nothing is like dealing with the real thing. Every parent experiences tantrums and even the strongest, most patient, most level-headed individual finds themselves ready to lay an egg out of white-hot frustration with their tiny human. Yet tantrums are a normal part of a child’s development. A terrible, temporary phase in the overall wonderful scheme of parenthood.
However, here are a few tips from people who know more than I do about managing Pre-K behavior. Tantrums will never completely disappear, however they do not need to rule. your. life.
Tip #1: When a Tantrum Begins, If You Know You’re Going to Give In GIVE IN RIGHT AWAY
This sounds counter-intuitive, but when taken with tip #2 it will change your life. If you know that you are going to give in when the tantrum for chocolate milk in the BLUE cup instead of the RED cup begins, do it quickly! Don’t waffle around saying that she has to drink out of the red cup when you know you will break down eventually--this sends the wrong message. This also applies to tantrums related to safety, for example: a sit down strike in the middle of the road. You can’t leave your child there, it’s not safe, so give in right away. However, if you are in it for the long haul, see tip #2.
Tip #2: If You Are Not Going to Give in STICK TO YOUR GUNS and Don’t Get Emotional
This one is hard, but so important. When you tell your child that you are not going to buy the spongebob mac and cheese at the grocery store, for the love of everything good and wonderful, DON’T BUY IT. Toddlers are smart little humans and they are always testing us to see if we mean what we say. When you say something is off-limits, or not allowed, MEAN it. Imagine the gears turning underneath your toddler’s cute pigtails when she screams for fifteen minutes and then finally gets what she wants. You don’t want your toddler to adopt this as her preferred method of persuasion. And take some deep breaths and go to your zen place so that you can follow through in a calm manner. Don’t validate the attention-grabbing behavior with extra attention.
Tip #3: Acknowledge Toddler Feelings, Regardless of How Silly
On one long road trip, my toddler started to wail when the sun set behind the mountains. “But I want the sun to come BAAACKK!” After politely ignoring the police siren wails in the backseat for 15 minutes, my ever-so-patient husband turned around and with a genuine sympathetic face and voice, discussed how sad she felt about the sun going down. Acknowledging her emotions opened a door to distraction, which leads me to tip #4...
Tip #4: Distract When you Have an Opening
Some people (my husband) are naturally good at coming up with 1,001 ways to make brushing teeth or getting dressed into a fun game instead of a chore. Other people (me) have complete brain cramps in the heat of the moment and have to brainstorm techniques and games on a Post-It ahead of time. Toddlers love surprise, they love the unexpected, they love silly competitions--you know your toddler the best. If you’re like me and can’t think of strategies when the tantrum hits, step back and brainstorm in a calmer, happier moment.
Tip #5: Put Yourself in Her Shoes and Try to Make it Worth It
If I were my toddler, I wouldn’t want to leave the fun playground to go to my boring house either. So, how can I make it fun for my daughter? Why would she want to come with me? Perhaps invest in a variety of fun stickers, temporary tattoos, and interesting snacks precisely for leaving fun activities.
Tip #6: If You Can Have a Routine, Have a Routine
Toddlers love routines because they know what’s coming next! You know you have a good routine for bedtime, wake-up, leave-the-house or meal times if you do not have tantrums every little step. My daughter went through a phase of tantruming every morning when she didn’t want to take off her pajamas. We implemented a routine in which she got dressed the second her feet HTF (hit the floor). Soon after, getting dressed was (relatively) drama-free.
These rules will help manage tantrums, but alas there is no magic wand that allows parents to magically skip over this phase. Remember, it’s okay for mom and dad to take a “time out” to rebalance after a particularly difficult incident. Just keep swimming mamas and papas and remember that a strong will is a frustrating quality in a toddler-aged child, but a fantastic quality for a self-assured, confident adult.