Managing Tantrums in Early Toddlerhood

Do you ever feel like your baby-turned-toddler is a landmine just waiting to be stepped on and explode into a tantrum?  Everything seems fine and then all the sudden something sets off your little one and you don’t even know what hit you.  Tantrums can be ferocious and unpredictable, which makes managing tantrums one of the most challenging parts of parenting a toddler.  While you navigate this trying time, here’s something to cheer you up:  tantrums are a sign that your baby is maturing into a normal toddler.

Managing Tantrums in Early ToddlerhoodTantrums usually begin around age one, but for some come as early as nine months.  If you had a fussy baby that turns straight into a tantrumy toddler, you may feel like you just can’t catch a break.  As your baby becomes more aware of his surroundings and is finding his individuality, his attitude and means of expression will also change.  He doesn’t have the tools necessary to adequately understand everything about the world around him, such as speech, patience and analytical skills.  And while your tot is far from being completely independent, he wants to assert some control over his life.  Without a full understanding of time, rules, social norms and safety, your toddler may resort to tantrums as a way of communication.

While tantrums will happen from time-to-time, there are a few predictors that you can be mindful of to try to avoid them.  When children are tired or hungry, they are more likely to tantrum.  Make sure a healthy snack is always available and you offer plenty of rest time throughout the day.  Certain situations such as crowded environments, loud noises or interacting with a particular person are stressors and may set your child on a tailspin.  Completely avoiding adversity is not always the answer, but helping your child cope with these situations in advance can help.

Moreover, treating your child’s feelings with respect and forming an alliance can be the best way to avert most power struggles and tension.  If you include your child in decision making and give your child a sense of partnership, he will be less likely to fight for control, attention and affection.  This means talking through plans in advance to set expectations for each of you.  And you can let your little one make decisions about things that ultimately affect him and shouldn’t matter much to you, like which banana to eat, what to wear and which bed sheets to use this week.  When your toddler feels he has a say in what happens in his life and that you are meeting his needs on his terms, he will likely view your relationship as a team instead of dictatorship.

When tantrums do occur, be prepared.  It is almost impossible to reason with a tantruming child because he is cognitively and emotionally unavailable at that moment.  While you may want an explanation, he’s not going to be ready to give you one at that time, if ever.  There are a few helpful techniques for managing tantrums in early childhood.  The most important part of all of these tips is that you remain calm and a model of the behavior you eventually expect from your child.  Also, you want to make sure your baby is safe. Tantrums often lead to acting out in physical ways, such as thrashing on the floor, banging his head against a wall, hitting or biting things.  First and foremost, protect your child from physical harm he may inflict on himself.

In the moment of a tantrum, many people advise ignoring your child or giving him some space.  As we already established, this behavior is his form of expression and everyone wants to be heard.  But in doing so, don’t ignore his feelings.  You can be sympathetic to feelings without giving in to what your child wants.  In fact, if it is something you don’t want your child to do or have, you should never give in or else he may learn that a tantrum is the only way of getting what he wants.  But if he’s just asking for something permissible in an inappropriate way, redirect the tantrum into a constructive conversation by modeling the appropriate way to ask and then forking it over.

If your child will allow it, hold him and give lots of hugs and kisses.  Affection may be the solution, or at least he will not feel alone in his confusion or that you’re angry that he had an outburst.  Holding him might create the diversion needed to end the tantrum, or you can start acting silly or suggest another activity to emerge from the angry clouds.  Incentives work too, as long as they are not unhealthy bribes and you can live up to your promises.  When a tantrum is over, try to talk about your child’s feelings and actions rationally to better understand the situation and offer suggestions for how he can cope with it the next time.

Remember, tantrums are completely normal even if they seem absurd to you as an emotionally mature adult.  Managing tantrums is an important part of parenting.  You’ll get better over time and you and your toddler will both be wiser in the end.