How to Help Your Toddler with Tantrums

One of the greatest challenges of having a toddler is setting limits and expectations, and maintaining consistency in the face of behavior like public tantrums and in-your-face defiance. A couple weeks after Jim turned 3-years-old, it’s like a door was opened and out flowed a whole new level of control seeking tactics.  They don’t refer to this age as a threenager for nothing.

I’ve experienced some of my least proud parenting moments in the last few months, especially with a baby in my arms 24/7. In my struggle to find ways to handle these changes, I found a free webinar about stopping yelling/nagging (as my own coping skills literally exploded out of my mouth) through Amy McCready of Positive Parenting Solutions (I am not associated with her site at all, merely follow her on Facebook). I don’t in any way want to take people away from hearing her speak directly, but I will share my two biggest take aways from her webinar (well it’s really one but it covers two needs for every child):

Kids basically have two buckets that they are trying to fill:  attention and control.  Adults have the same desires but have the experience to reign in their needs. In any given day, kids will seek your undivided attention and control of their world.  If your child doesn’t get enough of either of them, hello here come aaaaaaallll the feelings: anger, disappointment, sadness, you name it. However, this does not mean you have to give all your attention and give up all control! What I do is try to find a balance that works for everyone.

Attention

Giving your child attention doesn’t always mean a full hour of play, it can merely be a moment of hugging, speaking with eye contact, praising an effort or any other way to acknowledge you are there, you see them and you want to be with them.

I also give my son points of longer, concentrated attention throughout the day.  When my son asks me to play or interact, I decide (based on my tasks for the day) to go with him or tell him “I hear that you want to play, but mama is busy right now doing <blank>. I can play as soon as I’m done in <blank> minutes.” I acknowledge what he wants, state why I’m not available and then a timeframe for when I can play.

Now, this doesn’t always work. But the more I am consistent and follow through on my promise, he is coming to accept when I’m not available (and is nearly giddy when I’m available right away!). We all also know that if you say 15 minutes, your child may be back in 2 minutes to ask if you are done. My tactic is to call out “10 minutes to play time” then “5 minutes to play time” to stop some of the interruptions. When he does come to see if I’m done, I will also make sure to call out how frustrating it must be to wait and how waiting can be hard, then suggest things he can do while he waits.

It’s truly an amazing time in parenthood when your child will actively seek your love and attention. Each and every one of us has been told over and over to cherish these early days of their lives. In theory this is great advice, but there is just no way to give 100% of your attention to your child every day. Sure, maybe the dishes or laundry can wait until later, but then “later” comes and you still have to do it (while your child is awake or asleep is up to you and your schedule). You know your child better than anyone else and can gage how often he or she needs you to stop what you are doing to play. Who knows, maybe you both will have fun!

Control

Although your child doesn’t know it, there are only 3 things he or she 100% controls: sleeping, eating and pooping/peeing (yes we call them by name in our house). Parents have no way to force our kids to do any of them. We can coax, we can bribe, we can beg, but ultimately it’s up to your child.

When it comes to everything else, we are in control (even if it doesn’t feel like it sometimes). To fulfill my son’s need for control I try to offer him choices: I ask if he wants to eat blueberries or strawberries, play upstairs or downstairs, blue or red cup, leave the house in 5 or 10 minutes (offering only two choices but fully in his power which to choose, but both choices still reach the same goal – like eat some fruit or leave the house). When my son is given these small choices throughout the day, he tends to be more content and less control hungry (though it doesn’t always fill that need and there are the dreaded tantrums). Find big and small ways for your child to discover moments when he or she can gain control without them acting out for what they need.

The Inevitable Conflict

Preschool-age kids lack the ability to self-regulate their emotions, meaning, for example, if a child gets angry he or she doesn’t know how to stop being angry.  Their strong emotions send them straight into fight of flight mode and almost nothing you do can help since trying to rationalize with someone still in fight or flight mode is near impossible (meaning your words will go in one ear and out the other). Sticking to a basic routine may dramatically help your child through this challenging time by providing some predictability to their lives.

In the middle of a tantrum or meltdown, all you can do to help is be there to make sure they are safe and know you are there to support them as their emotions rage through their little bodies and minds.  My son will scream, yell, throw things, throw himself on the floor, hit, anything to get his emotions out (usually what gets the largest reaction from me and his dad).  No amount of talking or hugging is going to stop the avalanche (as a matter of fact he will yell “no” to anything and everything we suggest).

Once the tantrum has run it’s course, try to take the time to acknowledge the emotions as completely normal! How you discuss the meltdown with your child will be determined by his or her comprehension of emotions in general and knowledge of words (meaning either what you say or what he or she is capable of saying). I suggest searching for ways to speak to your child that match both your own philosophies and your child’s developmental age and abilities.

I found this article (“10 Ways Kids Appear To Be Misbehaving When They Really Aren’t”) to be a short snapshot into the mind of your child. Empathy is a great tool to use to help you and your toddler, though I know from experience how ineffectual empathy can be amidst a meltdown that just won’t end no matter what you try. Keep researching and find positive ways to handle tantrums for yourself and your child.

Most of all, find mom or dad friends you can call on to talk things through. Times will get tough and your going to lose your cool (I know I do!). Together, we can all help see each other through this challenging but necessary step in our children’s lives. And remember, this is all temporary. This too shall pass. And getting through the tough moments make those wonderful, heart filling times so much sweeter.

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44 Comments

  • Reply Caroline October 28, 2018 at 1:08 pm

    Tantrums are the worst!! Great tips and info.

  • Reply Angela Workman October 25, 2018 at 3:34 pm

    These are all great tips, most of them I have used with my kids as they passed through these toddler years. Some of them still work with my kids even though they are older now.

    • Reply KrisBeeMama October 25, 2018 at 3:44 pm

      That’s great! It’s nice to know some of the tips can work long term 🙂

  • Reply Brooke @ Firm Happy Mom October 25, 2018 at 11:37 am

    This is super helpful. It’s so much easier to respond to meltdowns when we understand the underlaying causes. I’m a huge fan of using closed-ended choices. I already use them with my 11 month old and have seen that he enjoys having that control.

    • Reply KrisBeeMama October 25, 2018 at 12:23 pm

      Having choices that lead to the desired outcome is a must! It gives y 3-year-old the power he desires while keeping us on track.

  • Reply Sonja October 25, 2018 at 10:52 am

    As the mama of a threenager, this post is SO helpful! I, too, have a little man who has a tough time wanting attention from me while I am juggling a teething, clingy baby. I will have to try out a few new techniques I learned from this. Thanks for the great information!

    • Reply KrisBeeMama October 25, 2018 at 12:24 pm

      Thank you – I hope some of them work for you!

  • Reply Josephine | Better as Us October 25, 2018 at 8:46 am

    We are entering the terrible twos so I so appreciate all of the tips and tricks! So far she is doing well, but she has just perfected “going limp”. Fun times ahead! lol!

    Thanks for sharing, saving this for later!

  • Reply Jennifer Tanney June 12, 2018 at 4:57 pm

    This is such a good post! I’m going to take Amy’s seminar and try out some of your types. My little one has horrible tantrums and I could really use some good advance on handling them. Too often I wind up out of control too because of how bad they get some days.

    • Reply KrisBeeMama June 12, 2018 at 11:15 pm

      I’m so glad it may help! Amy is great, and the free webinar is a good overview that helped me empathize. Don’t get me wrong, I still have my moments of losing my cool! But, they are much less now!

  • Reply Carla May 26, 2018 at 1:51 am

    Omg, I had a terrible two year old and then she became a threenager. She’s four now, and it’s still a bit touch and go. Patience is something I pray for, although sometimes I fear that’s why I was given this daughter in the first place 😂

    • Reply KrisBeeMama May 26, 2018 at 2:36 am

      Patience. Such a little word, such a challenging thing…

  • Reply Summer T May 25, 2018 at 10:42 pm

    I so needed this!!!

  • Reply Merry | Wilder Light Creative May 24, 2018 at 3:53 pm

    This was such a timely read. We have a 4yo, 3yo and almost 2yo, and oh mama. The tantrums are strong in our home right now. I have struggled with knowing how to help them overcome their emotions, but you are right – we need to ride it out and offer support and safety. We do try to give them as many choices as possible – which cup to use, what time to leave, where to play, etc. Great, informative post.

    • Reply KrisBeeMama May 24, 2018 at 4:44 pm

      Thanks, Merry! Wow I can’t imagine have 3 in that age range. I hope some of this helps at least some of the time, lol

  • Reply Lynneah Bennett May 24, 2018 at 7:17 pm

    Great tips!! I think the option of control is something a lot of parents forget about but it can lead to a much better outcome! I mean, I like the idea of control so I am sure my kids do too!

    • Reply KrisBeeMama May 24, 2018 at 8:22 pm

      Lol me, too! Sometimes it’s more about the appearance of control for kids…we stay in control but your child feels like they are a part of it 🙂

  • Reply Aly May 24, 2018 at 3:52 pm

    I needed this, we are going through this right now and it’s been so hard lately

  • Reply Sarah May 24, 2018 at 12:01 pm

    I love these tips! Giving the attention and empathy always seems to work for all of my kids.
    Oh, and the giving of choices too. That was a game changer once I started doing that with my oldest when she was an older toddler.

    • Reply KrisBeeMama May 24, 2018 at 4:46 pm

      We give choices that also push him to do something that needs to happen. Like when we need to get in the car seat – he is very into doing things himself so I ask “Do you want to get in your car seat or do I need to help you get in your car seat?” 90% of the time he gets in the car seat himself.

  • Reply Laura Smith May 19, 2018 at 1:02 am

    Good tips for when I cross the bridge into toddler-world.. Patience and understanding is a beautiful thing. Well written, mama.

    • Reply KrisBeeMama May 19, 2018 at 1:18 am

      With every change in age, something will get easier and another will get more challenging. At least there’s a trade off!

  • Reply Lola May 17, 2018 at 6:52 am

    That control is real! I have found I can virtually eliminate tantrums (for now) with choices, and strong clear boundaries

    • Reply KrisBeeMama May 17, 2018 at 1:44 pm

      For the last week, I’ve struggled with sticking to the tactics with my son who will throw a tantrum if I sit somewhere he doesn’t like, speak when he suddenly doesn’t want me to, etc (every single little thing he wants to control). I’m hoping this is a temporary peak, and we can start working together again soon.

  • Reply Cassie May 15, 2018 at 4:19 pm

    My daughter is 3 and the queen of tantrums so I NEEDED to read this post today. Thank you for sharing!

  • Reply Danielle Bronson May 15, 2018 at 2:13 am

    When I found this article I wondered if I would find anything relatable as my youngest is nearing 7. The avalanche is pretty much him in a nutshell about 96 percent of the day. He was just diagnosed with autism and these tips are ones I will use with him. Thanks for sharing I am so glad I took the time to read. Happy blogging to you.

    • Reply KrisBeeMama May 15, 2018 at 3:17 am

      I’m so glad it may help! It must be immensely hard to be told your child is on the spectrum, but hopefully it will help you learn better ways to work with him through the avalanches.

  • Reply Marcela May 14, 2018 at 5:19 pm

    Great tips my son just turned 3 and the tantrums are starting!

    • Reply KrisBeeMama May 14, 2018 at 6:25 pm

      Tantrums are something I had heard about but never had to deal with personally. I am now completely understanding of parents at the grocery store with inconsolable kids. I try to help when I can distracting their younger kids or something (after offering of course).

  • Reply Maria May 14, 2018 at 4:52 pm

    Great ideas! It took me forever to figure out how to “deal” with my now 4 year old. Definitely would’ve helped if I read this during that time. 🙂 thanks for this’

  • Reply Greivy May 14, 2018 at 2:01 pm

    Thanks for the tips because my child has become a complete nightmare!!! Kids are so different my oldest never gave me as many tantrums as my youngest!

    • Reply KrisBeeMama May 14, 2018 at 2:15 pm

      It will be interesting to see how my second son goes through this stage compared to my first!

  • Reply Veronika May 14, 2018 at 1:33 pm

    This is beautiful. I love the article you referenced. I’ve come across it before and found it really helpful.

  • Reply Angela Schultz May 14, 2018 at 1:11 pm

    Wow! I think I have intuitively realized this, but not put it into words. I often notice when my daughter is throwing a tantrum, if I give her a choice about other things that are less important she is calmer. I also have noticed that sometimes just tickling her for a little while allows me to work longer on my writing. I am so glad that you shared this great wisdom. My daughter is not yet a threenager, but she is two. Maybe we will be able to handle the threenager stage better.

    • Reply KrisBeeMama May 14, 2018 at 2:03 pm

      My son loves being tickled, too! Every once in a while that is another way I can keep a tantrum at bay, though it can backfire if he is already overstimulated.

  • Reply Rachel May 14, 2018 at 1:10 pm

    Thanks for the share! I find that offering choices always helps, but will be referring to this as my 13 month old twins get older and start having more meltdowns!

    • Reply KrisBeeMama May 14, 2018 at 2:00 pm

      Choices are amazing, giving your child more control over their world!

  • Reply Sara May 14, 2018 at 4:28 am

    Glad that I found this article! Sometimes I see a lot of Ideas and theories, but situation comes, it doesn’t work for me.. But I need to train myself first to get to the flow and do my best as a mom… Thank you for the great reminder.:)

    • Reply KrisBeeMama May 14, 2018 at 5:32 am

      I’m sure you are doing great, mama. Not only do different tactics work with different kids, but what works now may no work later. But hopefully every new discovery of what works helps make the next challenge easier!

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