How to survive tantrums

Toddler crying
Toddler crying

Toddlers are tiring. The honeymoon of having a baby that sits still is over. Life has changed. Going to the shops was a pleasant outing. Your baby enjoyed the activity around him. Not anymore. Now he wants to climb out the trolley and grab at the toys and sweets as you pass by.

More often than not, saying “no” to him is practically a guarantee you’ll face a tantrum in just a few minutes.

Toddlers believe that their every wish is your command

All toddlers suffer from “magical thinking”. They think their wish will magically make you do what they want, when they demand it!

Imagine the shock when your toddler realises that you won’t open the jar of marbles for him to swallow? It’s a life crisis for him. He can’t believe that your will and his are separate.

Up until now he thought that whatever he wanted, you’d do. This isn’t because you did, but rather because his will wasn’t present! He was in the honeymoon phase – where you could take control of him fully.

Your toddler is developing a will of his own

Your toddler is now growing into a separate little self, which is typical for his age. He is developing a will of his own that is separate and at times in conflict with yours.

Poor impulse control

He wants to explore the world and everything in it, in order to gain control over it. He doesn’t know how to stop because he has poor impulse control, and so he only learns from repeated experiences.

OUTWIT your toddler

Your toddler is driven by the desire for pleasure and power. So you need to give him these experiences within well defined parameters that are suitable for you! How? Look for the pleasure and power in everyday experiences.

  • For example: your toddler is climbing out of the car seat and doesn’t want to buckle up. You could let him know that once he is buckled up, he could press the button to open the gate. This gives him power and pleasure.
  • Here’s another example: you’re going to the shops and you need to take him with. Perhaps giving him a fruit juice while he sits in the trolley is a way to give him “pleasure” (and you power in getting the job done fast).

His “pleasure” in climbing out of the trolley doesn’t suit your need for a speedy trip around the shop. So you need to redirect his “pleasure” to sipping a juice. Throwing food onto the floor isn’t suitable behaviour, but giving him the power to throw a ball while sitting in his high chair is.

OUTLAST your toddler

Say you’ve tried to outwit him, but to no avail. He erupts into a terrible tantrum when he can’t have his way. And now he’s in danger of outlasting you too! Before you give in, here are some practical tips:

Use the A.R.T of parenting:

  • Acknowledge your child’s feelings: “I can see you’re feeling very angry”
  • Reflect your child’s unfulfilled demand: “You wish Mom would give you a chance to cut these veggies with a knife”
  • Tell it like it is (set limits): “Knives are for adults only. You can choose to wash the carrots or watch me cut them. It’s up to you”

Change your voice

Studies show that students listen to teachers more often when they whisper than shout. Perhaps we can learn from this. If it doesn’t create cooperation in your child, at least it will give you another few minutes to outlast him!

Take action

Toddlers typically don’t trust a verbal message. They need to learn “through the skin”. It might not be enough to say: “Don’t put your fingers in the plugs.” This might be experienced by your toddler as an invitation to do just that! You’ll need to set the limit verbally and remove him from the plug at the same time

Tough moments as learning

See tough moments as an opportunity for learning. Does his bad behaviour cause you to buckle under the stress? And if so, what are you modelling for him? Are you teaching him how to handle his difficult feelings?

Rather use the ART of parenting and give him choices within well defined parameters. And if he fails to choose and erupts into crying, fighting, whining, hitting, kicking, or biting, use timeout.

Let him learn that if he can’t be with others happily, he needs to be alone. Give him one minute per year (age 2 = 2 minutes). And at the end of this time, go get him. Let him know that you love him and that you’re not upset with him.

OUTPLAY your toddler

Perhaps you’ve tried to outlast him, but he’s still going strong. How can you outplay him so that he uses up all his energy, but you keep some of yours?

The rule of thumb here is to: “step in, in order to step out”. This means “step in” to create an environment for your toddler to explore and then leave him to it. He’ll require your supervision, but not necessarily your intervention.

Allow him to work things out on his own and to play in the way he chooses.

Toddlers mainly enjoy explorative and practice play:

Explorative play:

Where your toddler explores the physical world around him and how it works. This includes both fine-motor play (using hand and finger muscles); eye-hand coordination and gross-motor play (using larger movements and muscles)

Practice play:

Where your toddler repeats the same activity over and over, in order to gain control and mastery over it – here are some examples:

  • Posting blocks in a box
  • Putting pegs in a hole
  • Pouring activities
  • Playing with musical instruments
  • Water play (making bubbles)
  • Tactile play (making mud pies)
  • Opening and closing activities
  • Stacking and building activities
  • Hiding and finding activities
  • Rolling, bending, pulling, pushing.
  • Running, jumping, swinging, sliding, twirling, and throwing.

But there will be times where you won’t be able to be so toddler-focused - when you can’t make mud pies because its supper time. This reality isn’t something to avoid.

Life lessons to teach your toddler

Your toddler needs to learn that there are other people in relationships and that they have needs too. And so, you stop the mud pies, get into the kitchen and get him involved. While he can’t chop veggies, he can wipe the carrots with a wet cloth.

Setting up a challenge is another way to outplay him. Toddlers like a challenge. They also like to gain mastery over their experiences and will practise for a long time to do a job well. If he loses interest, don’t sweat. He’s practising gaining control over his world, but he’s not an expert yet.

Be creative! Getting your child to cooperate or stopping his bad behaviour in a playful way benefits everyone. Distracting him, or marching him to the car like “a soldier” are creative ways to outplay him.

The lessons of logical consequences, setting limits, giving choices, having fun, solving problems creatively and being thoughtful will empower you as a parent to outwit, outlast and outplay your toddler.

But best of all, is that these are life lessons your child will be able to take with him into adulthood and his own parenthood one day.

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