Meltdowns are a regular part of toddler life, but that doesn't mean they can't be dealt with. Here are our top eight tips for dealing with a toddler frothy.
1. IGNORE THEM, AND THEY SHOULD GO AWAY
Why carry on performing if no one's watching, right? The same can be said of toddler tantrums that, according to baby expert and author of Toddler Sense Ann Richardson, should be ignored. "By ignoring the tantrum, you're giving your toddler the message that his behaviour doesn't affect you, and he'll mos likely stop. Rather focus on the reason for the tantrum in the first place and if his willful behaviour persists, then simply remove him calmly from the scene of the crime," she maintains.
2. TIME OUT WORKS
Avoid sending your toddler to the bathroom or naughty corner if he's having a tantrum as, "These areas may make him feel embarrassed, uncomfortable and insecure," says Ann. However, a time out - where a toddler is temporarily removed from the situation - is a useful tool to use for a toddler from two years of age who uses a tantrum to openly defy your authority or displays a behaviour that he knows is not acceptable.
"Wait until he can understand that rules need to be followed, so that he'll understand why time out is happening," she cautions. "Time out must not be seen as a punishment. It should rather be seen as an opportunity to teach your toddler how to cope with his feelings of frustration and anger. Once he has learnt how to cope with these feelings, he'll be able to start to modify his behaviour."
3. REASONING IS FUTILE
"When your child reaches tantrum mode, he's not hearing a thing. This is why your actions (turning your back or simply ignoring him) speak volumes and are much louder than words," explains Ann. When he's in the throes of a tantrum, don't plead, beg or negotiate with your child. - it'll only give him the message that you're anxious and not in control. Rather give him a time out or allow the meltdown a few minutes to play itself out, and then offer all sorts of comfort and love. Discuss the issue afterwards when everyone is calm. "Always remember to reward positive behaviour too," she advises.
4. THERE'S MORE THAN ONE TYPE OF TANTRUM
While a tantrum generally follows the same pattern - shouting and screaming, throwing of objects, whining and crying) - there are three different types of tantrums that you can expect your toddler to throw. The "attention tantrum" is the most common type, says Ann, where your toddler misbehaves in order to get your attention, especially if you're busy doing something that doesn't involve him getting that attention.
"Tangible tantrums," Ann points out, occur when a toy is taken away from your child or when treats are refused. And lastly, "command avoidance tantrums" erupt when your tot tries to get out of doing something that he doesn't want to do, like getting into his car seat or putting his shoes on.
5. TANTRUMS ARE NORMAL, NOT NAUGHTY
Tantrums are a normal part of a toddler's psyche and a necessary and healthy (albeit difficult) part of growing up. "It's how you and your child's other caregivers respond to the tantrum that sets the way forward towards your child realising that what he's doing is wrong," explains Ann.
She also points out that toddlers have a low level of frustration and their tempers are easily triggered when things don't go according to plan. "In younger toddlers under the age of three, most tantrums are triggered by frustration with their inability to perform certain tasks, such as putting on their own shoes. This is when a helping hand and not punishment is all that is needed, and the tantrum soon abates."
6. TANTRUMS CAN SOMETIMES BE AVOIDED
We're all a bit tired and cranky at the end of the day and this is something you should bear in mind when you quickly nip to the shops after work with your hungry, overstimulated toddler. When he spots the sweets in the queuing aisle, can you really blame him for having a mini meltdown when you tell him he can't have them? Fortunately, this is easily avoided.
"Modulate your child's stimulatory environment and remove him from it if you see any signs of overload," stresses Ann. Other ways to avoid tantrums would be to watch awake times, be consistent, avoid hunger, prevent a situation of frustration from arising, offer him choices whenever possible and pick your battles, she says. After all, it isn't really the end of the world if your toddler goes out with his T-shirt on backwards, so leave him be.
7. IT'S ACTUALLY OKAY TO CAVE UNDER CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES
Ann doesn't feel any parent should ever give in to a tantrum - by doing so, you'll only reinforce the negative or bad behaviour and teach your child that all she needs to do is have a "frothy" in order to get what she wants. However, she says that it is indeed okay to cave if the tantrum is causing dysfunction in the environment. For example, if your tot is making an undue scene at a restaurant or if it's intruding into adult time.
8. SMACKING DOESN'T SOLVE ANYTHING
Giving your child a smack when he's in the throes of an emotional outburst really is a bit like kicking a dog when his down. "All smacking does is teach your child that violence and aggression are appropriate and acceptable ways to gain control," stresses Ann. It also reinforces negative behaviour by giving your child attention so if you are tempted to smack rather take a deep breath and walk away, she urges.