Tantrums are normal for toddlers, even legendary. Toddlers feel so passionately about everything, and they simply don’t have enough frontal cortex capacity yet to control themselves when they’re upset.
That said, you’ll be glad to know that many tantrums are avoidable. Since a good number of tantrums are a result of feeling powerless, toddlers who feel they have some control over their lives have fewer tantrums. And since toddlers who are tired and hungry don’t have the inner resources to handle frustration, managing your toddler’s life so he isn’t asked to cope when he’s hungry or tired will reduce tantrums. An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.
Here’s how to tame those toddler tantrums:
1. Stay calm and re-connect.
Remember that once your toddler is upset, her brain isn’t really capable of calming her down. So when she feels disconnected or overwhelmed, your priority is to calm yourself and reconnect with her.
2. Try to handle upsets so they don’t escalate.
It’s amazing how acknowledging your child’s anger can stop a brewing tantrum in its tracks. Before you set a limit, acknowledge what your child wants.
“You wish you could have more juice, you love that juice, right?”
(Look, he’s already nodding yes!) Then set the limit:
“You need to eat some eggs, too. We’ll have more juice later.”
(As you move his cup out of sight.) If he responds with anger, acknowledge it:
“That makes you so mad. You really want the juice.”
Remember to keep your words pared down. It’s hard for toddlers to follow language when they’re upset.
“You are so mad!”
3. Since most tantrums happen when kids are hungry or tired, think ahead.
Preemptive feeding and napping, firm bedtimes, enforced rests, cozy times, peaceful quiet time without media stimulation — whatever it takes — prevent most tantrums, and reground kids who are getting whiny. Learn to just say no — to yourself! Don’t squeeze in that last errand. Don’t drag a hungry or tired kid to the store. Make do or do it tomorrow.
4. Make sure your child has a full reservoir of your love and attention.
Kids who feel needy are more likely to tantrum. If you’ve been separated all day, make sure you reconnect before you try to shop for dinner.