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Published April 18, 2013, 11:38 PM

5 Things Friday: 5 tips for dealing with a toddler temper tantrum

FARGO – Lately my toddler has been making it his mission to see how far he can push the limits of my husband’s and my patience. He burst into tears and started screaming the other day when I wouldn’t let him eat “puff cheese” (Cheetos natural white cheddar puffs) for lunch.

By: Tracy Frank, INFORUM

FARGO – Lately my toddler has been making it his mission to see how far he can push the limits of my husband’s and my patience.

He burst into tears and started screaming the other day when I wouldn’t let him eat “puff cheese” (Cheetos natural white cheddar puffs) for lunch.

When my husband took him home from church because he wasn’t listening and kept trying to snatch cupcakes, our son screamed and cried until he threw up the cupcake we did let him eat.

And when my daughter told him she had to finish her homework before she played cars with him, he promptly hurled his toys across the room.

At a loss for what to do, I turned to the Internet for help.

Here are five of the best tips I found online for dealing with toddler temper tantrums:

  1. Keep it in perspective

    “Tantrums are a normal part of toddler life,” Pinky McKay, a lactation consultant, infant massage instructor, mother of five, and parenting book author, wrote on bellybelly.com.au.

    That can be easy to forget when I see other people’s children sitting calmly through their sibling’s taekwondo lessons, but important to remember when my son’s screams can be heard throughout the building as I carry his flailing body outside.

    While tantrums are sometimes about pushing boundaries, they are often expressions of emotional distress triggered by frustration, loss, disappointment, feeling misunderstood, or the need to release built-up stress, McKay writes.

    “It can help to think of a tantrum as an intense storm of emotion that a toddler isn’t equipped to handle, rather than an attempt to wield power over everyone around him,” she said.

    Avoid using negative labels for your child, said Mary VanClay on babycenter.com.

    “The ‘wild child’ who is ‘stubborn,’ ‘exhausting,’ and a ‘crybaby’ is also a spirited child who is persistent, energetic and sensitive,” she said.

    When parents focus on their child’s positive attributes, it changes their behavior, which in turn changes their child’s behavior.

  2. Stop, look and listen

    Look at the situation through your toddler’s eyes, and it will be easier to help him or her grow through this stage relatively smoothly, McKay said. Listen carefully to what your child is trying to tell you and let them know you understand, she said.

    Toddlers usually aren’t able to change their behavior in response to verbal reasoning, but acknowledging their feelings will help parents empathize with their children. It will eventually help kids learn to recognize what winds them up before they have a meltdown, VanClay said.

  3. Track tantrum triggers

    McKay suggests keeping a tantrum journal to better understand the situations that trigger a temper tantrum. Hunger, lack of sleep, feeling rushed and even some foods like sugar, caffeine and food additives can affect children’s behavior, she said.

    Toddlers need time to run and play, and unless they’re sleeping, they shouldn’t be inactive for more than an hour at a time, VanClay said. Playing games in which you each take turns (like kicking a ball back and forth), helps toddlers practice self-control, she said.

  4. Give in, a little

    At this age, toddlers are trying to be more independent and allowing them a little freedom in some things, like picking their clothes or which dishes they use, can help them feel in control, McKay said.

    They may then be more flexible on the rules that really matter, like wearing seat belts and holding hands crossing the street, she said.

  5. Hold your child

    If your toddler is thrashing wildly and at risk of hurting himself or others, McKay said you can help him by using a technique known as holding.

    Keep yourself calm, sit up against a wall, if possible, and envelop your child by holding him with his back to you and folding your arms over his. If he is a bigger toddler, take an arm in each of your hands and cross his arms. You can also cross your legs over his to contain his legs and prevent kicking. Hold him calmly and speak soothing words in a gentle tone.

    “He won’t be in any space to reason with and will, in any case, not be able to activate the reasoning part of his brain while he is distressed,” she said. “As your tot calms, let him lie in your arms and cuddle until he is over his blow-out. Then offer him reassurance and a different, preferably quiet, activity.”

    When the tantrum is over, reassure your child that you love him, she said.

    “Giving reassurance is not giving in,” she said. “Just as adults need comfort when they feel upset or overwhelmed, toddlers need to know they are loved, even when their behavior isn’t lovable, and by hugging him when he is calm you are rewarding him for settling down.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526.

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