Toddler tantrums are extremely common between the age of 18 months and 4 years. Kids grow out of tantrums, but this is hard to think about when you are in the middle of one. So, here are some tips on how to help you handle tantrums and hopefully reduce their frequency.
1. Talk to your toddler and make them feel like they have some choices
I think one of the main reasons why toddlers have tantrums is because they get frustrated. They understand so much more than you think they do and certainly more than they can communicate. I remember my 18 month old was trying to put a key in the door and I said, let’s go read a book. She dropped the keys and ran off to where the books were. I was astonished that she understood. It was only afterwards that I read somewhere that they take in what you are saying from around 6 months!!
So, talk to them about what you are going to do. At 18 months, your toddler is becoming more independent, so offer them choices whenever possible. No one likes being told what to do all the time. Saying, "would you like corn or peas?" rather than "eat your peas!" will give them a sense of choice and control.
2. Identify tantrum inducing situations
Try to identify which situations your child gets frustrated by and plan accordingly. If they fall apart when they're hungry, carry snacks with you. If they get cranky in the late afternoon, do chores earlier in the day (if possible).
If your toddler has trouble making a transition from one activity to the next, give them a gentle heads up before a change. Alerting them to the fact that you're about to leave the playground or sit down to dinner ("we’ll need to leave in 10 minutes, do you want to stay on the swings or go on the slide") gives her a chance to adjust and have some control instead of just reacting.
If you sense a tantrum is on the way, try distracting your child by changing locations, giving her a toy, or doing something she doesn't expect, like making a silly face or pointing at a bird.
3. Stay calm
If you get angry, it will make the situation worse and harder for both of you. If you need to speak at all, keep your voice calm and level, and act deliberately and slowly.
Ignore the behaviour until it stops. Once a temper tantrum is in full swing, it’s too late for reasoning or distraction. Your child won’t be in the mood to listen. You also run the risk of teaching your child that tantrums get your full involvement and attention.
4. Use time-outs
Depending on the child, using a time-out occasionally, beginning at about the age of 18 months, may help them manage their feelings better when they’re having a tantrum. A time-out can be helpful when your child's tantrum is especially intense and other techniques aren't working. Placing your child in a quiet spot for a brief period (about one minute per year of their age) can be a good lesson in self-soothing.
Explain what you're doing ("You're going to have a time-out so you can calm down, Mummy is going to be right over there") and let them know it's not punishment. If they refuse to stay in time-out, simply place them back in the spot firmly but coolly and go about your business. Beyond making sure they are safe, don't interact or give them attention during the time-out.
5. Remember that you are the adult, be calm, be strong, be consistent.
No matter how long the tantrum continues, don't give in to unreasonable demands or try to negotiate with your screaming toddler. It's especially tempting to cave in as a way of ending a public episode. Try not to worry about what others think – anyone who's a parent has been there before.
Remember also, that on the whole, you are stronger than they are. I have said this to myself many a time trying to gently put a screaming, arched back toddler into their pram.
If your child's outburst escalates to the point that she's hitting people or pets, throwing things, or screaming nonstop, pick them up and carry them to a safe place, such as the bedroom. Tell them why they're there ("because you hit Auntie Lisa"), and let them know that you'll stay with them until they can be calm.
If you're in a public place, like a restaurant – be prepared to leave with your child, even if it means just taking them outside while they calm down.
Don’t give in to the tantrum. By giving in, you'll only be teaching your child that throwing a fit is a good way to get what they want, which sets the stage for future conflicts. Be strong, be consistent.
6. Talk it over afterward
When the tantrum subsides, hold your child close and talk about what happened. Discuss the tantrum in very simple terms and acknowledge your child's frustration. Help them put their feelings into words by saying something like, "You were very angry because your food wasn't the way you wanted it."
Let them see that once they express themselves in words, they'll get better results. Say with a smile, "I'm sorry I didn't understand you. Now that you're not screaming, I can find out what you want."
7. Pick your battles
Monitor how often you're saying "no." If you find you're rattling it off routinely, you're probably putting unnecessary stress on both of you. Try to let them do some things, some of the time, ie pick your battles... ‘ok, you can wear your pyjamas to playgroup today’ or when you have the time…. ‘ok, have a go at clicking in the straps of your car seat‘!
If your child's tantrums seem overly frequent or intense (or they are hurting themselves or others), don’t hesitate to see your doctor or a nurse at your maternal and child health centre.