The meltdown… The highlight of any parent’s day!
Until your child learns to live with disappointment regular tantrums will just be part of your life. While loud and annoying, they can also be very cute.
From an adult’s perspective the disproportionate blow up over a seemingly minor issue can bring a smile to your face – or maybe there is just something wrong with me.
The public meltdown is less cute. Most people will be understanding, at least if they have ever had kids that is. Your crisis management skills will be put to the test alongside your resilience and patience!
What are Tantrums?
Tantrums are very common from one to three years old.
During these early years a toddler is still learning how to understand their own feelings and handle their emotions.
Throwing a tantrum is how they communicate that they are feeling when upset, irritated or generally uncomfortable about something. They do not know any other way just yet.
This can manifest in a number of ways – crying, kicking, back arching, flailing, twirling, and even vomiting at times.
While it can be unpleasant, the exercise actually gives you a great insight into your child’s emotional state. By understanding how they react to things you will be well equipped to deal with the fallout and restore some normality.
"Embrace the Suck!"
While it is easy to talk about the positive associations and logic behind why a child will cry and throw a tantrum, in the heat of the moment this will be the furthest thing from your mind.
But by jamming the convenience of a tantrum into an adult lifestyle, or what is appropriate, we may be reinforcing negative responses to emotions that can be difficult to overcome.
Check out the video below for some great info on:
- Overcoming how you judge crying
- The principal of tears for communication
- Big boys do cry - when they don't it will come out in other ways
Top Tantrum Tips!
Be Calm and Still
Your child’s actions are not rational - they don’t yet know what rational is.
By reacting to your own frustration, raising your voice, or becoming noticeably agitated you are only going to confuse your child and heighten their emotional state.
This is not helpful.
Take a deep breath and relax. Your child is looking to you to set the example for them to follow and keeping a calm exterior is essential.
Stay with your Child
In the interest of safety, it is best to remain within a reasonable proximity to your child.
They will be prone to hurting themselves in this period as they become oblivious to their surroundings.
You will need to keep that watchful eye out to make sure they do not place themselves in a dangerous position. An awkward fall in the wrong place could lead to an injury that would outlast the initial tantrum.
In their fit of rage, some children may do harmful things on purpose, like bang their head on the wall or floor. You will need to intervene before any damage is done.
Identify the Cause
The causes are usually pretty obvious, but it is still worthwhile paying attention.
Some common causes include:
This is especially true when in crowded places like a party, or family gathering, that they are just not used to. Some children will go quiet and hide behind the parents, others will go the meltdown route.
I am sure you have seen your child attempt an ambitious journey somewhere. If they reach the point of no return and get stuck they may end up crying out until you help them out of this tight spot.
Lack of sleep or tiredness
A child is more prone to this when away from their regular environment. If they were at home they would just go to sleep… Usually.
Worry and anxiety
This will often come from that fear of abandonment. If you leave the room for a moment the separation anxiety kicks in and they can get very upset in a moment. On the plus side, when you walk back into the room they light up!
Just not getting their way
If you have to stop them doing something dangerous, or banging a toy on the glass table they may not like it. Despite your good intentions.
Always be the Adult
No matter how uncomfortable it is for you watching your toddler in this fragile emotional state, you always need to be considerate of the long term effects your own behavior could have.
If you enable the child and give in to the pressure of the tantrum you are teaching them that this is the way to get what they want.
We want to teach them how to deal with disappointment and discomfort in a reasonable manner. You have to stand your ground for this lesson to sink in.
The other challenge of adulthood is the ability to stick to your guns regardless of the environment. Staying consistent at home, and in public will ensure the child is not confused by your own changing behavior.
I am sure we all feel the pressure when in public at some stage, but we are adulting here!
For the sake of our babies, we have to rise above the embarrassment, pressure, and inconvenience.
If the emotional escalation is unsafe or bothering other people, you can always move elsewhere.
If you (attempt to) explain to your child why you are on the move it again gives them the opportunity to learn about consideration for others, as well as the self-management of emotions.
At home this is easy!
In public, well you just have to take what you can get! An out of the way corner can minimize the impact on those around you.
Mind your Tone
I continue to find this the most difficult part. It is easy to react and raise your voice in an attempt to curb the meltdown before it sets in.
This has never really worked, but it is an easy reaction to fall into. Especially when you are in a hurry!
By maintaining that calm demeanor, and talking with a soft voice, you will convey a soothing and calming influence on your child.
They will not notice at first, but eventually they will.
As I reflect on my own conduct when faced with this challenge I feel I really have to get this right. By reacting I am setting a poor example that will be copied by them over time.
A Comment from Baby Daddy
I have always had a short temper. My reaction to a tantrum was often limited to little more than "just stop it" with increasing levels of aggression.
Not a very productive, or kind, response to hear.
While it took some practice and experimenting, i worked out that if i knelt down to talk to my boy face to face, he would listen when i started to talk.
At first I didn't know if he understood, but he did listen. Then one day, after attempting to negotiate a transition into a stroller he turned and tried to climb in.
Now this doesn't always work of course, but I know try and offer choices to him rather than demands. If that choice leads to more whining then I let him deal with that.
While this may not sound significant to some - for me it felt significant - and the more i practice patience the easier it gets.
Stick to the Rules
Be consistent with the rules no matter where you are.
You will have to grit your teeth sometimes with this one when there is an easy solution staring you in the face.
Just have to suck it up and stay strong - and keep some distractions on hand - see no. 8!
As you learn about your child’s triggers you can be prepared with both preventative measures, and reactive solutions that trigger the tantrum response.
Prevention is better than cure and if you can manage the environment, ensure they get adequate rest, and…. Ok, don’t go overboard here.
Tantrums are going to happen no matter what you do. You know your baby though and I am sure you are not deliberately provoking them.
The reactive solutions on the other hand, are where the preparedness should come in. Keep snacks on hand, favorite toys as distractions, milk, pacifiers… whipping out the boob. You get the idea.
The quicker you can distract or comfort them, the sooner they will move on.
Be Calm and Still
A child in full tantrum mode is very emotional, so it is useless to argue with him.
Kind of like adults when you think about it.
Our efforts are better directed towards identifying and solving the immediate problem, rather than reasoning your way out of the problem.
Be Calm and Still
After your child has calmed down, discuss what happened.
The older and more responsive your child is the more effective this will be. But even if they are not yet talking, it can still be very helpful for their learning to have a conversation.
We want to help the child acknowledge their emotions, and encourage them to express them. If they can explain in their own words why they became upset or mad even better.
Remember that this should not be an argument, and it will be helpful to keep the tone friendly and supportive. Sometimes just asking “can you tell me why you became upset a while ago?” is all you need.
Tantrums are just part of growing up. You will be dealing with them for many years, and despite the challenges, they present it is just part of the road towards an emotionally mature child.
When you decode the meltdown it all comes back to the fact that they are trying to tell you something. They just don’t know how to do it best.
If we pay attention, and listen, we can get the right answers and move on before too much damage is done.
Self-control and discipline can be learned with intentional practice and restraint.
I know that I am much better than I used to be, but still have a long way to go. I want to set the best example I can and this will continue to spur me on to improve myself.