Oh, the tantrum! This hallmark of toddlerhood can be enough to make a usually calm and mature grown-up want to throw one of their own. I had one mother tearfully tell me that she felt like one evening she had put her sweet, placid son to bed and during the night he had been replaced by a wrathful tiny dictator, and it can certainly feel that way!
When dealing with tantrums, it’s important to remember that this is a normal developmental phase, and that this exertion of will and fury is not permanent. Toddlers are wonderful little beings, and at their best, they can be absolutely delightful to be around. The rapid acquisition of language and new physical skills, coupled with an increasing desire to be independent, are a joy to behold. They are also amongst the causes of tantrums.
If you want to decrease the amount of tantrums your child has and reduce the length of time they last, you have to figure out what prompts them and address the root cause. Remember that discipline means teach, not punish, and we want to teach our children socially acceptable ways to express their feelings. They are new to this whole communication thing, and punishing a two year old for throwing a fit is a bit like punishing someone traveling in a foreign country for not learning the language as quickly as we would like.
The best way to deal with tantrums is to prevent them when possible. This means not planning hours of errand running when your toddler is sleepy, or letting them go too long without a snack. Many meltdowns are due to being overly tired or overly hungry. Sometimes it is also a matter of too much of something. Too much time on the go, too much sensory input, etc…
Toddlers are relatively powerless in this world, and giving them a sense of power in small ways can also be helpful. Many little ones will stop throwing fits about things like getting dressed or eating lunch when they are regularly offered small choices. Being able to decide between the blue shirt and the red one, or whether to eat an apple or a banana is a big deal when you only have two years of life experience under your belt and other people make nearly all of the decisions about your life. Toddlers also have a hard time switching gears when engaged in an activity they enjoy, so incremental time warnings when you have to leave the park or a play date can be useful.
The last and hardest scenario for many parents is the store tantrum. Usually this is over wanting something you don’t plan to buy. Spend a couple of seconds in the car explaining what you plan to buy and what you expect. If they will be able to choose something, let them know the limitations. Also let them know that if they throw a tantrum you will have to leave immediately. If it happens, follow through. And don’t buy things you weren’t planning to buy to avoid the fit. Give a gentle reminder, and if the tantrum continues to escalate, pick up your child and go home. It can be a huge pain to leave a full shopping cart with your apologies to the nearest employee, but you typically don’t have to do it more than a few times before they start to realize that you mean what you say.
We’re all human, but do your best to react with empathy (and a sense of humor), and you will all survive the tantrum phase. Hang in there, mama. This too shall pass.