What can I do About Toddler Tantrums?

Annie The Nanny

Annie The Nanny

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Annie the Nanny is a professional parenting educator. She writes a weekly advice column for parents who need help with their children's behaviour. Her advice has also been featured on CTV, CBC and in all kinds of print media. For more information about Annie, please go to her 'about' page.

What can I do about toddler tantrums?Toddler tantrums can drive any parent insane. There you are, innocently trying to pick up the family groceries, and your child decides that it’s that moment that they’re going to have a meltdown and destroy your day. Kids start with temper tantrums predominantly in the two-year-old age group. You might have some before that, but they don’t really become a “thing” until around two years old. So, what exactly causes temper tantrums? Well, generally, it’s because your two-year-old is reaching the point where they are realizing their power in being a separate person from you, a process that starts with their own self-awareness around 15 to 18 months.

All of the above means they have a drive for independence to prove that they can do things when and how they want. The trouble is that despite this drive, they actually can’t do much without you. They can put their shoes on, but it’s likely to take half the afternoon, and if you have the time and patience to let them try, that’s terrific. The trouble is that busy parents often don’t have the time, at least not outside of those occasions at home when they don’t have to go or be anywhere else. There are things to be done, chores to accomplish, and places to be. That means your toddler’s drive for independence is invariably going to collide with your drive to go about your day and actually get mundane tasks done like making a meal for them to eat, doing laundry, and walking the dog.

So what happens when they have the drive but don’t have the skills necessary to perform quickly? Answer: They get frustrated. They want all the time in the world, and your agenda simply isn’t theirs, or is that the other way around? So the screams, flailing arms and legs, and general misery erupt. Of course, anything can set them off. It needn’t be something they want to do, and it can often be something they don’t want to do.  Mostly, however, it boils down to them deciding some avenue of action for themselves that simply isn’t practical or a good idea.

What can I do about toddler tantrums? First, think prevention.

First, think prevention. Try to do things or go places after they have been fed, and avoid dragging them out drowsily or asking them to do something without their full cooperation. Give them a ton of time to transition if you plan to go somewhere in public. Offer a reminder in a cheery, upbeat tone of the fact that you will have to go out to the library soon and do that often as the time ticks down.

What can I do about toddler tantrums? Ignore them.

It’s a good idea to divide how you deal with tantrums into two parts. Tantrums in public and tantrums at home. At home, you can simply ignore the behaviour. Just give it no attention at all and turn away. If they are violent, remove them to time out, but don’t give them any attention on the way. When they have calmed down, notice them again, lighten your tone, and don’t hold a grudge. Involve them in what you’re doing as soon as you can and help them cheer up with your cheery personality. Don’t discuss the tantrum or make reference to it. It simply didn’t exist. Find time to model more productive ways of behaving and notice when they ask for things or help without losing it, giving them lots of positive reinforcement for behaving nicely.

When you’re in public, it’s a bit more challenging. Firstly, if you’re out in public, include them in your shop. Let your two-year-old “hold” unbreakable things and help put them in the cart or find the bananas or the oranges. If you have older children, you can make their tasks slightly more challenging. Let your child try weighing things, and let them help you put the articles on the conveyor belt at the till and help you carry items out to the car.

What can I do about toddler tantrums? Stop and evaluate the best response..

If your child decides to throw a fit in a store, analyze whether it’s a big enough temper tantrum to leave the store or more of a whiny cry session. If it’s the latter, you can simply ignore her. Look occupied and not bothered, and maybe study the nutritional content of the tomato sauce jars. Then your child is finished; just resume your activity. If it’s the latter and your child throws a big fit in a store, I would suggest you’re much better off to simply “drop” your shopping in a quiet spot and go out to the car with the child. Put them in their seat and keep them busy either outside or inside the car. It’s probably nicer outside unless the temperature is minus something. Pretend to check the tire pressure or your phone. Just make sure you look as though you are completely unflustered and not at all bothered by your child’s behaviour. Be a good actor. I know that’s more difficult than it looks!

What can I do about toddler tantrums?  Whatever you were doing before the tantrum, you must do it after!

Then, when you notice your little one’s temper has subsided, take them out of their seat and resume your activity. Don’t make a big deal of their temper. Everything is ok, and we’re now back to doing things with them. The idea you want to give your child is that if you were going to do an activity before the meltdown, you must do it afterwards, so go back and resume doing your groceries. With any luck, your cart will still be there. Doing that shows your child that their meltdown has not altered what you do with your day. It probably won’t take your child long to figure out that if her temper doesn’t get her anywhere, there’s really not much point in having one.

What can I do about toddler tantrums?  Check their diet.

There is also substantial research indicating that diet can exacerbate tantrums.

Firstly, there are blood sugar fluctuations: If your toddler eats a diet high in simple carbohydrates such as candy, white bread, or sugary pop-like drinks that leads to spikes and drops in blood sugar, which can affect both a toddler’s mood and behaviour.

Secondly, you want to make sure your toddler is getting enough of certain nutrients and a balanced diet in general. I’m also referring to protein, zinc, and iron in particular, as research indicates that these chemicals are used by the nervous system to communicate as well as for hormones that regulate mood.

Finally, keep in mind that children can be sensitive to food dyes or preservatives and become hyperactive if they consume them. 

What can I do about toddler tantrums? Give them opportunities to try.

Just as there are times when you can’t wait for your toddler to put their own boots on, there are times you should set aside for them to try. Do this when you have plenty of time and neither of you is under any pressure. Give them opportunities to have those “independent” moments and give them lots of positive reinforcement when they get something right. For individual parenting help, please visit my services page.

Or how about reading Annie the Nanny’s ten tips to being a successful parent.

Do you revolve your whole world around your kids?  Here’s why making your kids your world isn’t such a great idea.

Do you know what to do when your child encounters peer pressure?

Here’s a clip of Annie the Nanny talking about the power of choice on CTV Calgary.

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