Not all tantrums are created equal. At least for my boys they weren’t. Thankfully, I have a seven-year-old who graduated from that stage, and a four-year-old who hasn’t publically embarrassed me in over a year. I wrote this post last year for my previous blog at a time when I’d finally emerged from the tantrum tunnel. This year, I’m bringing this post to my new blog with some updated pointers. Join me every Tuesday this month for my Toddler Talk Tuesday miniseries right here on NikeAnderson.com!
Here’s the deal; I realized that tantrums don’t always involve a snotty nosed kid who hates not getting his way. Sometimes, tantrums are a result of a child not getting what he needs. Toddlers are still developing, so they’re still learning how to best communicate their needs to us. Difficulty in identifying why they feel the way they feel can be frustrating. Mix that with difficulty in finding the right words for these feelings, and you’ve got a recipe for a tantrum.
When my boys were toddlers, I started asking myself some questions to help better manage their sporadic tantrums. When I was really desperate, I even asked them how I could help resolve their issue. It went a little something like this: “What do you want from me!?!?” What I learned were different reasons that called for different approaches. These are seven questions to ask yourself when your toddler has a tantrum.
Toddler Tantrums |7 Questions to Ask Yourself
1. Is He Hungry?
Imagine being hungry and not quite knowing what you’re feeling or how to express it. It didn’t take long for me to realize that ninety percent of my toddler’s tantrums were hunger-related, especially when we were out ripping and running. I learned that scolding him never rectified the tantrum because the feeling of hunger wouldn’t go away until he ate something.
In fact, scolding made the tantrum worse! Instead, letting my toddler know that we’ll eat something soon helped (not always!). I’ve found the ultimate solution is to pack snacks for our little excursions so that I never have a hungry child. I stored finger foods like snap pea crisps and sliced grapes in Ziplock bags and placed them inside my purse for easy access. For drinks, I always filled my kids’ travel cups with apple juice or water. I still bring snacks with me to this day!
2. Is He Tired?
I never liked to play around with my toddler’s naps (that’s my me-time!). But on the days when skipping naptime was necessary, I could almost guarantee a meltdown. The problem with tantrums that result from fatigue is that they’re difficult to resolve. When my toddler had a tantrum during church service, nothing we did stopped him from acting out. The only solution was for me to take him outside to the car, put on some music, and let him rest.
The key here is to remember that your child is not misbehaving, they’re tired! As parents, we can definitely relate to being sleep deprived. If you keep this in mind, it will help you maintain your cool when they’re screaming bloody murder in the middle of the grocery isle. So yea, if it’s that bad, find a quiet place and let your child rest. Even just ten minutes of shut-eye can make a world of difference.
3. Does He Need Attention?
My toddler had the perfect timing of going berserk the moment I decided to slip away and get some work done. And while I teach my children that they don’t need my undivided attention every single moment, I did notice that these tantrums were usually on the days when I haven’t spent any quality time with them yet. These are what I like to call the “monster tantrums.” That’s because the goal was to get (and keep!) my attention. The more I told my toddler to simmer down, the more it fueled his tantrum to a monstrous degree.
Teaching my children to understand that there are other things that need mommy’s attention was, and still is, challenging. Of course, the simple solution is to spend quality time with them before I slip away to get things done. But I must admit, this doesn’t always work. My backup plan is to distract them! I have a stash of goodies that comprise art supplies, craft projects, and toys that my kids haven’t seen yet. I offer these goodies and then slip off to get work done. Works every time!
4. Does He Need Affection?
As if anyone feels like giving their toddler a hug when they’re screaming bloody murder in the middle of the grocery store. But sometimes that’s what I had to do. Who doesn’t like a hug when they’re upset? Hugs immediately dissolved the situation and got my toddler to a state where he could talk out his feelings.
I know, I know; It seems like you’d be rewarding the behavior if you gave your child a hug during a tantrum. I don’t think of it that way. Rather, offering a hug is an opportunity for me to display my unconditional love to my child. Sometimes we forget to let our children know that we love them even when they misbehave.
5. Does He Feel Well?
When my toddler acted out of sorts, and I’ve done everything in my power to figure out the reason for his tantrum, I could almost guarantee he wasn’t feeling well. Having a stomachache, headache, earache, or any other ache were feelings he didn’t quite know how to express during early toddlerhood. I recall a time when my toddler threw tantrums the entire day and I couldn’t understand what had gotten into him. When he vomited right before bedtime, everything made sense. He had a stomachache and couldn’t find the words to tell me.
From then on, I started making a habit of asking my toddler if anything hurts. He now knows how to communicate these feelings. If your toddler isn’t talking quite yet, you can use sign language to help your child to communicate these hurts. Encouraging your child to pat their belly, head, or ear are great movements to teach him how to communicate that he isn’t feeling well.
6. Is He Confused?
Whenever I switched up the schedule on my toddler, he was not feeling it at all! A random trip to the store during the time he’s supposed to have outdoor playtime would result in a fit of tears. Toddler’s love their schedules because they can predict what’s about to happen, know what’s expected of them, and feel like they have some control. When that’s taken away from them, tantrums may result. This is because they are confused and don’t know what to expect next.
Letting my toddler in on the plans reduced these kinds of tantrums. It’s always a good idea to prep your toddler with a friendly talk before you do anything out of the ordinary (like a trip to the pediatrician, for example). Even better? Let them know you have something special planned for after the impromptu errand or appointment, like ice cream or a trip to the playground to reward their patience.
7. Is He Frustrated?
Things that I take for granted, like the ability to dress myself, put on my shoes, or freely express myself, were all things my toddler had to work hard at to master. Frustration and tantrums were, and still are, a part of this mastery process. Even now, certain tasks like cutting out shapes and coloring within the lines are things that frustrate my four-year-old when he can’t get it just right.
Words of affirmation help during these moments. Let your child know that you were his age once, and you know how frustrating it can be to put on your own shoes or zip your own jacket—but you eventually learned! Teach your toddler how to take nice deep breaths to help them calm down so that they’re more likely to succeed at what they’re trying to do.
Once I cracked the tantrum code, I found it helpful to explain to my children how they’re feeling so that they’re able to communicate it later. The moment they were able to put a name to their feelings, the tantrums decreased. These are not foolproof methods, as children are oftentimes unpredictable. But they were effective methods for my children. I hope some of these methods work for yours!
What methods have worked for you? Let us know in the comments below!