Toddler temper tantrums – they can strike at a moment’s notice. And usually, happen at the quietest and least kid appropriate location possible with plenty of judging witnesses shaming you with their childless stares.
If your toddler has ever unleashed a monster temper tantrum in public, you already know it’s on the top 10 list of most embarrassing and most frustrating moments in your life.
So what’s a mom to do when her blessed angel reaches the age of toddlerhood and isn’t maintaining their previous cutie-pie status?
There is help and you don’t have to live afraid to go outdoors or feel like a prisoner to your new toddler’s reign of terror.
But first, we need to change the narrative.
Change the Toddler Narrative
I really hate hearing parents label the toddler years as the terrible twos. This is basically stereotyping and nobody likes to be stereotyped… ever. We ALL want to have the opportunity to be our own person and live our lives without the labels trying to hold us back.
Plus, having the mindset that all toddlers are like the Tasmanian Devil will only hurt you as a parent. That’s because you’re already going into the toddler years expecting the craziness to ensue. Maybe your friend had a toddler that became unglued at the sound of the word, No.
And you automatically assumed this was the norm.
Anytime we go into any relationship or encounter with a set of preconceived notions about that person, we never give them a fighting chance to show us any different. This includes our children.
And this way of thinking is exactly what’s wrong in our world today. So, let’s not allow this toxic mindset to creep into our homes.
Instead, we need to focus on us. Yes, not our toddler but us as parents. Our children are brilliant little people and have the amazing capacity to rise up and meet our parental expectations. We just need to know what those are and lay them out.
And just like the carefully chosen outfit that you laid on the bed for your child to wear to church, they’ll probably come along and chose something else. You need to be prepared that battles will go down but you are the boss and you’ve got this!
OK, so now that we’ve got that out the way.
How to Prevent Temper Tantrums
The key to handling temper tantrums with grace is knowing that the real work really begins before the toddler tantrum ever shows up on the scene. And that’s what this post is all about… the before.
If you’re looking for tips on how to stop a tantrum already in progress, you’re going to want to read this!
I have three children and one of my kiddos is in the throes of toddlerhood. And I can probably count on two hands (that being generous) how many tantrums I’ve experienced with all three of my kids combined. I don’t say that to brag.
Only to offer encouragement that all of the typical “stages” that are thrown at us as parents don’t have to be our own experiences. I’m by no means a perfect parent but I went into motherhood with the mindset that I’m not excepting society’s negative reports for my children.
That means the terrible twos, the tween and teen disrespect, and anything else society tells me is supposed to happen with my children.
Instead, I choose to take responsibility for creating the environment I want to live. Call me crazy, but I just hate when someone tells me I can’t do something or this is just the way it is.
So, I set out to do things differently. Here is the simple formula for gracefully preventing your toddler’s temper tantrums.
What Tantrums Really Are
Tantrums are one of the ways your toddler communicates. Like a baby cries… a toddler will act out in their emotions to get our attention. Therefore, don’t worry, tantrums are normal and they don’t mean your child is bad or unruly.
In fact, I’ve had my fair share of “adult” tantrums, some of which were sadly witnessed by my kids. We all get angry, feel misunderstood, and want to be heard. We also don’t always go about expressing our feelings in the most productive and appropriate way.
This is no different from the way toddlers and kids will express their feelings in an outright on the floor tirade. But it’s our job to teach and guide our children into healthier ways to express our emotions. Nobody ever wants to see an adult kicking and screaming on the floor!
And in my own personal experience, most of my kid’s tantrums were because I wasn’t paying attention to what was going on and what they needed at that moment…
Be Sure They Aren’t Having a Meltdown
Before getting into the details about preventing full-on tantrums, I want to give you a quick heads up on what your toddler might be having instead – a meltdown. A toddler meltdown is different than a tantrum because it’s largely a reaction to something they’re experiencing.
Your little guy might be more sensitive to sights and sounds and that new trampoline place is just too overwhelming for him.
It could also be that he’s exhausted and simply needs a nap. Lack of sleep could also trigger a tantrum in a toddler but a meltdown seems to come out of nowhere versus a tantrum which typically happens when you tell them no for something they want.
Finally, you may find your toddler has a meltdown after something upsets or scares them and they can’t control their avalanche of sudden emotions. This happens with my little guy from time to time.
If you suspect your toddler is having a meltdown, follow these simple steps but stay focused on helping him feel safe, comforted, and calm.
Start with Meeting Their Immediate Needs
Toddlers are still very much like their former baby selves. They lack the ability to tell you what they really need and so they act out in a way that’s very similar to a baby crying when they’re wet, hungry, or tired.
When a toddler starts acting out, pulling away from you, and no longer listening you need to go into inspector mode immediately to stop a meltdown in its tracks. Ask yourself when was the last time your little guy had a snack, took his nap, or went to the bathroom. Or basically anything else you can think of.
Meeting these needs early and quickly is the best way to keep a full-on tantrum from happening.
I think we ALL know that lack of sleep or food are huge triggers for a toddler meltdown, so start there.
I’m pretty sure, my son is the most hungry kid on the planet! And he’s quite the opposite from his two older sisters. So as he got older I naturally thought I had this parenting thing down and packed snacks and food based on what I did previously.
I broke the cardinal parenting rule… never try to treat all your kids the same! So basically, he was always hungry and wanting to eat. I quickly learned to bring more healthy snacks with us and that fixed that problem!
Also, if your kiddo doesn’t do well at all with a missed nap, try to always schedule outings and appointments around her nap whenever possible.
Consider How You Contribute to the Problem
Other tantrum triggers can be stress or lack of attention from you. Yes, we can actually do things to contribute to their tantrums.
For example, were you stressed out this afternoon getting her to her doctor’s appointment on time? Were you yelling at the cars, had an intense phone call on the way, or even yelled at your child?
Kids can hold on to the stressful emotions we put out and they simply have no way of handling them in a healthy or effective way. It’s the same thing happening when a baby is crying and suddenly your baby starts crying too.
Toddlers also tend to be extremely sensitive. The other day we were headed to breakfast as a family and my husband and I were deep in conversation. And my toddler began annoying his big sister… his specialty. And instead of stopping our conversation to handle the problem, we ignored it until we blew a top.
Big mistake! My husband yelled at him in the back seat (he pretty much never yells) and my son started the teary-eyed pout. When we pulled up to the restaurant, he seemed fine to me but when he got out and saw his dad, he started to cry very hard.
Needless to say, my husband felt terrible. But this shows how strongly toddlers can hold on to stressful emotions.
The second thing I mentioned is lack of attention. If you’re on your phone the whole time in the waiting room and he’s trying to get your attention, stop and be present with him. Nobody likes to be ignored, and this goes for your child too.
Foster Guided Independence
Another great way to allow your child to feel important and ward off tantrums is to offer them the opportunity to make simple choices which make them feel respected. I like to call this guided independence.
What kinds of choices are we talking about?
Let your child make toddler sized choices like what to wear, which plate they want to eat on, and what color cup they want before they have the opportunity to ask for the green cup themselves. Try putting two cups on the counter and telling your little one to choose a cup and get some milk.
Most of the time these simple choices mean absolutely nothing to us, but giving a toddler the wrong color cup can launch the first missile in WW4.
It’s better to offer them the choice first instead of grabbing a cup and them not liking it and then having to correct the situation and ruining dinner.
It’s not at all about letting kids run the show or some new-aged passive parenting tactics. But it is about understanding the needs of our kids and lovingly allowing them to experience independence on our terms, not theirs.
You may need to create boundaries with these choices to prevent yourself from getting frustrated. For example, I let my son get himself dressed every morning. But I have a special drawer where he has a bunch of t-shirts and shorts to choose from.
Most of them all go together so it’s helpful that I have one less task to do and he doesn’t leave out of the house looking like a circus performer. And the best part is he feels like a big boy and doesn’t feel the need to search for ways to battle for independence.
Establish Strong Expectations
Here’s my favorite tip and where I believe most parents are missing it. This is honestly where my husband shines and helped me see where I was actually sabotaging my own efforts along the way.
Toddlers may be small, but they’re extremely smart! They know when your no means no and when it really means, um, OK fine. Ever done that one before?
Your kid just mentally hit the jackpot and will be coming for you, again and again, to get what they want.
It’s our job and responsibility to establish strong and predictable expectations for our kids as early as newborns. Basically, when your baby cries she learns that you’ll get up and go into mommy investigation mode to fix her current problem.
When you let your toddler that when we go into the store we do NOT run around, touch things on the shelves, or any other inappropriate behavior.
When your toddler hears your instruction and proceeds to do just want you told him not to do, he’s testing the waters and waiting for your response. This will determine if he does it again. Kids will always do what they’re allowed to do.
Inappropriate behavior needs to be addressed every single time. No matter how much of a pain in the butt it is. This works! And it is work! But it’s so worth it when your child knows how to behave themselves in public and at home.
Does my toddler son ever break out in a sprint in Target? Yep! And I firmly tell him we do NOT run in stores and he immediately goes back in the cart. No second chances, no discussions, no bribes, no deals.
Let’s just say, it doesn’t happen often. He’s learned that we mean business. But toddlers will be toddlers, which means they love to test the boundaries and see what they can get away with.
If you waiver it’s like a shark smelling blood in the water… you’re done!
Finally, I need to add that there isn’t a quick fix for any parenting struggles and challenges. They all take unique approaches and a lot of trial and error.
But most of all, they require consistency.
We need to keep showing up and doing what is right over and over. And just like consistency is necessary to see the results we want at the gym, it’s exactly the same with parenting.
Your kids already know what to expect from you, whether good or bad. It’s our responsibility to set the right expectations and you’ll see your child thrive.
How do you establish healthy boundaries with your children? Share in the comments below!