Toddlers. Am I Right?
Tantrum: a fit of bad temper
Fit: an emotional reaction (as in anger or frustration)
Toddler: a young child usually between one and three years old
Toddlerhood: the bridge between being a baby and a “big kid”
And oh my goodness it's quite the journey.
Are tantrums "normal?"
Let's first look at tantrums and fits. Tantrums are normal and developmentally appropriate. Toddlers aren’t able to express everything that they are feeling, but they are much more aware than they were as a baby. These big feelings then come out in a tantrum because they are frustrated that they can’t express themselves.
Once this happens, it is very difficult for your toddler to reason during the big emotions. They are so full of these big emotions, not knowing how to manage them, and aren’t able to use logic to come to a conclusion. As your child begins to learn new words, they may be more frustrated that they can't articulate or identify what they feel.
The Learning Process
Toddlers need to learn how to get from point A (beginning of tantrum) to point B (end of tantrum). They need to learn how to self-regulate, meaning to be able to calm themselves down. This can be done with co-regulation, as you’re teaching and modeling important calming tools. Talk with your toddler about calming tool options AFTER their tantrum, not during it. As you continue to model calming tools, they will begin to use them to calm down.
A few tips to help your little one learn how to calm themselves down:
offer them a sip of water- water is magical
deep breath- "blow out your candle"
hug- "I am here if you want a hug."
What to do
Set firm boundaries and clear expectations, then continue to uphold them. Consistency provides toddlers with structure, which helps them feel safe and know what to expect. Try your best to handle tantrums the same way each time, and consistently.
As your child's vocabulary grows, they are able to learn how to manage disappointment, and tantrums begin to lessen. This is why it’s so important to guide your child through the tantrum by being present, rather than trying to immediately stop the crying. This is a crucial development for a child to learn how to handle disappointment.
Here are some tips on how to be present while your toddler is throwing a tantrum:
remain calm- use a firm and calming voice
stay close and in eye sight- you may sit or lie down
validate their feelings- "I know you are feeling upset. It's ok to be upset."
keep them safe- If they are hitting or kicking, you can add to the above, "It's not ok to hit. I'm going to move over here to stay safe."
don’t try to reason or argue- they aren't capable of reasoning during this time
show empathy but no other emotions- engaging with frustration, anger, etc will only make matters worse
ride it out- it will end, eventually. If you're in a public place and they aren't calming down within 5-10 minutes, it's ok if you take them outside or away
When they are calm you can provide them with a solution. If they want to watch more TV but it's time to turn it off you can say, "I know you're upset that TV time is over. We can watch more TV tomorrow." Same applies for books at bedtime!
Toddlers need to feel in charge so they also feel in control. Providing opportunities for your little one to make their own choices helps them feel independent and valid. For example, "Do you want to wear the red or the blue shirt?" "Do you want me to carry you or hold your hand?" Whatever you choose to offer, make sure the choices are also ones you are willing to do.
When your child comes out at the other end of a tantrum, there’s a magical moment of peace. If you have kept calm without intervening, the tantrum is more likely to end sooner rather than later. That is when the real magic happens. Seeing your child learn how to get through the overwhelming feelings and emotions of toddlerhood is such a relief that you are on the right track of this parenting journey. And if it wasn’t your best moment, try again the next time. Because there WILL be a next time. And you ARE a good parent.
When you’ve helped them to co-regulate through a tantrum, they are a little more equipped for life. Keep on keeping on. You got this!
Toddlers have a strong desire to help without the expectation of getting something in return. To nurture this, give a simple "thank you" or positive reinforcement to acknowledge you appreciate their help. It is recommended NOT to give them a reward for helping, as they may not want to continue to help without a reward each time.
Anna specializes in toddler sleep, especially working with families ready to transition to more independent sleep.
She is available to help your family get the sleep they deserve. Anna encourages you to follow Happy Little Ones on Instagram for more tips and tricks!
Ready for more sleep but not exactly sure on HOW to make the necessary changes? Schedule your free 15 minute sleep evaluation call to be one step closer to accomplishing your sleep goals.
Wondering what other families have experienced after working with me? Read before + after stories HERE!