8 effective ways to help settle a toddler tantrum
Nothing quite tests your patience and sanity like a full-blown toddler tantrum.
Personally, I have always considered myself a pretty calm and emotionally stable person, but then you find yourself in the middle of Tesco on a Saturday afternoon, the place heaving with shoppers and trolleys and other children and everyone is just trying to get their shopping done as quickly as humanly possible to get the heck out of there.
And then your three-year-old throws a tantrum so epic and so unexpectedly (over something so minuscule) you can literally feel the sweat dripping down your back and forehead as you are trying to negotiate him up off the floor, make sure others don't trip over his flailing arms and legs and reassure your other child that no, of course no-one is laughing at us over this whole goddamn show.
Sound familiar? And the worst part; kids are excellent little emotional know-it-alls too. Meaning they sense our stress, our exhaustion and frustration, and the more we panic and manically try to micro-manage them into submission, the more they act out.
The thing is, though, while us adults know how to dial it back (at least most of the time), toddlers don't. Not when they are under that amount of pressure – they simply haven't learned how to navigate emotions and how to handle these highly stressful situations (even if they are the ones causing the stress).
This puts the ball in our court, parents. It becomes our job to take a deep breath and help them though what is happening – in a way where they feel loved and seen and understood.
Here are eight really effective questions to ask when you toddler throws his next tantrum:
1. "Tell me how you're feeling right now."
Emotions are powerful, and it can sometimes get in the way of logic. The phrase above is a good way to instruct your child to use words. It will force him to come up with a word or two rather than dwelling with his emotions.
2. "I know you're feeling (insert emotion), and that's okay."
Acknowledge your child's feelings, and repeat their words. It helps validates her emotions that her words aren't falling on deaf ears. More importantly, you are telling her there are no right or wrong feelings.
3. "I understand how you feel."
Let them know you empathise. Recognising that your child feels a certain way doesn't mean you'll give in to what they want. What it does is let your child know that you're part of their team, and you're not the enemy.
4. "I love you even if you're (insert emotion)."
Everybody has off days, and you need to tell your child you still love them despite how they feels or how they're acting. Your assurance of love lets them know that the feeling will pass, and your love for them is constant.
5. "Can I give you a hug?"
If you get a yes, it's is a sign she's ready to turn things around. If she's still too upset, give her more time to calm down (it's why it's important to ask). Hugs -- make sure it's a heartfelt one! -- are a quick and easy way to make them feel happy and loved.
6. "Can we start over?"
Take a deep breath with your child. Think of it as a reset. The wave of emotions have passed, and you and your kid are finally calm and ready to communicate with words, rather than cries, shouts, or hurtful actions.
7. "How can I help?"
Now that we've eased the tension, it's time to offers solutions to the problem. Ask, "How about we (insert suggestion)?" You can let your child choose -- between options where you are both comfortable -- so it feels like she decided on it.
8. "I'm sorry for (wrongdoing). Next time, I'll (promise)."
Admit wrongdoing and promise to do better. If you yelled or said something inappropriate, don't let it pass without notice. It will encourage your child to reflect on his actions and try to do better, handle it differently next time. Remember to follow through on your words, though.
It can be so hard to remember to keep calm, certainly when they are pushing all your buttons at once (and they do), but knowing we are modelling how to handle situations to our children, that they are learning from us, it becomes all the more important.