“do you want to paint!?” I asked my bright blue eyed two year old today. Her bored face framed by light blonde curls immediately lit up! “yea! I want to paint!” she repeated happily and started running around. I was just glad to have found something to keep her occupied besides the TV. my head swam with visions of sitting at my computer getting work done while she painted beside me contentedly. that however was not what happened. Instead of her bright smile and a page full of colorful messy strokes, three mins after she began painting she started to wail and scream and lurch her body around violently in frustration. I could not get through no matter how calmly I asked her what was wrong or told her to take deep breaths and calm down so I could help her. any move to physically help her or restrain her made her louder and more out of control. What’s a mom to do?
I’m intensely aware of how many articles there are out there on how to handle a toddler tantrum. There are so many experts ready to tell us the “right way” to raise our kids and the “wrong way” to react to wild outbursts from our tiny adorable humans. Most of these articles deal is absolutes. DONT DO THIS. NEVER DO THAT. ALWAYS RESPOND THUSLY. I cannot rant long enough on how much these sorts of articles drive me up the wall! they usually range from one extreme to another. one “expert” will say never to give attention to these sorts of outbursts, another will say to always respond with love and lots of positive attention. what most of these so called “experts” fail to see or at least mention is every kid is different, ever situation different and there is more than one type of tantrum!
At the risk of this becoming just another annoying know it all parenting post I wanted to share some of my thoughts on this subject. Let me first discuss some of the many reasons Toddlers tantrum.
1. communication frustrations:
life is tough and learning curves are steep. Especially when it comes to communicating . some adults still have issues conveying what they want and we’ve been using words and body language for ages! our tiny mini me’s are only just building their vocabulary and figuring out how to form sentences. it can be so infuriating to know what it is you want but not know how to ask for it. A lot of kids also lack the self esteem and security to assert themselves. If they are used to an adult always correcting them or being impatient when they have something to say it can be overwhelming to even attempt to speak up and this encourages even more melt downs. If I think my child is tantruming because they don’t know the words they would like to say, when they are calm enough I ask them easy yes or no questions to figure it out and offer them some phrases they could use next time.
2. confusing emotions:
sometimes while asking yes or no questions it becomes apparent the child has no clue why they are crying. this is completely normal for toddlers. you have to remember they were just babies not but a few months ago and the range of emotions they experience shot up from simple ones like ” I’m hungry” or “I’m tired” to more complex emotions like feeling incapable, wanting to impress or please and disappointment. it can be very hard for them to understand what they are even upset over or why they feel how they do.
3. desire for independence:
Kids love to learn and they love to please. feeling accomplished and independent is a great feeling for anybody but especially for our little ones who have so much to learn and want so much to do the things we do. feeling incapable or like a failure is one of the worst feelings and very hard for a kid to process. it’s important to notice when a child wants to do something for themselves and is struggling. we don’t always have time to allow them to do everything themselves, I get that. if I let my toddler dress herself before leaving the house every day I’d be late for work all the time. but if we can acknowledge they are trying hard, let them know failure is ok and we can always try again it really helps them feel validated instead of discouraged. if you have time to let them do things try saying “you are trying so hard to learn to tie your shoes! I love how determined you are!” this lets them know it’s not only ok to fail but its admirable to persevere. If you are short on time and know you need to do something for them try saying something like “I love that you want to learn to do this! I’m going to help you today and you can do it yourself next time.” this doesn’t always have the desired result but even if you have to carry a tearful or angry child to the car, if you stay calm and keep reinforcing that there will be other times they can work on it the child will feel validated. it’s good to remember it’s ok for your child to be upset. you are not a bad parent if your kid has hard days or experiences other emotions besides happiness.
4. overwhelmed/sensory overload:
some kids are more sensitive to sensory input than others but all kids experience the feeling of being overwhelmed. too many sounds, smells, feelings or distractions or even giving too many instructions at once can be too much to process for our tiny tots and if they are really overloaded they may not even be able to hear your words. it’s always a good idea to bring a child to a quiet location if possible when they are experiencing a meltdown.
5. seeking attention/manipulation:
THIS is the one EVERYONE who’s not a parent thinks of when they see a child in a store throwing a temper tantrum. you know the ones I’m talking about with the snarky sighs who roll their eyes as they walk past and say things like “you need to get a handle on your child”. (ps: ignore those snobs, they aren’t worth your energy.) but it’s still worth pointing out that these types of tantrums DO happen! kids are smart, self centered, attention seekers. PERIOD. some more so than others. but ITS NORMAL! what do you expect from tiny humans that are still partially in survival mode? they were all safe and warm inside mommy with 24/7 womb service and very little simulation only to be pooped out into the bright cold hard world to experience things like hunger and colic and diaper rashes and all they had to keep them alive was their vocal chords! crying was their go to weapon for the first half of their life, might as well stick with what works right? there are two important things to remember to do when you KNOW your kid is playing you. firstly DONT GIVE THEM POSITIVE ATTENTION FOR IT! secondly DONT GIVE THEM NEGATIVE ATTENTION FOR IT! attention is attention is attention. and I’m not saying to ignore your child! I repeat don’t ignore them. I know you are thinking well then WHAT THE HECK AM I SUPPOSED TO DO Eve!? think neutral! I know their scream is hitting that pitch that makes you want to puncture your ear drums, I know everyone is staring at you like your kid is crazy and you’re an idiot. breathe, take a seat, put a hand gently on your child’s back if they will let you. don’t look or sound angry, don’t look or sound thrilled. just be calm and neutral. tantrums happen, its normal. tell your child “when you are calm we can talk.” DO NOT give your kid the item they were crying for in an attempt to stop the tantrum. stick to your guns. you wait till they are calm then you talk to them calmly as though the tantrum never happened. don’t give them what they wanted unless it was a need but acknowledge what they say. once they have expressed themselves let them know that kicking and screaming is not how we ask for things. it’s ok to be upset but we need to be considerate of those around us. if you do this enough times the child will eventually realize tantrums aren’t working and will try a new approach, hopefully the ones you are trying to teach them. a lot of times kids will pull this stuff in public because they know you will do anything to get them to stop. the second you stop caring what everyone else things, the second your child loses that power over you and they will adjust to it quicker than you think.
I had to just hold my baby girl for a few mins before she finally calmed down. after asking my little artist a few questions I discovered she was angry because she couldn’t make the right brush strokes. I helped her practice and also introduced her to some online drawing and art tutorials which we now do once a week together. we’ve learned the names for certain strokes together so she can better communicate with me and she also feels accomplished because her skills are improving as well.
kids go through phases. how we handle those phases will determine how soon they grow past them. kids need to know they are loved and safe to express themselves. they also need to know there are proper ways to do so and that they won’t be demeaned or made to feel guilty because they are still learning this. lastly they need to know that tantrums aren’t effective, they won’t be motivated to learn better if they know they can get what they want by screaming. parenting is hard, stay patient my friends. we’ve all been that screaming child in the store at some point in our lives. and we’ve all been that parent that looses their cool. nobody is perfect, but we are in this together. ❤