It is normal for toddlers to start displaying temper tantrums and how you as a parent or carer respond to these toddler tantrums will shape their development through childhood.
Toddlers are strong-willed, determined little people who will push you to the boundaries of parenthood (and possibly beyond!).
This article will help you to understand what choices you have when deciding how to respond to toddler tantrums.
Why do toddlers have tantrums?
From 18 months to 4 years tantrums are a normal part of life. It gets easier when you can start reasoning with them at around 3 years old.
Tantrums can be frustrating and upsetting for parents. It’s important to remember that tantrums are your toddler’s way of dealing with their newly acquired want for independence and individuality.
Toddler tantrums play a big part in their development
A very exciting world starts to open up for your toddler from the age of 18 months. Your child starts to realise that they are separate from you and that they can have a little control. This developmental stage brings out behaviours of assertion, likes, dislikes, and a much more independent thought process.
From around 18 months, toddlers start to learn that they can choose to do things for themselves, for example, feed themselves or get themselves dressed. This is an exciting time for your child as they will start to build their confidence and self-esteem.
Unfortunately for parents and carers, these behavioural milestones coincide with toddlers not fully understanding logic, self-control, or patience. You need to be ready to respond to a child who suddenly wants what they want, when they want it, whether it is reasonable or not! Ring any bells?
What triggers toddler tantrums?
Toddler tantrums are triggered by a whole range of things. Even the most simple thing can often result in a full-blown tantrum.
Common tantrum triggers
- You gave them the wrong colour cup! = tantrum
- You had the audacity to cut their grapes in half = tantrum
- They want to put their own socks on (for the first time ever) = tantrum
- The cat meowed at them = tantrum
- The sun shone = tantrum
You get the idea.
Keep an eye out for some of the common triggers of toddler tantrums. Tantrum triggers include;
- Struggling to convey what they want (e.g. limited vocabulary)
- Being overstimulated
How to respond to toddler tantrums
It is our responsibility to help toddlers manage the strong emotions being experienced when a tantrum happens. Responding to toddler tantrums is not easy. Their emotions are complex and unfortunately, your toddler does not yet understand how to manage these alone.
Stay calm. Becoming angry or upset, can evoke a negative reaction for your child and cause more heightened anxiety for them.
Managing the tantrum
One thing to remember is that when your child is having a tantrum, they have ‘lost control’ and so reasoning with them is usually not going to work so instead try to understand out how they like to be calmed down.
Do they respond best to a cuddle? Holding hands? Or just by sitting a short distance away reassuring them that they can have a cuddle if they need one?
You need to remain calm when you are responding to a toddler tantrum. If you remain calm they are more likely to relax quicker. Easier said than done!
During a tantrum, your toddler may want to hit out and throw things. Try to remove any objects that they may want to throw, or move in between them and a sibling that they might be hitting out at. Remind them kindly but firmly that they shouldn’t hurt other people.
You can also try to use distraction methods, an example of this would be by offering a pillow for them to hit. This way you are allowing them to vent their frustration but in a more acceptable method.
Provide reassurance to help calm the tantrum
It is often very helpful to name the strong emotions that your little one might be feeling. Reassure them that it is OK for them to be having these strong feelings.
“I can see how sad you are about having to go to bed, it’s difficult isn’t it, to stop playing and go to sleep”.
Give them an explanation in simple language and keep it very short and clear. For example; “It’s time for sleep now. You need to get some rest so that you can have enough energy to play tomorrow.” Naming their emotion supports your little one with their language skills. It enables them to recognise and verbalise what emotion they are feeling. This will eventually support them in learning how to manage the emotion.
Once they have calmed down give them lots of cuddles and reassurance. Talk about how they must have been feeling, name it for them, and always remind them that you love them.
Check out this excellent video from the NHS that explains how to best deal with a tantrum.
Does a “time out” approach work?
There are some parenting experts that advise putting your toddler on a “time out” is the best way to respond to toddler tantrums.
A tantrum is normal developmental behaviour that allows your toddler to learn independence. To leave a toddler alone in a “time out” can be seen as punishing them for something that they had very little control over.
A “time out” could leave your toddler feeling alone and afraid. Toddlers need love and support to help them calm down after their tantrums. Remember that this does not mean that you are supporting their behaviour!
One amazing thing about toddlers is that they have an inbuilt ability to go from deep rage and sadness back to their happy chirpy selves, in a matter of seconds. We need to learn from them in this respect and ensure that we move on from the tantrum too. Once it is over, let it be.
Responding to toddler tantrums is a beautiful time
Well….maybe the tantrum is not such a beautiful time! Remember that they will outgrow the toddler tantrum phase. It is beautiful to watch your toddler pass through these different developmental phases and become their own little person. This is one of the privileges of being a parent.
So, the next time you see that parent on the street, or in the busy shop, trying to manage their toddler who is having the most almighty tantrum, go over to them and quietly reassure them that they can get through it.
…it might just make them feel a tiny bit better (i know it did for me!).