Woah, right? It makes total sense that toddler tantrums occur over completely illogical things and ideas. That part of their brain doesn’t actually work yet!
My toddler gets upset (raging mad) when I won’t let him eat a cookie before dinner. He gets super angry with me when I won’t allow him to pretend drive the car in the parking lot before we leave the house.
This has been going on for a year and a half. The kid adores cars and trucks and he desperately wants to drive a car.
He thinks he’s thirty.
While I can’t seem to get rid of his undying urge to drive a car or eat cookies immediately before supper, I have found ways to quell the emotional extremes–the fall on the floor tantrums. We’ve helped minimize toddler tantrums to more of a protest rather than a full-blown meltdown (mostly).
Diversion is not the focus of these methods.
In some situations, diversion is an amazing and perfect parenting strategy. But during a tantrum, the strategies listed below yield better results.
Imagine, for example, you are in the midst of a good ugly cry (been there!). You call your mom or best friend, sobbing about how Target’s Dollar Spot totally robbed you–again.
How would you feel if your best friend put a shiny piece of jewelry or a brownie in front of you and then changed the subject to what she was doing that weekend?
She winks, reminds you to eat your brownie and says, “Let’s talk about something else now, shall we?”
To be honest, this might make you feel better for a brief moment, but it doesn’t really help you process and manage your anguish over Target’s Dollar Spot.
How to deal with toddler tantrums.
Let’s talk 7 real strategies for toddler tantrums that don’t involve sleeping and eating. Parents and caregivers are smart. If you are reading this post, I know you’ve already thought of that.
1. Calm down jar.
The goal of these mesmerizing glittery bottles is to help your child pause for a moment. To allow the emotional part of the brain, which is fiercely raging, to take a break for a few minutes. Once your child is calm, help him or her process and manage the emotion using #7 below.
Related: How to Make a Lego Calm Down Jar
2. Hug it out.
When emotions are disorganized, a strong hug with your arms wrapped snugly around the trunk and shoulders provides powerful sensory input. The use of physical touch helps ground your child, restoring feelings of calm and control.
Laughter encourages the intake of oxygen-rich air and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain. Laughter also revs up and then slows down your body’s stress response, resulting in a happy, relaxed state of mind.
Here is one silly example:
Your child wants a cookie and you say “no.” When your child starts to meltdown, say “I want to eat one thousand cookies. This is how I would eat them all at once!” Then pretend to gobble up one thousand cookies. Once they are gone look everywhere around your toddler saying, “I want more cookies!”
4. Set the stage. Create expectations.
Toddlers are far more cooperative with they know what to expect ahead of time. This is why consistent routines work wonders with toddlers. To set expectations give your toddler a 10 minute warning and then a 5 minute warning before a transition.
Here’s an example:
In 10 minutes we are going to sit at the table and eat supper.
In 5 minutes we are going to sit at the table and eat supper.
It’s time to sit at the table and eat supper.
5. Give a drink of water.
Giving a drink is an alternative to the calm down jar. This helps your child pause and focus on the drink for a moment. The goal isn’t to distract and divert, but rather to pause. After your child is able to calm down, help your child process and manage the emotion by giving #7 a try.
6. Take a deep breath.
Before you ask you child to take a deep breath, simply start taking big deep breathes yourself. Similar to yawning, deep breathing is contagious. It has a way of washing a calm over the top of your head and down your entire body. If you child doesn’t start deep breathing or start to calm down by watching you, then say, “Let’s take a deep breath.”
7. Reflect the emotion back.
My favorite parenting hack of all time is empathy because it works! It’s an excellent way to get better toddler behavior.
More than anything, toddlers want to feel heard. To feel validated. To feel like their emotions matter.
Here’s an easy way to use empathy in any situation:
Say to your child “I understand. You’re feeling ________ because of _________.” Once your child feels understood, it empowers them to calm down. It’s sends a message to your toddler’s brain, letting him know “Oh, my mom (or dad) gets it. They understand me and what I am going through.”
The real deal with toddler tantrums.
I could go on for days about the car drama I experience daily with my toddler. Just today he collapsed onto the asphalt of the parking lot over not driving.
He wanted to pretend drive the car. He didn’t care that his baby sister was crying and hungry. He didn’t care that it was raining. He didn’t care that we were running late and didn’t have time.
It was time for an toddler tantrum hack.
I said, “I understand. You’re feeling mad because I won’t let you drive the car. I understand. You want to drive the car.”
This did not stop the meltdown entirely. BUT it diffused the meltdown enough that I could at least get him into the car seat with some cooperation. Target Dollar Spot…here we come.
(Okay…we didn’t go to Target because we live in Japan. Instead, we went to the Japanese Target–Don Quito. In case you’re wondering, that store takes all my money too.)
Print this free printable checklist.
This post comes with a free printable checklist. I always have the hardest time remembering these ideas. This printable simplifies it!
Download Your Free Printable
- Download the checklist. You’ll get the printable, plus join my weekly newsletter! Just click here to download and subscribe.
- Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
- Place it on your refrigerator. Use it as a quick reference and don’t forget a thing!
Want more on toddlers?
- 7 Parenting Hacks for an Easier Bedtime with Kids
- One Thing You Can Give Your Toddler to Get Better Behavior
- 9 Phrases that Change Life with a Toddler