It's normal for toddlers to start displaying temper tantrums and as a parent or carer, how we respond to temper tantrums will shape their development through childhood. Toddlers are strong-willed, determined little humans who will push you to the boundaries of parenthood (and possibly beyond!).
This article shares some helpful choices you have when deciding how to respond to toddler temper tantrums.
Why Do Toddlers Have Temper Tantrums?
It's important to remember that temper tantrums are your toddler's way of dealing with their newly acquired want for independence and individuality.
From 18 months to 4 years of age temper tantrums are unfortunately a normal part of life for most toddlers. As bad as that may sound it does get easier when you can start reasoning with them at around 3 years old. If reasoning doesn’t work you can always bribe them with this Animal Stacking Set from Le Toy Van!
Temper tantrums can be frustrating and upsetting for parents, especially when they happen in public spaces, but they are an important part of a toddler’s development.
Toddler Temper Tantrums Play a Big Part in Their Development
A very exciting world starts to open up for your toddler from the age of around 18 months. This is the time your child starts to realise that they are separate from you and that they can have some control over their own destiny. This developmental stage brings out behaviours of assertion, likes, dislikes, and a much more independent thought process. And lots of unreasonable glass shattering ten minute screaming fits rolling around the floor in the lobby of Costa Costa coffee because they didn’t want to wash their hands.
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 happen to coincide with toddlers not fully understanding logic, self-control, or patience. Parents 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 Temper Tantrums?
Toddler tantrums are triggered by a whole range of things. Even the simplest thing can often result in a full-blown temper tantrum.
Common (totally unreasonable) Temper Tantrum Triggers
- You gave them the wrong colour cup! = temper tantrum
- You had the audacity to cut their grapes in half = food gets thrown across the room
- They want to put their own socks on (for the first time ever) = glass shattering screaming
- The cat meowed at them = huge outburst
- The sun shone = temper tantrum because they wanted to wear welly boots today
You get the idea…
There is light at the beginning of tunnel, however, by keeping an eye out for some of the common triggers of toddler tantrums. If you recongise the signs that trigger temper tantrums you can cut them off (more bribing) before they turn into full blown screaming fits.
These warning triggers include;
- Struggling to convey what they want (e.g. limited vocabulary)
- Being overstimulated
How to Respond to Temper Tantrums
It's our responsibility as parents to help toddlers manage the strong emotions being experienced when a tantrum happens. Responding to toddler temper tantrums in the right way is not easy. As parents we are tested on a daily basis by unseasonable feisty little people. Their emotions are complex and unfortunately your toddler doesn’t yet understand how to manage these feeling and emotions alone.
Rule number is one is to try and remain calm. That is easier said than done when your child is rolling around the floor at a busy bus stop screaming and kicking because they wanted a pink bus not a red one. Becoming angry, or upset, can evoke a negative reaction in your child and cause more heightened anxiety for them.
Managing The Tantrum
Sometimes a good firm slap on the bottom is all that’s need. WE ARE JOKING! Never hit your child. Ever.
One thing to remember is that when your child is having a temper 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? By remaining calm when you are responding to a tantrum your toddler is far more likely to relax quicker although that's easier said than done!
Your toddler may want to hit out and throw things during a temper tantrum. 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.
If all the above fails, have chocolate on hand to bribe them. It always works but the health negatives outweigh the ease of the solution so maybe save sweets and bribery for the epic child meltdown situations. You know the ones, where you have to physically lift them up and walk out of a supermarket holding them under your arm as they kick, scratch, scream and make you feel that it’s only a matter of time before the Police arrive.
Provide Reassurance to Help Calm the Tantrum
It’s often constructive 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".
Try and 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." By naming their emotion you can support your little one with their language skills. This approach helps them to recognise and verbalise what emotion they are feeling. This will eventually support them in learning how to manage their emotions.
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 temper tantrum.
Does a “Time Out” Approach Work?
There are some parenting experts who advise putting your toddler on a "time out" as the best way to respond to toddler tantrums.
A temper tantrum is normal developmental behaviour that allows your toddler to learn independence. To leave a toddler alone in a "time out" situation can be seen as punishing them for something they had 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 but 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. Us parents 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. I try not to let my tantrums towards my husband go on for longer than 3 days at a time now.
Responding to Toddler Temper Tantrums Is a Beautiful Time
Yes, you did read that heading correctly. Ok, so the tantrum at the time may not feel like such a beautiful time but try to remember that they will outgrow the toddler tantrum phase.
As a parent it’s a special thing to watch your toddler pass through these different developmental phases and become their own "reasonable" little person. This is one of the privileges of being a parent.
So, the next time you see that parent in the supermarket, or in that busy public place, desperately struggling to manage the most almighty toddler temper tantrum....think about quietly reassuring them that they can get through it. That these outbursts are actually a rite of passage for all parents. That we all, as parents, had to deal with those unreasonable little shits...
...it might just make them feel a tiny bit better (i know it did for me!).
You can read more of our Parenting Tips for Babies And Toddlers right over here.