Unlike adults, kids don’t have the same inhibitions or control. Imagine how it feels when you’re determined to program your DVD player and aren’t able to do it, no matter how hard you try, because you can’t understand how. It’s pretty frustrating — do you swear, throw the manual, walk away, and slam the door on your way out? That’s the adult version of a tantrum. Toddlers are also trying to master their world and when they aren’t able to accomplish a task, they turn to one of the only tools at their disposal for venting frustration — a tantrum.
Toddlers generally understand more than they can express. Imagine not being able to communicate your needs to someone. As language skills improve, tantrums tend to decrease. Until then, here are a few things that I do with our son to help curb tantrums.
I learned early on the difference in my son’s cries when he was a baby. My son still has different cries now that he is a toddler/preschooler. I can tell if he is frustrated, tired, or mad. Most of the time my son is not misbehaving when he is throwing a tantrum. If that is the case though, discipline will happen. I try to verbalize how he is feeling for him. If he throws a toy and screams I ask “what is wrong? Are you frustrated because the toy fell?” In the store the other day he began to throw a fit, I knew it was close to lunch time so I asked “are you getting hungry? Is this why you are throwing a fit?” He nodded and said “yes I am hungry.” Usually I give him examples of what he can say instead of crying.
I say things like: well, you could say no thank you instead of throwing your cup. Just say, hey mom, the water is too hot, instead of screaming in the bath tub. Why don’t you try using manners and see if that gets you what you want instead of demanding it. I always use a calm voice. Sometimes it is easier said than done. I learned if I get worked up, it only makes things worse, so I take a deep breath and try to see how I can help the situation.
Now that my son has turned three, his vocabulary is exploding. I stopped talking baby talk before he was a year old. I say things in different ways, using very big words because I want him to have a large vocabulary. He will sometimes repeat the new word with a question in his voice. I then explain what the word means. This way he has new words to describe his feelings.
Whenever we go somewhere I make sure he knows what I expect. In the parking lot I will say, we are going into the store. You must be well behaved. What does well behaved mean again? He will then usually answer “no yelling in the store. Or no crying for toys”. I tell him he is being well behaved while we are in the store. I make sure he knows that he is following the rules. This has worked more often than not. You also have to make sure you are not pushing lunch time or nap time. (Like I did the other day) I ask him often what it means to have good manners, what well behaved means and other things I expect out of him.
Now there are some days that he just lays in the floor and screams. I was told to just ignore him. I found that if I pick him up and put him in bed to scream it out. It works. I leave him in there for 3-5 minutes then go back in and ask if he is done. Sometimes he says “no I’m still crying” so I let him cry some more. Another 3-5 minutes. Go back in. Ask if he is done, usually he stands up and says he needs something. I then tell him he needs to stop crying in order to get the snack, drink or television show he is asking for. I tell him that he can just talk to me like a big person. He will be more likely to get what he wants because I will understand him better. I ask him if he is going to throw any more tantrums. Are the tantrums over? He will then say “yes”. I always give him a hug and tell him I love him. I sometimes have to apologize for yelling or losing my cool.
Just remember your toddler is a person who really can’t explain how or what they are feeling. They need you to help them learn how to express their emotions in a positive way.