Adam McIntyre, one of the owners of Intown Doula, stopped by the blog recently to provide his two-cents about everybody's favorite time, the we-can't-call-them-terrible-twos-anymore-because-it-will-hurt-their-feelings stage of parenting. Adam has one eleven-year-old and a nineteen-month-old, so he basically considers himself a total expert on virtually all things fatherhood.
"Nora doesn't want juice FROM THE SIPPY CUP!"
Your child is crying about some stupid shit again.
However, to your child it's not stupid to yell like there's a broken bone; sometimes you both do and do NOT want to go outside so bad you could die.
Maybe there's a communication problem--they want something but don't know the word. It would be lovely to completely bypass this kind of tantrum. If they know sign language that's a big help, but sometimes you didn't already teach them that.
I try to get through at first: "hey, I'm trying to help you. If you point to what you want I can tell you the word to use." It works sometimes. It would work far more often if the child wasn't already entering a tantrum, where there IS no "being reasonable". You'll basically have to trick your toddler into stopping.
I validate real disappointment, I sit and hug if he gets scared, I tell him he's right to be angry, or sad or disappointed ... until there's a tantrum. In my experience, validating the feelings of a toddler throwing a tantrum is totally lost on the kid. It may even add fuel to the fire. Also, it's hard keeping your cool when you offer words of comfort only to get slapped in the face.
Also, ask yourself "do I really need to 'win' this or do I just want the tantrum to stop?" Some of these tantrums are power struggles, designed to test your boundaries. Hold the important boundaries. Sometimes your kid won't be happy with your rules and decisions, and that brings us to
Don't argue with a toddler--it makes you look foolish and it only frustrates the toddler. You can sometimes end the tantrum without conceding simply by offering them something pleasing. Imagine that you've had a hard day and only the internet's department of baby animals will help. Now imagine someone tossing you a baby... giraffe. You would be amazed, perplexed, fascinated... what were we just sad about?
"Yes, thank you, that is brilliant. I hadn't thought of distracting my child."
Look, I don't need your sarcasm. And I know what you're saying; this is obvious stuff. It's the first thing on the list because it works a lot of the time-if you can tune into what your child likes. Maybe list a couple likely distractions while you aren't getting yelled at by a tiny version of yourself. People tend to be more creative when they aren't being yelled at. Also, don't panic.
Maybe don't go straight for a cupcake. Sure, you could stop a lot of tantrums instantly with their favorite treat but I'd be careful about sending them the wrong message. A cupcake would likely work but walk it back to small, inexpensive and more nutritious things like bananas. There's a real chance of your snack offering being rejected directly to the floor, so keep that in mind, too. It may take a few tries. Sometimes kids with low blood sugar are suddenly unable to understand what is wrong with themselves, and will reject everything. Try again, because a snack, even if only one bite, is the fix for the crashing kids. That first bite whets their appetite and they become ravenous and very appreciative of your help. Try not to panic. *Don't force feed. You're better than that. C'mon.
3) Change the setting
You may be able to leave a tantrum behind if you get the child away from their tantrum spot. If their situation changes, they may stop to reevaluate. If the tantrum is solely because of the setting and you can't change it (i.e. a plane en route to grandma's), then get as creative as you (safely) can. In the middle of this horrible situation, the only thing that could possibly make matters worse is panicking. So don't.
4) Change the mood
It's not always as easy as putting on a bright smile and raising your voice cheerfully. First, toddlers can smell your fear (DON'T PANIC). Second, think more creatively about simpler things. A change of lighting, music or activities may help reset your kid's demeanor.
After everything else failed, it was only sleep they needed. Of course. Maybe I should have started with this one? No. If this becomes your consistent fix that just works EVERY TIME, that means you need to radically rethink your child's sleep schedule.
I'll repeat "don't panic" one more time here. Getting frantic only fuels the emotional intensity and makes the tantrum stronger. If you start to panic, please remember that you're being too hard on yourself. I do have a "Dumbo's feather" to hold as you wage your thankless war; the longer you try to calm the tantrum, the closer you are to its end. The hour-long demon-screaming tantrums I experienced with my first son are unusual; normal tantrums are closer to ten minutes. If they're regularly much longer than that, maybe 30+ minutes every time, ask a doctor.
You know your children far better than I do, so I encourage you to keep trying new things with your kids and sharing what works. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!