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Toddlers and Tantrums

Posted by Patience on July 23, 2010 at 10:30 AM in Kid problemsParenting tips
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Don't let the cuteness fool you. Just moments after this picture was taken, a full-blown tantrum unfolded right there in the Fine Arts Museum's lobby. It was the perfect place for a tantrum: expensive art to break, high ceilings to echo the screaming, lots of people to watch.

I guess the real question is, "Who would take a toddler to such a place?" My answer:
The mother who loves art, who includes her children in every day life, who believes somewhere deep down that conflict is okay. The seasoned mother of four who has lost her mind!

The truth is, I don't believe all places are meant for children, but the opening day of a new wing at the museum was okay. Besides, tantrums can happen anywhere. So, what's a parent to do? Here's what I'm learning (with more practice than I care to admit):

1. Get face to face. Sometimes, all it takes is for me to get down to her level on my knees and be close. Talking close to her face and resisting the urge to raise my voice can draw her in, if we are at the start of the tantrum. My body language sends the message that I'm open to listen.

2. Validate and ask questions. Even though Lyra can't totally communicate (hence the tantrum), the validation and the questions can give her a chance to nod her head to help me know how to help her.
"I know you are sad, angry, frustrated, etc. I would like to help you...Can I get you _______?"

3. Know the point of no return. When we're past the point of helping or sorting through the tantrum and are just crying, flailing, yelling, it's time to leave. Removing your child from the space helps everyone. A change of scenery might diffuse the reaction and is respectful to others around you. Of course there are the moments when you can't leave. Why do these things always happen in the check out line? In these moments, I pick one reassuring phrase and repeat it.

"I know you are upset, I will help you as soon as I can. It's okay. It will be okay."
When we finally get out of the store, she's fine and I feel like I've just been to war, but sometimes, it is about just getting through.

4. Remind them that hands are for hugging. I often have tor remind my kids what there hands, feet and mouth are for in the moment of misuse: "I can't let you hit me, and besides your hands are for playing, hugging, building, etc... Or, "These are the things you can hit- pillow, ball, etc. " It sounds silly, but it works in the long run. It gives an appropriate outlet for the frustration and reminds the child of her other capabilities. It's a good segue to offering to fill a need, too: "My hands can hug, too, do you need a hug?" Kindness melts me when I want to tantrum; it often works on the kids, too.

5. Be honest with yourself. Sometimes, I just need to bail. I need to call in reinforcements, and I'm not afraid to tell my kids. "I love you, but I'm really tired from our hard day (even though she doesn't remember the 253 tantrums). Papa is going to help you, and I'm going to take a break."

What do you do about tantrums? Give us your best tips in the comments.


Amber writes...

My second child will be 2 next month, and we are entering the Tantrum Phase. It is hard, especially in public.

I think you pretty much covered the tantrum bases. The only other thing that I would add is that sometimes it helps to know what your child can and can't handle right now. If you keep their needs met and avoid difficult situations where possible, it can prevent tantrums. A little. Sometimes.

Dulcie writes...

mother of 5 here...

tip for the grocery store... you child doesnt have to go with you. yes, I know, it is more convenient.

It only took ONE time for this mommy to get out of line, push the cart to the customer service counter , ask for it to be held for 30 mins... exit store with tantrum thrower, deposit him/her back home with a sitter ( one who knew the situation and would make the sitting time not fun just basic needs met) and go back to the store to check out. ALONE. the next time my little tantrum thrower began to loose control... they knew for sure that mommy didn't HAVE to bring them, and she WOULD take them back home and they would miss out on the fun of shopping. A quick reminder of this was all that was needed.

MamaV writes...

Well said. It's difficult for me to hear others say, "Just ignore them" or resort to other tough measures when there's so much more going on there than meets the eye.

Though, I must admit, I'm not above a little bit of bribery, especially in public moments. I keep a stash of chocolate covered raisins or goldfish crackers in my bag and offer those once they get into whiney mode, or at least well before a tantrum becomes full blown (though I know how tricky that can be to anticipate). Sometimes those tantrums come because a child is hungry and/or tired and/or overstimulated/overwhelmed. Taking a break to a less crowded, more quiet room and having a little fun snack can take things down a notch. The hard part is tuning into my child while distracted by other people or other tasks at hand in public spaces to be able to anticipate those things. We do the best we can!

I'm reminded of the fact that many other countries regard children in public in a much different way than we do here in the U.S. Children seem to be much more welcome and understood in general, so a public tantrum is much less embarrassing, even to people who don't have children, because it's normal and expected for a child to be in what we would deem to be "adult-only" places. I'd love to see that come to place here as well, and then we'd just be able to let children be children... and let parents be forgiven. ;)

Susan writes...

I like the comment about letting children be children. They are not just miniature adults who have already learned etiquette for public situations. It also takes some practice for them to know what is expected of them at the grocery store or any other public place.

I have also noticed that when I am overly tired, I have more difficulty being patient. Being aware of my own state of mind helps too.

Azuri writes...

I like what MAMA V had to say!

She's right: You gotta have some snacks and maybe a little toy.

I try to keeps some puffs in the car and crackers in my purse...oh and some kiddy CD's from the library.

Amarilis writes...

My little one is four y.o. now but she has been getting tantrums since I can remember. When she gets them she blocksout everyone around her and starts to kick and scream. Even if I try to talk to her she wants nothing to do with it, so I just find a safe corner where I can put her until she calms down. If we are at home or a public place, doesn't matter. I don't pay attention to the people around me because it turns out most of them, who are parents, have gone through the same situation at some point.

Angel writes...

Our 3 y.o loves going shopping with us now because our stop n shop has the machine you can ring your stuff yourself and go....I let him ring the stuff and he feels so helpful that he forgets about acting up. I find that when kids get bored in the stores that dont have the ringers i have them help me find diapers for his sister or snack that kind of works wonders!!!

Chris writes...

I basically let my baby have temper tantrums, within certain healthy parameters of course.
I realized that they were coming at that age - and actually quite endearing sometimes. They need to go through this. If the parent freaks outor tries to suppres it, that throws a major wrench into the works.

PatienceAuthor Profile Page writes...

I hear you, it is good to remember that tantrums are part of growing. I have to admit, I sometimes want to laugh.

Lindsay writes...

Our family motto: You can't laugh and cry at the same time. (technically you can, but the laughing over powers the crying pretty quickly).

It's not always easy to remember -- especially in public where you just want to shake them and cry yourself sometimes. We tickle, joke, sing silly songs -- whatever age-appropriate distraction to bring out the giggles instead of the tears. Not too hard w/ my son who is a big jokester. I also try to keep him occupied and involved being my little helper.. Letting him help may take a bit longer, but he feels so good about himself and it's really cute most of the time.

PatienceAuthor Profile Page writes...

what a great way to approach tantrums and life for that matter! Thanks Lindsay!

Pamela writes...

Another very helpful tip is to speak to your child before leaving the house or before entering the wherever you will be going. They need to be reminded of how they are expected to behave. In talking to them discuss the consequences of having tantrums. If the child has a tantrum after such a discussion, remember that you need to follow through with the consequences.

This needs to be done everytime until the behavior is corrected.

I like the idea of returning them home as soon as they beginning to have a tantrum. This way they know you are serious.

PatienceAuthor Profile Page writes...

Clear limits and boundaries are most helpful! Thanks Pamela for sharing.

Darcee writes...

I read somewhere once to put a mirror to a child's face when they are throwing a tantrum. I still don't remember to do it often enough, but when I do, my kids start laughing at themselves and forget why they were upset. (One hint: Be calm and smile when you do it. Let them see you are having fun with them.)

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