As they get older, kids develop "feelings" and "opinions." Unfortunately, what they don't develop as quickly is communication - both verbal and emotional. And that results in tantrums!
Obviously, it's different for every family based on the child's development, but for us, tantrums started at 13 months. The screaming. The crying. The hitting. He had needs and wants, fears and frustrations, and he didn't know have the ability to express himself. So we dealt with him with the two main tools for toddler tantrums - distraction and redirection.
Distraction and redirection are fantastic - and we still use them today. Because sometimes that's all it takes. A quick mention of a lizard in the driveway may be enough to get the focus shifted elsewhere. Or moving him away from the object that continues to cause the frustration (for you or the child).
Eventually, Thatbaby's verbal vocabulary grew, and he was able to express to us things he wanted. And that made things a lot easier. Of course, as Thatdad used to tell me, you can't always get what you want. Which doesn't play all that well with the toddler set. It's hard and it's frustrating to have someone always telling you what you can and can't do. Which leads to all sorts of trouble as he tests his limits to see how far he can go. And then the inevitable tantrum when he hits that limit. (Right now that's when he tells us "You not my friend" like last night when I was not his friend because I told him that if he didn't get ready for bath we wouldn't be able to watch television in the evenings.) So here are some of the tools we use to deal with the tantrums now:
- Pick your battles. I have never been good at this one - until I had a child. All of a sudden, I can play chess. I see the move in front of me, anticipate his move, and can tell which of several actions will play out. So I ask myself, is it really worth it to have to deal with a tantrum because he is insisting to wear sweat pants in 90 degree weather? Wanna be hot kid? Have at it. And I'll just stick this pair of shorts in my bag for when you get sweaty and warm.
- Set yourself up for success - One of the big reasons for toddler meltdowns is when you give them something and they want something else. Choices are a great way to avoid the inevitable tantrum. As I said before, you can't always get what you want - but sometimes you can. And I take advantage of those times. It gives the toddler a feeling that they do have some control over their world. So every morning Thatbaby gets to pick out his own cereal bowl. I give him the choice of 2 shirts to wear. I never pour him something to drink without asking what type of glass he wants it in. Sure these are little things, but little things are what toddler tantrums are all about.
- Be a good listener - 90% of the time toddler tantrums are completely irrational. (We get them all the time when the sun is too sunny) But I still work on getting to the root of the problem. Personally, I think it helps with emotional development to help them articulate what they're feeling, and help them to understand why. And sometimes the answer to the question "why are you feeling upset?" can very well be "I don't know." Which serves as a great discussion starter for the fact that it's okay to feel upset, and acceptable behaviors for those feelings.
- Ignore - sometimes. You'll get a feel for those situations. Is your child raging because you told them we don't eat chocolate cookies for breakfast? The sun is too sunny? Green sounds too loud? Well buddy, I am very sorry that makes you upset. When you are done being upset, you know where to find me. I give great hugs.
- Natural Consequences - If you watched the Parent Trap growing up you might be more familiar with this as "Let the Punishment Fit the Crime." A reaction to behavior should be quick and responsive. Throw a toy? That toy gets taken away. Can't behave/not listening at the park? We go home. You and I are used to natural consequences because we deal with them on a daily basis. Go to work drunk? You're going to get sent home or fired. The decisions we make affect what happens to us, so it's great to get started on that early. Ball is in your court kid - whatcha gonna do with it?
- Cool down time - We don't do timeouts. I'm not against them by any means, I just don't think they'd be effective with my kid. If I sent him to go sit somewhere, chances are he's not going to. And then it becomes a battle of will as I hold him down. Which is not what I'm interested in. When he gets really out of control, I'll tell him he needs to calm down. I'll suggest he sits in his comfy chair, and will even fetch his favorite stuffed dog for him to hold. Then I ask if he would like to be alone, or if he would like me to sit with him while he calms down. Usually he wants me to sit with him. So we sit together, him in his chair with his dog, me beside him. Once he calms himself, we can talk about what caused the hysteria, what he did, and what appropriate behaviors are in that situation.
- Consistency - This is the key to all forms of parenting and discipline. Tantrums can not be effective. They just can't. Cave and you reinforce that fact that screaming, yelling, and crying will get you what you want - eventually. Just have to wear mom/dad enough. So if you said that was the last cracker, or 1 more slide down before you go, or they chose the red cup, then that's it, end of story. And if a tantrum occurs, scroll back up the list to find a way to handle it, or use your very own problem-solving solution. Because there are dozens more ways to handle a temper tantrum, and all have varying degrees of success depending on the child. So find what works for you and hang in there!