Having tantrums is part of being a toddler. Almost anything has potential to trigger a tantrum in a little one. When my kids were little, they had plenty of tantrums. There was rarely a day when someone wasn’t having a tantrum over something.
There were many days when I felt like banging my head on the floor right along with the fit thrower. However, I realized early on all this would do was make one more crying person. Mom losing her cool only made matters worse. Someone needed to maintain their composure, and it needed to be me.
Once I realized I needed to keep my cool when my little ones were losing theirs, I tried to figure out how to stay calm. I did the opposite of my melting down toddler. As their volume went up, mine went down. As their little arms started flailing, I kept myself still.
The wilder my little one got, the calmer I became. I quickly discovered that speaking slowly and calmly while crouching next to my kids calmed them down. Keeping myself calm and quiet was the best thing to diffuse my tantrum throwing toddlers.
It isn’t always easy to keep your cool when your little one is losing theirs. It took a few disastrous meltdowns for me to recognize I needed a strategy. I needed a plan to keep myself calm and help my kids calm themselves down. As I began to keep my composure, the answers became obvious.
Here are a few tried and true tricks to use when a tantrum erupts.
1. Count backwards, from ten or twenty depending on the magnitude of the meltdown. As you do this, think through your next steps.
2. Crouch down to the level of the tantrum thrower.
3. Lower your voice to a very quiet level that cannot be heard over screaming and fussing.
4. Speak calmly, carefully agreeing with whatever the tantrum thrower is alleging. You’ll notice in the following examples I never told the child they were correct. I did, however, affirm their feelings. I found this to be particularly effective.
“I know it doesn’t seem fair to you.”
“It seems like you never get to go first, doesn’t it?”
“You feel you never get to sit in the cart.”
“Yes, it really stinks for you.”
5. Wait patiently for the tantrum to end. It can push your patience to the limit to stand, strangers staring at you, while your child bangs their head on the ground (it actually happened to me). However, waiting it out tells your toddler that their meltdown isn’t going to melt you down. Modeling calm behavior is the best thing you can do!
6. When the tantrum ends, tell your child you are glad they decided to stop crying (or screaming or running or banging their head-whatever offense they ceased).
I began to view tantrums as a personal parenting challenge. The calmer I remained, the shorter the tantrums lasted. The shorter the tantrums lasted, the more successful I felt as a mom. Try keeping your cool. You might be surprised how well your toddler will respond. I am sure you will be surprised how good you feel.
Fast forward twelve years. I am no longer feeling calm and in control. My kids are now tweens and teens. We’ve left toddler tantrums and moved into a new world of non compliance. Big kid tantrums present themselves differently. Most of our disasters revolve around getting out of the house in the morning.
For years, my three kids rode the same school bus in the morning. It seems that every time I have an early meeting they miss the bus. During a particularly difficult week my daughter dilly dallied with her pony tail and her water bottle as the bus drove away, once again, without my kids. It was the second day that week they had missed the bus by dawdling. The bus leaves at 7:50 am. I was supposed to be on a call at 8:00 am. Calm, cool and collected were nowhere to be found. The only modeling I was doing was showing my kids how to turn into a crazy lady.
They look innocent enough, but don’t be fooled! These are the Morning Mayhem Makers.
I was stressed that they would be late for school. I was more stressed that I would be late for my call! Everything I know about good parenting flew out the window. I started yelling at my kids. I’m not a screamer. If I use a loud, firm voice and my kids think I’m screaming.
My loud, firm voice was accompanied by a bobbing head and out of control hand gestures, as I tried to tether my laptop to phone and set it on the front seat of the car. I intended to enter my call late from the school parking lot. I had a backup plan, which typically helps me remain somewhat calm. But it didn’t work today. I was tired of my kids ignoring the bus departure time and I felt disrespected.
As we climbed into the car I lectured my kids. I continued to rant about their lack of courtesy and disrespect for other people’s time as I drove them to school. My head was still bobbing and my hands were flying around in the air. I hadn’t realized, until my friend called to say she’d driven past me, but apparently I was gesturing wildly and waving my index finger toward the backseat. I lectured and waved my hands all the way to school. When we pulled into the drop off loop, a strange calm came over me. I kissed them each goodbye and told them I loved them.
I took my call in the parking lot. I drove home afterward with a grin on my face. I was honest with my kids. I hadn’t held back. My kids knew exactly how I felt and why I felt it. They aren’t toddlers anymore, they are old enough to understand rules and the importance of being on time. I was late because of their poor choices. I didn’t stay calm, I lost my cool and I have to tell you, it felt good! Sometimes,maybe ranting like a lunatic and waving your hands all the way to school is just what older kids need to see. I had a smirk on my face all day, wondering who else passed me on the road and didn’t dare tell me what I looked like!
Just like everything else in parenting, tantrums can be difficult to manage. I mastered my little kids’ tantrums. I am still working on managing my own!
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About the book:
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What is your favorite thing about being a mom?
This is part of a promotional campaign with Tyndale Publishers for Sparkly Green Earrings. All opinions listed are our own.
Sheryl Bone is mom to three kids: Max age 14, Ella age 12, Clayton age 10 and Chewy, the family mutt.
When she isn’t chauffeuring kids to school or sports, she is a room mom and school volunteer, literacy activist and community arts supporter.
Sheryl is an online professor of developmental education. She holds leadership roles in professional education organizations and presents nationally at conferences on topics related to adult learning theory and developmental education.