Rocco is at an age where he is constantly trying to assert his independence. Jade and I nurture his independence through free-play and letting him explore as much as we can. Despite our best attempts, there is at least one daily battle, usually more, because we won’t let him get his way.
The primary tantrum-inducing culprits are eating, diaper changes, being scolded for throwing toys at his sister, and generally ignoring our rules.
For example, nearly every time we leave the house to walk to the car or the nearby park, he throws a tantrum. He violently throws himself to the ground, crocodile tears streaming down his chubby cheeks, as though the world will soon end, all because we guided him in a direction he didn’t want to go. These near daily fits are so ridiculous and over-dramatic, we had to capture one of his episodes on film (the images for this story are from the one such episode) to use against him someday.
Lately, what I’ve learned is that I could continue this tug of war of wills, or find other ways to approach the conflicts. Here are five things that have helped me when dealing with toddler tantrums.
5 Tips for Dealing with Toddler Tantrums
1. Pick Your Battles
Not every issue is worth a flight. If the issue does not directly affect his health, safety or well-being, then I might just let it go.
For example, Rocco is still a picky eater, despite our best attempts at providing him a variety of foods. So instead of force-feeding him, we give him 2-3 healthy options per meal, at least one of which we know he will eat. That way, we continue to try to introduce new foods, but don’t force those new foods upon him.
To break his picky food will, we even tried serving him the same healthy food for 5 meals in a row, but he wouldn’t budge. He was extremely grumpy after a day of not eating, but still would not lessen his resolve to try our healthy food option. It is important that he receives proper nutrition, but at the same time, forcing him does not work and only leads to food being launched across the room and me being frustrated.
You might think that Rocco won this battle, and that’s OK with me. I will win the healthy food war eventually, but I let him win some of the small daily battles. Fine, eat plain cheerios again. He is growing well and still does get the vitamins and minerals he needs, so I don’t worry so much if he won’t try the asparagus today. I pick my battles.
I’m perfectly OK with bribing my child, as long as it is to his benefit.
For example, when Rocco doesn’t want to get ready for his nap or bedtime, I tell him we will be doing something he likes to do, like brushing his teeth (seriously, he loves it), reading a book, or taking a bath. The minute he finds out that he gets to do something he likes, then he’s more than willing to give up what he’s currently doing. Maybe this is a mind trick, but I look at it more like a redirection, letting him do something he likes in return for giving up his current activity.
Distractions help me get through tough situations almost daily. He does not want to get in the car? I let him bring his favorite toy to play with. He’s tired of riding in the stroller? I give him his water bottle or something else to hang on to.
When Rocco doesn’t want to do something, like get his diaper changed, I make a point of distracting him. I make up silly songs, I talk to him about what we will be doing when he is done getting his diaper changed, I point at Bucky Badger on his wall and ask him who he is (yes, I’m brainwashing him–my college’s mascot is proudly displayed in his room). Just by shifting his focus from the current discomfort helps us get through it and move onto the next thing.
A lot of times, ignoring bad behavior makes the behavior stop sooner.
Rocco often throws his milk cup, and strews his food all over the floor. When we yell at him to stop or scold him for his behavior, it almost never gets him to stop the behavior. Nearly every time I ignore this bad behavior, he stops it on his own. When I watch him do something he knows he’s not supposed to do, I can see in his eyes that he’s waiting for me to react, so I just don’t. He might try it again, but usually he doesn’t.
5. Keep a Schedule
It may seem obvious, but toddlers get upset when their routine changes. When I know he will skip his usual nap time, I try to fit in a nap earlier or later in the day, or put him to bed early that night. Toddlers crave routine, so I try to keep him as close to a regular schedule as I can.
Just like being tired, hunger will often lead to tantrums, so don’t let it happen. If I know we are going to be gone for awhile, I pack snacks and drinks to ward off the hunger tantrum.
Other resources I found helpful:
I hope my own trial and error dealing with toddler tantrums is helpful in your own battles with your toddler. I definitely still have a lot to learn about dealing with toddlers. So, what did I miss? I’d love to hear what works for you.