We often think of temper tantrums as synonymous with toddlers, yet this is certainly not the case. While most toddles are prone to an occasional tantrum, it’s the toddler who tantrums three…four… even five times a day that starts to drive us crazy. Yet, most of the parents who come to me for help are dealing with something even more challenging. (Quick Note: See MaryBeth’s question about her toddler, later on in this article. Many of you will relate to her very real life question)
The out-of-control, scream at the top of your lungs, stomp your feet, fall on the floor and throw your toys as hard as you can tantrum. The REAL melt-down tantrum…pull out your hair because you just can’t take another second of screaming.
Yes…. Now we are talking….
NOW THAT is what a severe toddler tantrum looks like…and many of my parents are dealing with these exhausting, embarrassing and frustrating tantrums. (Just yesterday…one of my clients said she had to run out to the garage, get in the car…and find 60 seconds of peace… she couldn’t stand another minute. Can you relate? )
For those of you with these more severe and frequent toddler tantrums, the solution is often made to sound WAY too complex. It need not be. (Keep reading…please)
In this article, I touch upon three key principles, which will start to put you back in control of your home. The more challenging the toddler tantrums in your home, the more important it is to have a comprehensive game plan.
The more you have an easy child… with basic, occasional tantrums…then it’s likely you can be sort of ‘lazy’ about this tantrum problem. Honestly however, for most of you reading this article, you will want to have more precision, and more knowledge about what works. And what doesn’t work! Because what you read, and what is promoted on most websites out there…it’s actually dangerous for your toddler. You will learn why as you read my posts. (BTW: Don’t miss out on my special toddler tantrum report, if you have those more difficult tantrums…look for the red arrow later down the page.)
But first… a common assumption about tantrums, and where they come from:
Toddlers tantrum because they’re frustrated, and not getting what they want. (Yet, we know that they must learn to cope with not always getting exactly what they want!)
In many ways, toddler frustration is understandable. They’re beginning to make their way in the world, and find that mom or dad is often saying no or setting limits and they don’t like it.
At other times, they want something…and they really want it. Not later… but now.
You know how this works. They want the toy. They want the juice now. They want the pancake, not the waffle.
Or, even more challenging…is when you toddler fights you when it’s time to do something. It’s transition time.
Perhaps it’s bath time. Perhaps it’s time to change diapers. Perhaps it’s bedtime, or time to get dressed and out the door.
They don’t want to. And…depending upon their weeks or months of toddler experience…they might give you a warm-up introduction, before the all out tantrum. Or, if they have plenty of experience, they may skip the warm-up…and go straight to the full blown, over the top tantrum. But… I am getting ahead of myself.
Reality: Your toddler simply hasn’t learned that they CAN NOT get everything when they want it, or the way they want it.
Thus…their frustration is understandable.
However, just because your toddler is frustrated (as they learn to adapt to the world) it does not mean that we want to feed into that frustration. (THIS IS WHERE MANY PARENTS MAKE A HUGE MISTAKE…AS THEY UN-KNOWINGLY FEED INTO THE FRUSTRATION.)
Learn To Love Toddler Frustration? Dr Cale… You Must Be Crazy!
So, you know that having frustration is natural and necessary. Here’s the critical point that gets missed: The frustration is necessary in order for your toddler to learn how to handle frustration. There is a LEARNING that must occur. And this must occur through the proper handling of the tantrum, warm-up and the post tantrum.
Thus, if you try to avoid all the frustrations that upset your toddler, you deprive them of opportunities to learn. More importantly perhaps, you will see that this strategy is only a short-term solution. if you go down this path, you can avoid or alter the path of some of the tantrums.
But…over time, you just simply can’t avoid the frustration. However, if you keep trying to ‘fix it’ and protect your toddler from such upsetting situations, you teach them a very dangerous lesson: “Mom will always make my life okay and fix it for me.”
This simply is a set up for failure. An emotional failure…that can haunt them for their entire childhood.
While at a young toddler age, it may not appear so dangerous, it clearly becomes evident as time goes by. You can’t get to the doctor’s office without a bribe. You can’t fix healthy food without a tantrum. You can”t get them to turn off the TV without yelling 6 times.
And it gets worse with time. But more about that….in another article. For now, let’s get on to some helpful tips.
Tip One: Don’t Feed The Toddler Tantrum
Notice how a toddler tantrum works. In the early phases, for many of you, there is a mild introduction…or warm-up period.
This perhaps includes some whining, a bit of tears and crying…and perhaps a little bit of mean words. There are a few complaints, and some resistance.
And already, the key feature of the emerging tantrum is evident. Your toddler is now pulling at your attention.
This begins a sometimes brief, and sometimes extended, period of negotiation, or arguing, or even bribing your toddler to get them to change direction. In the early stages, you may be successful. You are thinking…YES.
But this warm-up phase rarely becomes all of it. Quickly it seems…many toddlers escalate into a full throttle tantrum, especially when you hold your ground. However, as they escalate, for most of us… we tent to get pulled in even more!
We want to stop this train before it turns too ugly.
Again, it’s understandable that mom and dad want to stop the tantrum — so they start to discipline their child in the midst of the tantrum. Yet, as every parent comes to realize, this effort to verbally contain a tantrum is usually an effort in futility.
Don’t get me wrong. There are times…with some toddlers…where it will work.
For a while.
And this is deceiving. This false learning gets us in trouble. For the first couple times, we are able to salvage things. The warm-up does not turn ugly. We give in. We re-direct them to something else. We put off the appointment. Or we bribe them with a goodie.
This is all short-term stuff. Why? If we observe this over a couple weeks… we see something amazing happening.
We see that the tantrum behavior gets worse and worse over the course of a few weeks. We have to fix more situations, negotiate out of more whining and even give in more often. Our brains get DIZZY from trying to figure out how to handle situations!!! (If you are in that DIZZY state of mind, and need a step-by-step game plan today, consider my Stop Toddler Tantrums INSTANT download program…available here! Check it out!)
MaryBeth recently left this short message on my blog, and she asks the perfect question: “Dr Cale. I hope you can help. My toddler started with what seemed like fairly normal tantrums a few weeks ago. I usually tried to help him find a solution that made him happy. It worked. For two weeks. Then, last week….he turned into a tantrum monster. None of my ‘tricks’ are working. What happened? HELP.”
Ok MaryBeth. Here is the answer:
Why Are The Tantrums Getting Worse?
Because tantrums feed off of the energy and attention we give them.
Yes, initially we may see that a child can be “talked out of” a tantrum or upset. Yet, as time goes on, we see that these efforts to talk the toddler out of a tantrum only leads to more frequent tantrums and tantrums that escalate more quickly and violently.
Tip Two: Toddlers Must Learn To Handle Limits On Their Behavior And Their Time.
Over and over again, you’ll see that toddlers are getting upset because they do not like the way that their reality is unfolding. They would like for mom and dad to get off the phone. They would like to be able to play longer. They want to stay up as late as their brother or sister. They don’t want to eat their vegetables. And the list goes on.
Yet, mom and dad are trying to establish these limits because they will create a healthy and more successful lifestyle. If your toddler is allowed to eat what they want, they will become obese and develop extreme picky eating habits. If your toddler is given what they want every time they tantrum, their behavior will become unbearable. If you end up negotiating with your toddler, in giving their voice an equivalent value to a grown-up voice, you will end up always negotiating.
Toddlers need to accept the limits of their reality, and the more you accept this truth — the quicker they’ll get through their tantrums and go on to live calmly and peacefully with structure, routine and consistent daily limits.
I ask you to re-read these paragraphs a few times. There is more to this simple tip…than meets the eye. It’s worth mastering!
Tip Three: Do Not Imagine What Your Child Is Feeling.
For some of you, these tantrums may seem like your child is suffering the most extreme pain possible. They scream. They cry. They appear to be in such agony.
If not accustomed to this, it is an excruciating experience for mom or dad. It can appear as if your child is falling apart!
Psychologist Note: Your toddler is not falling apart. And…the pain is not as it appears.
The problem is that we tend to put adult interpretations on a toddler tantrum. We imagine how much upset they are feeling, and think how horrible it would be for us to go through this.
This is not your child’s reality. They are not feeling the pain they appear to be feeling.
How do I know? Well, it’s simple.
Instead of taking away what they want…give it back! What do you notice? Thirty minutes to pull themselves together? Fifteen? Ten?
It takes about 2 seconds…if they get what they want. It’s an instant change.
Your child’s state is not as severe or extreme as it appears. The tantrum reflects the undisciplined emotional world where you try out everything you have ….to get what you want.
This is your toddler’s reality.
Please. Please. Please… do not put yourself in their shoes…or you will get in big trouble.
Instead, if you stay away from such interpretations, you will find it’s easier to stay on track.
Honor these three tips and you will be on track for a rapid change. In the event that your toddler has severe tantrums that won’t go away, consider my Stop Toddler Tantrum Package, which will teach you not only how to eliminate tantrums, but includes bonus tools to build esteem, end whining and get your toddler to calm rapidly.