Week 4 Lesson
After several weeks of paying attention to what triggers your child’s meltdowns and learning what you can do to avoid those scenarios, it’s time to concentrate on exactly what actions you can take when your child’s temper begins to flare.
This week, we’re focusing on simple tactics you can add to your parenting repertoire. (Next week, we’ll look at what to refrain from doing to stop the tantrum cycle.)
Do stop your child from hitting or destroying property. When peeved, your toddler might become violent with you or other children or adults. (This can be a mortifying parenting experience, but kicking, biting, and hitting are absolutely developmentally appropriate at this age—learn what’s behind those behaviors.) Block your toddler’s blows and say, firmly but kindly, “No. I won’t allow you to hurt me [or your brother],” or “It’s not okay to break things.” Resist manhandling your child: Instead, try to keep him from striking you or damaging your surrounding by gently blocking him from hitting you or by moving an object far out of reach. If you must, gently pick up your child—a difficult task when she’s swinging, we know!—and move her somewhere she can’t break anything before you continue to address her behavior.
Do put your child’s anger into words. If your child pitches a fit because you won’t allow her to play with the toilet paper, close the bathroom door while saying, “I know you want to play with the toilet paper. You’re mad because I won’t allow you to play with it.” Putting your child’s anger into words serves two purposes:
- You communicate that you understand what she is thinking and feeling;
- Your child hears words to describe what he’s thinking and feeling so in time he’ll be able to communicate his anger verbally, rather than with an emotional outburst.
Do stay near your child. Being so angry you’re out of control with is scary for young kids: It’s a feeling that’s new and overwhelming. By staying near your child even as she’s beating her fists on the carpet and wailing, you provide her with emotional protection, helping absorb and, therefore, dissolve those super-angry feelings.
Do give your child permission to be angry. Even at this very young age, feeling rejected, denied, or cut-off can be very real and very negative for toddlers. Like love, disappointment, and fear, anger is just an emotion—and a healthy one to work through, at that. It’s the negative accompanying behaviors (i.e., the tantrums) that parents hope to eliminate. Say something like, “I know you’re angry. It’s okay to feel angry, but I can’t allow you to hit me or kick the cat.”
Do try to distract your toddler. By now, you likely can sense the storm brewing. If you see emotions beginning to heighten, distract your toddler: Offer an activity (play dough, blocks) or something interesting to look at (a passing truck, a dog walking by). Distraction gives your child’s mind a chance to refocus on something pleasant or just different, and helps both of you move on with your day.
Do allow your toddler time to return to his emotional equilibrium. Tantrums are often a child’s first time she experiences the tumultuous fight or flight response: Her heart beats faster and the adrenalin in her body starts pumping; she’s teeming with energy (and not the positive kind). As you well know, it takes time for a nervous system to calm down—imagine how tough that is for such a little person who doesn’t fully understand why she feels the way she does. So don’t expect your child to instantly put on a happy face. Toddler tantrums usually last only between 30 seconds and three minutes. Once he is calm, having returned to his emotional equilibrium, recap the situation using the logic and reason your child will come to internalize and understand over time.