Week 3 Lesson
By now, you know that tantrums are a normal part of your toddler's development and you recognize which sorts of daily interactions your little one has that trigger her tizzy fits. This week, we're paying attention to the ways we parents can behave that can better manage our children's behavior. (That's right, Mom—it's not all them!)
While there's no way to sidestep all tantrums, here are some tips that will likely reduce the frequency and ferocity of tantrums your child exhibits in a day:
Demonstrate appropriate behaviors. You see your child has a stick and is walking slyly toward the dog. While removing the stick from your child's hand, demonstrate how to pet Fido gently, saying, "Nice doggie, we pat the dog."
Provide assistance. Rather than stopping your child from taking on a task that you feel is dangerous (climbing on a stool, for example), let the same instincts kick in that guided you as your baby took his first steps: Provide just enough assistance so that your child can complete the task for himself and stay safe.
Take a toy with you. When in doubt—or in a hurry—take whatever your child is fully engaged with, with you. You're running late on your way to a meeting, and your child won't put down her Zhu Zhu Pet? Let her bring it. If you can't take that particular toy with you (it's not safe for the car, it doesn't belong to her), redirect your child to another toy that's easy to transport. Or consider keeping a tantalizing stash of toys in the car that "live" there and are coveted enough that just mentioning them make transitions to the backseat easier.
Give a five-minute warning. When it's time to leave a fun activity, tell your child, "In five minutes, we'll be leaving." Even though your child doesn't understand exactly how long five minutes is, he'll come to know—for now, you can try, "When the big hand is on the 3, we need to go." Or, consider setting a timer.
Avoid restraining your child's arms. If your child is about to reach for a precious breakable object, it's best to remove the object rather that restrain the child's arms. If the object can't be removed (a wood-burning stove, for example), gently pick your child up or surround her with your arms, keeping her safe, while explaining, "Hot! We could burn ourselves. Ouch!"
Introduce caregivers with an approving smile. When you must leave your child with a new caregiver, hold your child while saying with a confident, approving smile, "This is Sally, she'll be looking after you today. Mommy will be back soon." Pass your child off to Sally, offer a kiss and one last hug, then leave. Don't look back. Call in five minutes, if you must, to see how your child is getting along.
Keep routines consistent. Since children rely on consistency for keeping their lives predictable, do your absolute best to carry them out. If reading a book before bed is a consistent part of your child's routine and you're exhausted, read a short book instead of a long one. Remember, whatever noticeable shortcuts you take will likely encourage your toddler to protest more.
Watch out for unmet expectations. If you're planning on taking your child to the park but are worried about the weather, it's best not to mention the excursion until you're sure the weather will allow it. Tap into your omniscience, mom: Don't dangle anything fun or covetable unless you know you'll be able to procure it.
Limit your child's unnecessary hunger and fatigue. Basic, yes, but these steps are perhaps the most effective for reducing the number and quality of tantrums. Take nutritious snacks with you wherever you go and schedule your life around consistent bedtime and nap schedules. If a tantrum takes hold when your child is tired or hungry, feed him and put him to bed.
Week 3 Project
Recall the daily tantrum triggers you noted in your child's life last week. Now, consider which of the above suggestions for modifying your behavior might curtail them. This week, apply at least one to a situation you've identified as fit-inducing, and make a note (mental or in a notebook) of how it worked out. Over time, you'll develop a sense of which deserve a permanent place in your parenting repertoire.