Week 2 Lesson
Short of giving in to every demand your toddler makes—which we certainly don't recommend!—there is basically no way to entirely prevent tantrums. That said, there are simple ways to reduce the likelihood of triggering a fit. It may be easiest to think of them in the inverse: The things parents (yes, even you) do, inadvertently, that contribute to the frequency and intensity of tantrums.
So here, then, are the top nine ways you can basically guarantee a meltdown:
1) Stop your child from doing what he wants to do, without warning. If your toddler starts poking the dog with a stick and you take the stick away, watch the real barking begin.
2) Forbid her to complete a task on her own that she's capable of completing. Let's say your child regularly climbs on a kitchen stool when at home. One day Grandma comes to babysit, not fully knowing the extent of her grandchild's capabilities, and blocks her from climbing up for fear of her falling. Hello, escalating temper!
3) Abruptly cut off playtime with the most interesting toy in the world. Ok, or any toy, really. If you're running late for a meeting and take the toy your child has been contentedly playing with from his hands to wrestle him into his coat, you'll see a fierce display of, "Are you kidding, Mom?"
4) Leave a fun activity. Playgroup is over and it's time to leave? The drama's about to start!
5) Restrain your toddler by the arms, for any reason. Let's say your child sees an interesting object, a breakable figurine sitting on your friend's coffee table. She eagerly steps toward it, so you gently hold her arms to keep her from reaching out. At the very least, expect her to try to escape your restraint, but more likely, get ready for a full-blown, hit-the-floor meltdown.
6) Disrupt the daily routine. You've heard this since you first started cutting your parenting chops: Children thrive on consistency. If you always read a book before bedtime but tonight you're too tired to make it through Chicka-Chicka-Boom-Boom yet again, your child may well respond with a tantrum. If you thought you were tired before, Mom, you'll be exhausted once you make it past the fit your toddler will throw because you've rocked his bedtime boat. His need to keep the routine in place overrides any understanding of your need to forgo reading a book because you're exhausted.
7) Knowingly fail to meet your child's expectations. Let's say your toddler asks for a cracker. As you set it on her high chair tray, it breaks into two pieces. Thing is, your child wasn't expecting a broken cracker. To him, because it's looks different it must taste different; it's not what he expected (and you likely sort of knew that). The result? A crying, fussing, cracker-smashing jag.
8) Let your child reach the dangerous Tired-and-Hungry Zone of No Return. Let's be real, Mom: You're not at your sweetest or most amenable when your blood sugar is low and you're considering an under-desk catnap. Now, pretend you don't have the developmental ability to say, "I'll take care of that tomorrow." Pretty ugly situation, huh? Suffice to say, it's best to make few demands on a tired or hungry child—specifically, try not to add hunger or sleepiness to one of the above scenarios. Better just to feed your toddler and put her to sleep.
9) Leave his side. Tough as it may seem when he displays such difficult behaviors so frequently, your child really does like you best. Life is easier for him when you're around. You read his cues for care quickly, and he knows what to expect from you—remember from Week 1 of this series, those unfulfilled expectations are what tend to cause tantrums in the first place! When you leave your child in someone else's care, particularly someone unfamiliar, he'll protest, loudly and ferociously.
Bottom line? As a parent of a fit-prone toddler, you want to create an environment that best suits your child's needs and thereby minimizes the likelihood of triggering a tantrum.