Tell me if this sounds familiar. You’re in the middle of the grocery store and your cart is half-full. Suddenly, your 2-year-old decides that she wants a big box of candy that you are not going to get her. You kindly tell her no. She throws herself on the floor, screaming like you have just beaten her senseless and flailing wildly out of control. Everyone looks at you like you are the worst parent who ever walked the planet. You stand there, frozen and embarrassed. And you don’t know what to do next.
Sound familiar? Then you’ve got a toddler. Not a bad toddler or a poorly disciplined toddler. Just a regular, normal toddler. And you’re not a bad parent either. While there’s nothing you can do to stop tantrums, there are actions you can take to defuse them. Your toddler may be acting crazy, but she really isn’t. And getting her to stop a tantrum can be easier than you might think.
The first step in dealing with troubling behavior in children is to ask the question, why. Why do toddlers have tantrums?
Think about what it’s like to be a toddler. They live in an adult world they barely understand. They only have a few words to use to communicate. They have almost no control over their daily lives. Someone is constantly telling them what to do, where to go, what to eat, even when to go potty. How exhausting. But they have feelings, just like we do. They get frustrated, sad, scared, lonely, embarrassed, happy, angry, and proud. Yet they have no idea how to tell us. And when they do try to tell us in ways we don’t like or understand, we get upset. If this was my daily life, I think I’d be having tantrums, too.
The tantrum is not revenge. It is an expression of the toddler’s feelings. It might not be socially acceptable or appropriate, but how is a toddler supposed to know that? She’s only been on the planet for a couple of years. And it might surprise you to know that she’s not necessarily thrashing around on the floor because she wants to win the argument. In most cases, she is simply trying to communicate how she feels. In other words, she wants to be heard.
Knowing that, you can both halt the tantrum and teach her how to communicate at the same time without fleeing the store or punishing her. What you need to do is let her know: you get what she is trying to say.
When your toddler is screaming and yelling, “I want the candy!” instead of explaining why she can’t have the candy, first show her that you understand what she is saying. And not just her words, but her feelings, too.
Get down to her level, match her emotional intensity (don’t overdo it) and repeat back to her what she said,
“You really, really want the candy!”
This is a form of mirroring. You are not mocking her. You are simply mirroring back to her, with tone and words, what she is saying to you.
If you’ve never tried this before, you will be amazed how quickly this can defuse her outburst. She is trying to send you a message. If you clearly let her know you received her message, she will be so relieved. Most kids will immediately stop screaming when they realize they have been understood.
When she knows that you get her message, then you can give her yours:
“I know you really want the candy. I’m sorry you are so sad and frustrated. We are not getting the candy now but you can help me choose dinner. Would you like to choose hamburgers or hotdogs?”
This statement repeats again that you have heard her, gives her language for the feelings she is having and provides her with an alternate choice that you can both be happy about.
This is such a powerful listening tool that it even works with adults. I have used this technique with very hostile and angry adults and I’m telling you, it’s like magic.
Our goal as parents should always be to understand what our children are trying to tell us, teach them how to communicate effectively and deliver our messages in ways they can accept. Sure, toddlers can be exhausting, frustrating and difficult to understand. But you know, if we could ask them, they’d probably say, that’s the way they feel about us, too.
Your thoughts, comments and suggestions are always welcome!
- Stop Saying “No”: Setting Your Toddler up for Success
- 8 Top Tips To Use When Your Toddler is Having a Tantrum (sarahockwell-smith.com)
- Tantrums – Are they just for toddlers? (blogs.calgaryherald.com)
- Connect Before You Correct (sounddiscipline.wordpress.com)