Every parent, sooner or later, will experience a child having a major meltdown. It’s not the best situation to be in. I can tell you that from my personal experience. Our little cute and sweet toddler can become that little monster having a hissy fit and make a major public scene that will make you wish to crawl under a table.
Have no fear, my fellow parents as we have some smart and quick fixes for you.
But first, you must understand what causes temper tantrums in order for you to get that edge when you are put in this potentially embarrassing situation.
Here are some of the major reasons your child may be having a tantrum from hell (1):
1. Toddlers can’t express themselves very well. Your 2- or 3-year-old may know a lot of words, but he doesn’t yet have the ability to construct complex sentences—or put words to all the emotions he’s feeling.
2. They are easily overwhelmed. Toddlers thrive on routine, and a change can really throw them off.
3. They want to do more than they can handle. Toddlers are naturally very curious—and are thrilled to discover they can suddenly do so many things on their own.
4. They don’t understand delayed gratification. Little kids live in the here and now, not in our cookies-are-for-after-dinner world. Not getting what they want, when they want it, is a top tantrum producer.
5. They think they’re the center of the universe. In the me-me-me life of a toddler, no one else’s needs matter as much as his own. That’s why sharing is so difficult.
Now that you have a better understanding of why toddlers are prone to having meltdowns, having an arsenal of strategies on how to deal with tantrums can certainly be very helpful.
Here is the list of the 10 smart ways to tame your child’s tantrum from hell:
10. Ignore the Kid.
The reason this works is fascinating: “During a tantrum, your child is literally out of his mind. His emotions take over — overriding the frontal cortex of the brain, the area that makes decisions and judgments,” says Jay Hoecker, MD, a Rochester, Minnesota, pediatrician. “That’s why reasoning doesn’t help — the reasoning part of his brain isn’t working … Once he chills out, then you can talk.” (2)
Some moms say that if you do not react to a toddler’s tantrum, the child may just give up. Put them in bed as eventually they tire and fall asleep.
A lot of moms swear by this and say it works.
If things are too much for your child to process, you might like to do this next one.
Just like us, if things get to be too overwhelming, we usually ask for space.
9. Give Your Child Some Space.
“Sometimes a kid just needs to get his anger out. So let him!” says Linda Pearson, a nurse practitioner and author of The Discipline Miracle. (Just make sure there’s nothing in tantrum’s way that could hurt him.) “I’m a big believer in this approach because it helps children learn how to vent in a nondestructive way.” (3)
If you are at home and your child is in a safe environment, just let him vent and tire himself out.
If your child is too focused on what is bugging him or her, maybe you might like to change your child’s attention.
Sometimes a little diversion does the trick.
8. Create a Diversion.
This is all about a deft mental switcheroo — getting your kid engaged and interested in something else so she forgets about the meltdown she was just having. “My purse is filled with all sorts of distractions, like toys — ones my kids haven’t seen in a while, books, and yummy snacks,” says Alisa Fitzgerald, a mom of two from Boxford, Massachusetts. Whenever a tantrum happens, she busts ’em out, one at a time, until something gets the kids’ attention. (4)
Giving your child something else to think about takes her attention away from the initial focus of energy.
Some moms have found success by simply diverting that focus by also starting a conversation about something that really interests their child.
Remember that your toddler’s vocabulary is still very limited so you might like to try the next option. It might help clear the situation better by asking your child questions.
7. Find Out What’s Really Frustrating Your Kid.
This trick is for tantrums among the under-2-and-a-half set, says Dr. Hoecker. “Children this age usually have a vocabulary of only about 50 words and can’t link more than two together at a time. Their communication is limited, yet they have all these thoughts and wishes and needs to be met.” (5)
Just be patient and start a conversation to find out exactly what is bugging your child.
Even with toddlers, communication and patience can help avert a tantrum from escalating.
Another way to pacify your kid would be to show a little bit of loving. Show your child a little bit more of love by giving …
“This may feel like the last thing you want to do when your kid is freaking out, but it really can help her settle down.” Ray Levy, PhD, a Dallas-based clinical psychologist and co-author of Try and Make Me! Simple Strategies That Turn Off the Tantrums and Create Cooperation says. “I’m talking about a big, firm hug, not a super cuddly one. And don’t say a word when you do it — again, you’d just be entering into a futile battle of wills. Hugs make kids feel secure and let them know that you care about them, even if you don’t agree with their behavior.” (6)
A simple hug can do wonders. It can change the dynamics of the situation.
Try it next time and see for yourself how this does wonders.
You might be surprised by these two tantrum triggers … Feeling tired and hungry usually brings out the beast in us. It also applies to our little cuties.
5. Offer Food or Suggest a Little R&R.
“Being tired and hungry are the two biggest tantrum triggers,” says Levy. Physically, the kid is already on the brink, so it won’t take much emotionally to send him over. “Parents often come to me wondering why their child is having daily meltdowns. And it turns out they’re happening around the same time each day — before lunch or naptime and in the early evening. It’s no coincidence! My advice: feed them, water them, and let them veg — whether that means putting them to bed or letting them watch a little TV.” (7)
With my little one, this usually is the case. We found out that my toddler gets really testy when she is hungry.
So whenever she gets into the testy mode, I give her some healthy snack and that usually pacifies her and brings her back to her usual happy, normal behavior.
Remember when your parents used to reward you when you were a child for good behavior?
Bribing, ahem, I mean rewarding your child still works so don’t forget to use this.
4. Give Your Kid Incentive to Behave.
Certain situations are trying for kids. Maybe it’s sitting through a long meal at a restaurant or staying quiet in church. Whatever the hissy hot button, this is the trick: “It’s about recognizing when you’re asking a lot of your child and offering him a little preemptive bribe. While you’re on your way to the restaurant, for example, tell him, ‘Alex, Mommy is asking you to sit and eat your dinner nicely tonight. I really think you can do it! And if you can behave, then when we get home I’ll let you watch a video.'” (8)
A lot of toddlers respond to positive reinforcement and rewards.
Just make sure you reward for good behavior and not bad ones though.
How does a hostage negotiator usually diffuse a tense situation? Keeping your cool and speaking calmly can help diffuse a major tantrum situation.
3. Speak Calmly.
This is a biggie — and is much easier said than done. But experts insist you must keep your cool during a child’s tantrum. “Otherwise, you’ll get into a power struggle and make the whole thing escalate. Plus, part of the reason kids resort to tantrums is to get attention,” Dr. Hoecker says. (9)
Look them in the eye and calmly talk with them to find out what is bothering them. Set an example for your kid and calmly talk the situation through.
Again, exercise patience and try to get your child to communicate with you.
Want to maintain a sense of sanity to a very public meltdown of your child? Having a sense of humor can also do the trick in diffusing a meltdown situation.
2. Laugh It Off.
Every parent dreads public tantrums, for obvious reasons. You worry other parents will think you’re a bad mom — that you’ve raised an out-of-control demon child. Your best bet, is to suck it up, plaster a little Mona Lisa smile on your face, and pretend everything is just peachy. And what are others thinking? “We know from studies that the only thing people judge is your reaction to the meltdown,” says Levy. “If you look calm and like you’ve got it under control — yes, even though you’re not doing anything to stop the fit — they think, Now that’s a good mom.” (10)
Try being silly with your child. That kind of distraction can direct his attention on you and can possibly bust that tantrum.
Try to get your child to giggle and see how this can change the whole dynamics of the situation.
Here’s another way of distracting your child and getting his or her attention into something else … Just leaving the scene of a meltdown can divert a child’s attention. It’s also very easy to do.
1. Get Out of There.
Getting kids away from the scene of the tantrum can snap them out of it. “It’s also a great strategy when you’re out and about,” says Levy. “If your child starts melting down over a toy or candy bar he wants, pick him up and take him either to a different area of the store or outside until he calms down. Changing the venue really can change the behavior.” (11)
The next time you feel the urge to spank your little one as a result of a tantrum going out of control, remind yourself to first stop and give it some thought. Don’t make a fuss out of it and model calm behavior.
Spanking is not a smart way to deal with a child having a tantrum. Spanking only reinforces with your kid that using physical force is okay cause their parents are doing it. It teaches the child to be afraid of his or her parents. It teaches the child that his or her parents will hurt them to keep them in line.
Instead, try using any of the above 10 ways to help pacify your child. These are better solutions that will positively impact your child in the long-term. In fact, here are 8 important reasons why you should not spank your child.
You can read more details about this well researched article by Shaun Dreisbach about how to deal with a child’s tantrums on parents.com.
Do you have other smart ways of dealing with a child’s tantrum?