Tantrums are a hallmark feature of the toddler years and occur for a few reasons:
- Your toddler may feel misunderstood and frustrated as his expressive language lets him down – he is unsure of whether you understand his intent and what he wants.
- Tiredness and hunger and basic primal instincts may underlie your toddler’s tantrum – a hungry toddler is like a lion and a tired or sore toddler is as dangerous as a bear.
- An expression of will. As your toddler develops his own personality, he will assert himself and when he doesn’t get his way may throw himself on the floor for a response.
With this in mind, a simple three-step approach works best for tantrums:
Pick your battles
Your little one is developing his personality and needs to develop some autonomy so let him have control when you can. If the issue you are battling over is not HEALTH or SAFETY (of him or others) – let it go.
How to: Ask your self:
“Is this issue important?
Is my baby going to harm himself or others?
Is this a moral issue?”
If the answer to these three questions is no, then let it go – for instance your baby keeps upending the dog’s water bowl on the floor – its not immoral, its not unsafe, its just inconvenient. So move the water bowl outside where it doesn’t matter and let him get on with his water play.
Issues like armbands for swimming, drinking toilet water and not playing with marbles are health and safety issues – be firm and do not waver in your parenting stance.
The issue of feeling misunderstood is serious for toddlers and many a tantrum has its basis in language. So when your toddler throws a tantrum use the A-B-C approach:
Acknowledge – Tell your toddler what you understand what he wants, so that he feels understood: “I know you want to play with your big brother’s lego”
Boundary – Give him the clear boundary: “But you may not play with small lego pieces.” (this is a health and safety issue)
Choice – Offer him a choice you can live with: “So you can play with your brother’s truck or your own Duplo”
Don’t fuel the fire
Finally, when he throws himself on the floor in anger or frustration, do not respond at all – not positively (with a hug and concern) and not negatively (with anger). Rather tell him: “Okay, you want to be on the floor, that’s fine – stay there.” Then step over him and go and do something else in the room. This gives no fuel to the fire and in a short time your toddler will look for more effective ways to assert himself.