Dealing With Toddler Tantrums

how to help your child when they have a tantrum

Toddler Tantrums

If you’re a parent you have likely experienced “toddler tantrums” and if you’re not yet a parent you most definitely have heard about toddler tantrums.

Most parents brace themselves for the toddler years where their child displays angry outbursts, aggression, upset and frustration. Behaviours which appear unreasonable.

That child crying and screaming because they wanted a blue cup and you gave them a red cup, or the child who melts down because you cut their toast the wrong way – we’ve all been there.

Many parents can despair when they are experiencing toddler tantrums and question whether these tantrums are normal, which they are!

Toddlers get a lot of stick and parent’s can often mock or tease their child when they are having a toddler tantrum which can only add to their frustration. When a toddler is having a tantrum they are generally trying to communicate that they are upset and frustrated and they need a parent to help coach them through these big feelings.

Understanding toddler tantrums

Believe it or not, toddlers aren’t deliberately out to get you. They don’t deliberately push your buttons and they certainly aren’t malicious, despite how it feels.

Toddlers are simply going through a time of rapid brain development and they express their feelings and emotions as they arise.

There’s actually so much we can learn from toddlers. They feel a feeling and they let them out – something which is actually really healthy. Many adults today can find themselves stuffing down and suppressing their emotions which can really be detrimental to their mental health in the long run.

So what is going on for a toddler who is having a tantrum? Well there’s a few things to ask yourself and I like to think of the following acronym.

 

HALT

Is your child?

Hungry

Angry

Lonely

Tired

Instead of judging and labelling a toddler who is having a tantrum, I encourage parents to become like little detectives to figure out what their child could be feeling an experiencing. 

In an ideal world a child would be able to say, “Mummy/daddy – I’m really tired I’ve had a long day at day care and the lights are too bright in the supermarket. I would rather go home and relax and have something to eat then be going around the supermarket doing the weekly food shop with you.”

and because they can’t articulate and communicate in such a way (and sometimes we as adults don’t even express our words this way), instead we experience a toddler having a tantrum, kicking and screaming and dragging their feet around the shops.

Many tantrums can actually be avoided, if not reduced by understanding what is going on for the toddler and striving to meet their needs.

When your child is upset and emotionally dysregulated they look to us as parents to be their safe harbour that can be anchored, calm and help them work through their emotions. Here are a few things to consider.

  1. Holding space for their feelings

Holding space for their feelings means allowing them to release all of their emotions. Think about yourself after you have had a good cry, it feels good to let it out doesn’t it. We need to allow space for children to have a good release and discharge their feelings. It’s better they let them out then suppressing and stuffing them inside which can have long term damaging consequences. 

2. Step in their shoes, take inventory of the day they have had.

Has your child had a long day? Could they be tired? Have they connected with you today? What time did they wake/sleep? Have they ate? Have they done lots of activities, been over stimulated? Where are they at in their brain development? Have they had opportunities during the day to express their feelings.

These are all questions to be reflecting upon when a child is having a tantrum.

3. Understand there are big feelings going on behind the behaviour we see.

Become like a detective and instead of being a judge and judging the behaviour ask “What is going on for my child right now? What could they be feeling?” and respond to them from that place opposed to reacting.

 

4. Help them make sense of their feelings

Children need grown ups to help make sense of their feelings. Our job as parents is to be our child’s emotions coach. You can do this by labelling the emotion you see.

“I can see that you are really frustrated. You wanted to play your computer game and I’ve told you that you can’t as it’s bed time. I know this is tough for you.”

Letting them know what you see whilst also validating their feelings helps them work through the feelings.

5. Have empathy for them.

Big feelings can be very overwhelming for children and their developing brain. We are the adults and can self regulate, certain children (dependant on age) can’t self regulate so it’s down to us to coregulate with them. We do this from a place of empathy and understanding.

 

“Fiona encouraged me and gave me confidence to implement the tools and strategies that a book could never give. She would listen to the situations that had occurred and gave me practical tips and advice about how to deal with them. She would then recap and ask how things went the following week and if anything had changed. I do a lot of what she recommended with my children and the relationship with my children has flourished.”