How to Deal With Toddler Tantrums
Toddler tantrums getting you down?
Overwhelmed by your toddler saying “no!” and “mine!” constantly?
Are you fully in the Terrible Twos (or maybe Threes)?
First of all, I feel for you. Truly. The toddler years can be so challenging as parents. On the one hand they are filled with the joy of watching your children express themselves in new and exciting ways, while on the other that expression has the potential to be annoying, overwhelming, and obnoxious. If you are feeling that way I want to tell you right here and right now: That's ok. You're ok. It is NORMAL to find toddler whining annoying. It is NORMAL to not want to hear the 56th tantrum of the day. It is NORMAL to want to hide in the bathroom with your phone to avoid being asked "Why?" for the 1,032nd time today.
The thing is, however, while your reaction is completely ok, and completely normal, we also have to remember that these behaviors that your child is displaying are all completely normal, developmentally appropriate, and even healthy. These behaviors all represent your toddler's burgeoning sense of self, of who they are in this world, of their wants and desires, and of those wants and desires being completely separate from yours. And they have a new found ability to express themselves in increasingly complex ways, while still lacking some very basic self-regulation skills. They are still acting and talking largely on impulse and when things get overwhelming, when their systems can't handle much else, they lose their last little bit of self control and meltdown.
In these moments, when they are asking why, when they are crying inconsolably over something that seems inconsequential to you, when they are boldly declaring their opinion or their defiance it can help to remember that this is EXACTLY what they are supposed to be doing right now. They are NAILING their developmental stage. And, the very best thing you can do in those moments is support them. When they ask why, acknowledge their curiosity and desire to know more and keep a conversation going. When they are crying, empathize and accept their emotions, whether you think they are reasonable or not. When they are demanding or defying, acknowledge their desires while gently coaching a more socially acceptable response.
But all of this is hard to do when you are overwhelmed and when you are seeing these behaviors as a problem. This is where I want to encourage you to shift your perspective. If you can start seeing these behaviors as developmentally appropriate, as evidence of how much they are learning and growing in your capable hands, they can start to lose some of their annoying quality. We are trained by society to see these behaviors as "bad", but they aren't. They are evidence of your child's normal, healthy development, and that is something that is truly marvelous!
The thing that has helped the parents I work with most over the years in making this shift is to have an internal dialogue, something you say to yourself (never out loud!!) that brings humor to the situation and reminds you that:
- This is normal and healthy
- Both of you are doing a great job
- This is not an emergency
My personal go-to is the phrase "Nailing It".
In these situations I will take a deep breath and say to myself:
"Wow, you are really NAILING three today!"
Here are some other possibilities:
- "This is a perfect, textbook tantrum! Kicking, screaming, sobbing, all there! Perfection!"
- "Man, you have this phase of toddlerhood down!"
- "This is truly an impressive display of your new skills!"
Now, I would never say these things out loud to a child. They could really hurt a child's little soul and it would belittle the situation and their feelings. But, when said to yourself, phrases like this can help bring you back to yourself a bit, they can help you get past your annoyance enough to see that your child isn't being terrible, they are just being two. The walking, talking definition of two, and there really is nothing terrible about that. In fact, it's something to marvel at. Six short months ago they were barely talking, a year ago they were barely walking, and now they are fully capable of all of these amazing things. This is amazing, miraculous, and joyful. And saying these phrases to yourself can help shift you away from a mindset where these are behaviors to stop and more toward a mindset where these are behaviors that are signaling a need for your support and encouragement.
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