Five Secrets To Transforming Toddler Tantrums Once And For All
Every parent of a toddler knows that tantrums come with the territory but over the years I’ve learnt some great ways to reduce their intensity and duration without compromising my child’s need for emotional expression and connection, which has made me feel so much more confident as a mother. These ‘techniques’ have worked so well, I now know some adults who have bigger meltdowns than my child!
Just like you I have a toddler and although she is GORGEOUS and hilarious, creative and smart, she certainly keeps me on my toes. She is developing a strong sense of self and feels very comfortable asserting her burgeoning free will with both Ash and I. And why shouldn’t she? It’s our job as her parents to love her no matter what and it’s her right as a growing human being to be able to express all of herself. It also shows me how secure she is with us as her parents, she trusts us and knows we will love her no matter what. But I’ve got to say there have been times when these power struggles have really gotten the better of me and I have found myself, just like you, feeling helpless and angry. Over the past 3½ years I have learnt some great ways to nurture my toddler but today I want to share with you my 5 best secrets to ending power struggles and dealing with toddler tantrums once and for all.
Secret Number One
9 times out of 10 when your angel starts heading full steam towards a tantrum the first things you want to ask yourself are:
- Could she be overtired?
- Has she had adequate sleep today?
- Did she wake up extra early?
- Has she missed her nap?
- Did she go to bed late last night?
Children who don’t get enough sleep can be irritable for days afterwards but it’s not always easy to figure out when your child is tired. Most parents I’ve worked with comment on how alert their child appears to be right before bed, suggesting they may not actually be tired but here’s a little secret: An overtired toddler almost always looks like they have enormous amounts of energy, in fact they will often be bouncing off the walls when they are completely exhausted. Unlike most adults who seem to become slow and sleepy, babies and toddlers get faster and more frenetic as they become more tired. The mistake a lot parents make is to let their child stay up extra late so they can ‘burn’ this energy off but then they wonder why it’s so difficult for the their child to settle.
If your child has a consistent sleep schedule or routine with age appropriate sleep times you will have eliminated most of the guess work for yourself. If you’re not sure where to start you can click here for my eBooks, age appropriate sleep times and feeding guides (LINK)
Secret Number Two
Has you toddler eaten enough food today, is he hungry? A lot of toddlers can be starving hungry but don’t know how to tell you and before you know it they are screaming and throwing their toys around the room. I don’t know about you but when I haven’t eaten in a few hours I start getting a little crazy, sometimes even mean and the first people that are going to hear about it are my loved ones. Having a simple feed and sleep routine is a powerful tool that will help you identify why your little one is not happy.
I find most toddlers benefit from a balanced diet of wholefoods, rich in grass-fed, hormone-free meats, fish, organic or home-grown vegetables and cultured or fermented foods. Gut health is particularly important for their developing immune system and minimising exposure to sugar, fructose, processed foods and additives makes a huge difference to behaviour, gut health and sleep.
Secret Number Three
I want you to ask yourself right now: “Does my toddler feel powerful”?
My 3rd biggest reason for a tantruming toddler is because your child feels like she has absolutely no control over her environment right now and therefore she feels powerless. Is your toddler going through a major change or is your home life disrupted at the moment? A new school, a new house or sibling can be destabilising for most children.
It’s a huge job being 2 or 3, there is so much to learn and take in and while they are simultaneously wanting to explore their independence they also want to be close to you, which can be very confusing. Apart from feeling safe and secure, most little humans just want to know they have a voice, they have some control and they have the power to affect change in their world. So if you want to end the power struggles pronto, find a way to help your toddler feel like she has some power.
This doesn’t mean you let your toddler rule the kingdom, as a wise friend once said, “She is the princess but you are the queen”. You need to hold the boundaries in place but help her feel like she has some power by asking what she wants to do next or giving her choices more often.
I have found THE BEST way to help your child feel empowered throughout their day is to give them plenty of opportunity for child-led, self directed, independent play. After all, in the words of Magda Gerber, if children cant be the leaders of their own play where can they be the leaders?”
When children are allowed to play independently without being guided or led by a well meaning adult, they get the message that we trust them and that everything they do is acceptable, we don’t need to correct them they are perfect as they are. Now that’s empowering!
Secret Number Four
Tell me Mama, have you connected with your toddler today? I’m not talking about dressing and feeding quickly while you check your phone for messages or hurrying your other children out the door to school. I mean have you taken a moment to really sit with your child, look into his eyes, talk to him, attune to his emotions and connect with who he is today? If the answer is “Yes”, that’s awesome, you probably don’t need this article. If the answer is “No”, don’t worry, I get it, no one is judging, we are all mums trying to do our very best and sometimes there aren’t enough hours in the day but if you’re finding your toddler is constantly throwing tantrums and you’re really struggling, this one secret will have you seeing your toddler through a whole new lens.
Most often when a toddler is tantruming and agitated (and she has had adequate sleep and food) she is asking you to connect with her. It doesn’t need to be a major event but to simply sit together without watching the clock and talking to her or allowing her to guide you will work just fine. When Sophia is struggling with her emotions and she seems overly agitated, I often notice that I’ve been absent or distracted, so I put my phone away or anything else that may have been distracting me and I sit with her and observe and reflect what she’s saying or doing back to her. Connecting like this isn’t just for Sophia, it also helps me feel a strengthened bond between us, which is really fulfilling.
Taking time to connect and attune to your child doesn’t have to be ‘deep and meaningful’ and you don’t have to feel connected and attuned to your child all the time, this would be exhausting for you and overwhelming for your child. You can do it over dinner, or during bath time, simply by being present and sitting with your child.
Secret Number Five
Don’t fight it, embrace it. Every toddler has meltdowns it’s part of having a pre-fontal cortex (frontal lobe of the brain) that is in the early stages of development. Which means that impulse control doesn’t come easily and feelings and emotions just tumble out whenever they need to.
I think the most misguided assumption parents make is that we need to fix our children’s sadness and stop them from feeling their negative emotions. This is not the case, in fact it’s the opposite. Every time your child has big emotions and feelings instead of trying to stop them, distract them or make it all better, try to hold the internal mantra “bring it on, I accept all of your feelings.” This can be really hard at first and I’ve found it’s almost like retraining myself. Most people have been given the message its not ok to feel our feelings and so they suppress them, only to have them pop up at the most inconvenient times years later.
We all have emotions that need to be released one way or another and babies and toddlers are no different. As adults we’ve learnt to deal with our emotions in lots of unhealthy ways. Think for a moment about the strategies you rely on when you’re upset, anxious, fearful or angry. Do you eat, have some wine, take it out on your partner or do you let yourself feel your feelings? I’m more of a chocoholic and I will often notice that I crave chocolate when I have some big stressful feelings coming up. Over the years I have learnt that when I don’t allow myself the time to feel my feelings, they build up, become suppressed and express themselves at the most inopportune moments (like midnight with my partner when I feel PMS coming on!)
Your toddler is learning every moment, he is like a sponge and learning how to deal with his emotions is a big job. Are you going to teach him, his emotions are safe to feel or are you going to teach him how to push them down and make them wrong? Emotions and big feelings are completely normal, we all have them, we become unhealthy when we don’t feel them, so the next time your little one throws a tantrum or has some big feelings, don’t fight it, don’t distract them, let the feelings emerge, sit with them, keep them safe (yes even if they are kicking you), and see the big feelings through with them. These feelings can be scary for them as well but if you see them through, they will process them more easily, if you don’t, the residual emotions will come up some other time. This can take 5 minutes or it can take an hour, don’t resist it, let it happen. Just be there and support them. This will take patience from you and you will also need to keep your own emotions in check while it’s happening. It’s likely you’ll get triggered, feel angry and want to run away or scream yourself. It won’t always be easy but observe this part of yourself. Reassure yourself (inside your head) tell yourself, “Its ok, these are big feelings and its safe for me to feel them.
I hope these ‘secrets’ help you the way they’ve helped me over the years. Take the pressure off, give yourself a break and acknowledge how wonderful you really are. You’re a great mum, you’re an amazing mum, you’re the best mum for your child.
As always, I’d love to hear from you, which of these secrets resonate with you and do you have any others you think work well?
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