Saturday 23 July 2011

How to Deal with Toddler Tantrums

Tantrum in B&W
Image - Tantrum in B & W - majorvols

To give you some background, I used to work as a carer for adults and children with complex needs and we did a lot of work around behaviour management. The training I have had has really helped me to manage Joseph. I am not perfect, by any means.

Thank you Joseph, for providing yesterday's post. As you can see toddlers are well versed in conducting performance tantrums for maximum effect, here are my tips.

It's not about you - Tantrums are a phase, they are a normal part of development and it is not a reflection on you as a parent. Don't take them personally. And don't listen when old people say to each other, in a voice loud enough for you to hear "oh that mother has no idea". Neither did they when they were in your situation. I don't care what Jo Frost or anyone else says, you can't necessarily control a tantrum, you just have to ride it out.

Take a step back - Before you start trying to do any thing, just take a step back and be objective. If the child is safe, sometimes its best just to let it run its course. I usually smile goofily, or look at something with interest, keeping an eye on Joseph at all times. Sometimes by trying to intervene, you actually prolong it, by becoming involved. A performer performs for an audience. Take the audience away, and suddenly, the performer loses his credibility and his reason for performing.

Prevention is better than cure - Sometimes, there is a pattern to tantrums. I know that Joseph is more likely to have a tantrum in public if he is over tired. As a result I will try to schedule activities for times when I know he will be well rested. Joseph also has tantrums if he is over stimulated. One of our regular activities is shopping at Bury Market. When we first arrive I go straight to Greenhalgh's and get a gingerbread dinosaur. It's not bribery, as I give it to him before a tantrum, and he happily munches on that. A dinosaur takes about 30 minutes for him to demolish. It is a bit like Supermarket Sweep, but I can get my shopping done before it gets entirely consumed. Before I started doing this, our shopping trips were nightmarish. Bury is so busy, that toddler tantrums suddenly become a sideshow. I have considered dropping an upturned hat and taking donations.

Don't smack - I don't smack anyway, but from what I have observed, smacking makes a tantrum ten times worse, because you have given the child a legitimate reason to kick off even further. It's tempting, because you just want the performance to stop, but smacking I think is just not the answer at all for tantrums.

Keep your voice and demeanor calm - Nothing is more annoying than an audience who refuses to participate. If you keep calm and try to just carry on and ignore the tantrum, it may help to shorten its course. It may not, however, but shouting back, or getting upset is playing right into the hands of the performance artist.

Empathise - To be honest, most of the time when Joseph throws a tantrum, I can relate and empathise. If he's tired, especially if something has taken ten times longer than it should (long queues or delays in transport) then I can see why he just wants to let fly. Often just saying "yes I feel annoyed and frustrated too" is enough to make you feel in touch, and you can deal with the problem together. It's not about the toddler understanding you, it's about you understanding them.

Dealing with onlookers - To be honest, to me the worst thing about tantrums is dealing with onlookers. I get really cross, because a lot of old people come across as judgemental. Either this phase is really short, or the trauma of toddlerhood is so deep, you obviously must just forget that once, you were that soldier, battling with a budding performance artist. It winds me up. I try to ignore the onlookers, but sometimes, you just have to say "you are really not helping, butt out". Because Joseph is small a lot of people think he is younger than he is, and that there really is something wrong. That's the worst. I'd rather be called a useless bad mother than have someone coo over Joseph saying "oh what's wrong darling?" I had a classic at baby group. Joseph hates pack up time. The hall has wooden floors. Joseph threw himself back, then checking there was nothing behind him, banged his head for maximum effect. It was very loud. One of the childminders, acting on instinct, picked him up and gave him a huge snuggle. I swear Joseph winked at me. I sat there stony faced. The childminder immediately twigged. She said to me "I have just undermined you haven't I, I am so so sorry!" I didn't mind really, and it did stop the tantrum!

Tantrums are just a normal part of life with a toddler, and you are not the first parent who just wanted to step in a tardis and be whisked away, we've all been there.


  1. Ooh you're so sensible ;)

  2. Great advice, particularly re: not smacking. I've often found it ironic that some parents teach that violence is wrong yet smack their children. No wonder those children are confused.

  3. Another great post, I'm looking forward to Felix's tantrums. Wonder if my experience working with Early Years children will have any affect (I doubt it!)

  4. Makes me feel so much better as I am on exactly the same page as you and very much in agreement with everything you have said. After the day I had I needed that boost.