10 Tips for Navigating Toddler Tantrums

by Josée

If you are struggling with managing your toddler’s tantrums, I’m here to help. As a mother of four, currently in the toddler phase myself (yet again!), I’m going to share my top tips for navigating through toddler tantrums with confidence and love.

Why do toddlers have tantrums?

The toddler phase of child development can be a challenging phase. Suddenly that cute baby has transformed into a toddler with endless energy, insatiable curiosity, new-found self-awareness and budding independence. Pair these traits with developing language skills, minimal self-control and a short attention span and suddenly you have the perfect storm for toddler temper tantrums. All that to say, temper tantrums are developmentally normal for toddlers.

Tips for Navigating Toddler Tantrums

Despite how normal toddler tantrum are, these sudden and constant emotional outbursts can be very exhausting for parents and caregivers. I get it! Here are my top tips for helping you and your toddler get through this normal phase a little more smoothly.

Tip 1: Remind yourself that toddler tantrums are normal.

Temper tantrums are a normal part of toddler development. These emotional outburst will happen regardless of parenting style or experience with raising toddlers (or lack thereof). Also, toddler temper tantrums do not indicate that there is anything seriously wrong with your toddler. There is are differences between typical toddler temper tantrums and tantrums due to developmental conditions (such as Autism).

Tip 2: Respond calmly to your toddler’s tantrums.

There is no sense arguing with a toddler. Trust me, it goes nowhere. Yelling isn’t helpful either. The best way to respond is to stay calm. Take a few calming breaths and talk in a calming voice to your toddler. You can say something like: “I can see this makes you feel frustrated/sad/unhappy. Would you like a hug/snuggle?”

Tip 3: Give your toddler a safe space to express their emotions.

As a parent there’s a common knee-jerk reaction to stop a tantrum ASAP! However, stopping a tantrum isn’t always possible or a good idea. Giving your toddler a safe space to express their emotions is part of healthy emotional development. Instead of stopping a tantrum work on Tip 1 and Tip 2 and learn some strategies for preventing tantrums from happening in the first place (tips below).

Tip 4: Prioritize good sleep and nutrition for your toddler.

If I’m tired and hungry, watch out! Luckily, as an adult I have the self-control not to meltdown on the floor (most of the time). Toddlers, however, are in the early stages of developing self-control and don’t have coping mechanisms for managing fatigue and hunger. If one or the other (or both combined) are not being met this will result in more tantrums. If your toddler struggles with getting enough sleep or eating healthy food then I recommend getting support from your family doctor, nutritionist, coach or another expert. Proper sleep and nutrition can make a world of a difference with reducing the number of toddler tantrums throughout the day.

Tip 5: Use words and sign language to communicate with your toddler.

Language development takes time and not being able to communicate clearly is a major source of frustration for toddlers. Two-year-olds can understand quite a bit of what you say but they are still developing language. From two to three years-old, toddler will expand their language quickly (50 to 200 words) with two word sentences starting to form by age three. Keep in mind that there’s a wide range of what is considered normal. If your toddler is developing vocabulary on the slower end of normal, try using words combined with sign language to communicate. Here’s a list of eight signs to improve communication with your toddler.

Tip 6: Head off a tantrum by asking your toddler a question.

Often we have an idea what might set our toddler off. One strategy to head off an income tantrum is by asking your toddler a question. For example, my toddler went through a phase where she could throw tantrums in her highchair every meal. She would scream if she didn’t like the food offered, scream if she wanted more, scream if she was done. It was one big scream-fest! In order to encourage her to communicate I would head off her tantrum by asking her a question: “Would you like more food?”, “Would you like some water?”, “Are you all done?”. With consistency she went from screaming to using sign language to communicate.

Tip 7: Redirect your toddler with a positive alternative or distraction.

If your toddler is engaging in an activity that isn’t appropriate (playing in the toilet), or has an item that’s problematic (a permanent marker), offer a calm but firm “that’s not for playing with” and then redirect them to a positive alternative (playing in the bathtub or drawing with crayons) or a appropriate distraction (a different activity or object). This “switch-and-bait” technique helps avoid tantrums while allowing your toddler to engage in an activity that interests them.

Tip 8: Offer your toddler choices.

Giving your toddler a choice between A or B, even if both choice lead to the same outcome, can be very helpful in preventing tantrums because they give your toddler a sense of control and independence. For example, asking your toddler if they would like mom or dad to brush their teeth at night, or which book they’d like to read before bed.

Tip 9: Get strategic about managing transitions.

Transitions are difficult for toddlers and can often lead to tantrums. Helping your toddler navigate through transitions more smoothly will help reduce tantrums immensely. Before transitioning to a new activity, give you toddler a simple forewarning. For example, my toddler dislikes getting into her car seat, so I preempt any car trip with “we’re going on a car ride!”. Then without much fanfare we move through a predictable car ride routine together: we put on our shoes/coat, walk to the car and buckle up. Sometimes she’ll be fine until the moment of being buckled and at that point I’ll offer a distraction (her water bottle, a toy or a book) to make the transition a bit easier.

Tip 10: Spend time outdoors with your toddler.

Last, but not least, spending time outside will help your toddler develop motor skills, communication, and self-confidence. Time outdoors also has a calming affect, so if you find your toddler throwing tantrums left-right-and-centre I suggest going outside for a bit. I often find that time outdoors is a great way of resetting my toddler’s (and my own) emotions for the day.

More than just tantrums?

If you’re concerned that your toddler is showing signs of more than your typical toddler tantrums, connect with your local childhood development experts for help. Remember you know your toddler best.

Did I miss your got- tip for preventing toddler tantrums? Feel free to let me know in the comment section below.

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