How to Help Your Toddler Through a Tantrum

Tantrums are quite unpleasant, but a necessary and important part of child emotional development.


Vivian turns 2 in just under a month and the terrible two tantrums have been in full swing. I kinda feel like Evelyn skipped the Terrible Twos (maybe had a slight Troublesome Three), but Vivian is testing me constantly.


It got me thinking about toddlers and tantrums. So, let's take a look at the why behind toddler tantrums and what you can do to help your child through them!


Why do Toddlers Tantrum?

HALT: Hunger, Anger, Lonely, Tired


Toddler's are quite independent little beings, but they lack language skills and emotional regulation to handle big feelings. Their frustration tolerance is often pretty low and they can't tell you what they need or say "I'm mad!" yet. Instead, they tantrum.


A tantrum is usually sparked by a trigger, likely stress of some kind, such as being denied something they want (sound familiar?). When toddlers experience this trigger, their brain pumps out tons of the stress hormone and their bodies are flooded with it so much they go into emotional and physical pain. Sounds pretty terrible if you ask me. No wonder they squirm all over the floor like their back is on fire - it may actually feel like it!


There is a natural arc to tantrums: escalation, peak, and re-regulation. How long each of these tantrum stages last depends on your child and situation.

(https://parenthoodunderstood.com/the-arc-of-the-tantrum-resources/)


Other things that impact tantrums are HALT: Hunger, Anger, Loneliness, Tiredness. Hungry and Tired are two VERY common triggers for tantrums. Knowing your child's triggers is huge in preventing tantrums (even for your self as well!!!). My 6 year old is very good at verbalizing that she is "Hangry" which helps so much when they are able to become aware and use their words to communicate. But again, she is 6 and mostly behind the tantrum stage.


Be the Calm in their Storm


Tantrums are NORMAL. In fact, tantrums are a good thing, albeit unpleasant. It’s the toddler’s way of learning emotional regulation.


As parents, we need to help them learn how to do regulate. BE THE CALM IN THEIR STORM.


Your toddler needs help regulating their heightened emotions, they don’t have the ability to control or regulate themselves yet.


Our job is not to stop the tantrum, but help your babe through it.

How to Help Your Child Through a Tantrum:


CRAFT: Calm, Redirect, Acknowledge, Facilitate, Teach


While tantrums are necessary and inevitable, how can you help your child (and yourself) get through it relatively unscathed?? Follow these tips:

  1. Distract them!! A distraction takes their attention away from their trigger. It excites the brain and releases the happy hormone. My FAVORITE distraction is taking her outside - the change or scenery and the breath of fresh air work wonders! Another good one is the camera on you phone!

  2. Give Choices - “You can do x or y.” Choices gives the feeling of control, and toddlers (all humans!!) crave control especially when out of control.

  3. Hold or hug them, but don’t try to reason with them - this physical act releases hormones that start the physical calm down response. There is NO USE in trying to reason with your toddler. During extreme dysregulation, they can’t hear you or process anything you are saying. So literally save your breath. Just hold them, they need your help!

  4. YOU stay calm!! Kids feed off our energy. You can’t calm your kid down if you aren’t cam. Be the calm in their storm.

  5. Model how to react, be positive. They will learn from you on how to handle big feelings.

  6. Don’t give in!! Pick your ground and stand on it. They are super smart - giving in will only confuse them. Stay strong, be consistent each and every time. They need to know you are in charge and your boundaries - it makes them feel safe.

  7. Don’t punish them - they need you!! Tantrums are communication. Punishing them will only cause insult to injury. Use time outs ONLY if they intentionally harm someone.

  8. Teach them the words/vocab and language they need to work through it after the tantrum is over. Give them a script. Narrorate what happened and say “When you feel like that again, you can…”, validate and empathize with them (i.e. "Feeling frustrated is so hard. I've felt frustrated when....").

  9. Prevent: know your child’s triggers. Not sure what they are? Look for HALT (hunger, anger, lonely, tired).

  10. Take deep breaths.. everyone! Try birthday cake candle blowing. Put your finger near your mouth and pretend to blow out the birthday candle really slowly.

If that seems a like a lot to remember (it is for me!!), try remembering CRAFT: Calm, Redirect Acknowledge, Facilitate, Teach.


Conclusion

Remember, there is an end to all tantrums. Tantrums fit a pretty predictable sequence and it will fizzle out eventually - even when it feels like it is dragging on for a lifetime.


Your child is communicating with you in the only way they know how to... for the moment. Help them understand how to work through these feelings. Show them the way. The work you do now will come back to you ten fold when they are older and have learned how to deal with difficult and uncomfortable feelings.


Finally, toddlers typically outgrow big tantrums between 4 - 5 years old. At this point, they should have the language to explain their feelings and, if they have rock star parents like you, they have learned how to regulate their emotions and work through their feelings.


But if you have concerns about your child's emotional well being, reach out to your pediatrician and/or school teacher for strategies and next steps.


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Know someone who has a toddler? Share this post with them - I KNOW it will come in handy for them at some point!!


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Resource:

Parenting for Brain, https://www.parentingforbrain.com/deal-toddler-temper-tantrums/

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