No More Tantrums
Parenting and child behaviour expert Eileen Hayes shows some useful tricks and tactics for how to tantrum-proof your home
Every child will throw a tantrum at some point. But there are ways to deal with tantrum episodes and prevent them from happening again.
‘Toddler-proof’ your home by placing dangerous or breakable things out of reach.
Have clear routines to your child’s day, for example regular lunch, nap, bath and bedtimes.
Plan ahead, keeping an eye on frustration levels so you can step in before they go over the top.
Provide lots of opportunities to let off steam every day – running around outside, at the playground, dancing to music.
Give children some control and choice over what to eat, wear or play with.
Use distractions and diversions for as long as they work – a new toy, a changed activity, a song or game.
As children reach pre-school age, discuss how you want them to behave in different situations and have clear, simple rules.
If tantrums do happen...
With all the previous strategies in place, parents are likely to have a relatively tantrum-free life. But it makes sense to have a few ideas up your sleeve for how to deal with them.
A minor episode
Try ignoring minor tantrums by walking into another room or just carrying on with your own tasks.
Use calming techniques to lower your own stress levels – deep breathing, relaxing your muscles, positive talk inside your head: "I will keep calm".
If ignoring hasn’t worked, some children can be jollied along out of an episode. Say something like "time to stop now – I’ll count to 10" then give plenty of praise and cuddles if the tantrum stops.
In the supermarket, it is sometimes best to just pick up your child and go outside to cut down your embarrassment.
For a really major tantrum, different tactics are needed
Speak calmly, saying things like "I’m here, I won’t let you hurt yourself".
Hold your child tightly, preferably making eye contact.
Sometimes you just have to weather the storm until your child calms down.
‘Time out’ can help if you find it impossible to stay calm. Time out involves putting your child somewhere safe but boring (for example a playpen, pushchair or the bottom step) for a couple of minutes. It should never be forced in anger and is not really understood by under 3’s. It may work best for parents to take it themselves!
Top tips for cutting down tantrums
Aim for some happy, relaxed times every day – reading a story, visiting the park, playing a game.
Show a good example by remaining calm when times are stressful. This encourages your toddler to do the same.
Cut down negatives – constantly saying "no" will add to a toddler’s frustration. Instead, use phrases like ‘later’, or ‘after lunch’.
Keep aware of new stresses (potty training, starting nursery) that may need more sympathy.
Respect your child’s feelings. Feeling understood will reduce your child’s need for tantrums. Try saying "I know that makes you cross" or "that must have made you feel sad". Your child will see that their feelings matter and can gradually learn to put them into words, saying “I’m angry” instead of acting it out.
Use positive parenting – plenty of praise and attention for behaviour you do want, trying to ignore as much as possible behaviour you don’t.
Avoid harsh discipline – shouting and punishments only make tantrums worse.
Use humour to defuse tricky situations – silly songs, laughter, making a game of tidying toys can all work brilliantly! A hug or a tickle at the right moment can also change a child’s mood.
Most children do grow out of the need for tantrums when they have more language and understanding. But the way you deal with them in the toddler years is important. If they are handled harshly, with responses like yelling and smacking, or if you constantly ignore their feelings and need for comfort, they may well become worse and carry on for longer.
Find out more
Eileen Hayes' book Tantrums – Understanding and Coping with your Child’s Emotions is a fantastic guide to understanding and settling your child.
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