Short Answer – When dealing with temper tantrums in toddlers, parents tend to resort to one of two methods to address them; punishment or reward. We suggest trying a third tactic. Rather than getting drawn into a power play, because that’s basically what temper tantrums in toddlers are, try reconnecting with your child instead.  

Imagine this, you are standing in the checkout line at the grocery store with your toddler when you start to see the warning signs; tense posture, whining, heavy breathing, tears. There’s a storm brewing and you’re probably not going to make it back to the car in time. 

Next thing you know, your kid has launched into a full-blown (and very public) meltdown. OMG, save me! It’s enough to test the patience of any parent. Don’t let your kid drag you over the emotional cliff with them. Stay calm mama! We’ve got some clever tactics to help smooth over  temper tantrums in toddlers and keep your sanity intact.

Problems With Punishment Or Reward

When your little one goes off the rails, it’s easy to resort to threats of punishment to try and nip it in the bud. But before you threaten to take away their toys or walk out and leave them, think about the message you’re sending. You’re basically saying “I’m pulling rank because I’m bigger than you”.  

Using fear to control behavior teaches children that love has conditions. If your child does what you want, they get love. If your child doesn’t, you withhold it. Intermingling love and approval is a head trip that can damage self-esteem. Threatening abandonment or physical punishment can traumatize a young child and erode trust. Your child may start to fear the person that is supposed to be their protector, mainly you. Through this lens, punishment doesn’t look like such a solid choice for dealing with toddler tantrums.

So what about offering a reward? You might be tempted to promise ice cream or iPad time to stop tantrums. The problem with the reward approach is that it sends your child the message that severe temper tantrums are an effective way to manipulate you into getting what they want. So guess what? That’s right! You might inadvertently set yourself up for more temper tantrums in toddlers. Probably not the outcome you were hoping for.

Temper Tantrums In Toddlers – Connection Method

If your child is acting out, rather than using fear or reward to stop the behavior, we suggest trying the connection method instead. The first step of connecting is to accept that your child’s emotions and feelings are both real and valid.

Kids can feel anger, sadness, and frustration just as much as any adult can, and they feel it just as intensely. Once you recognize this, you can approach your child from a place of guidance, rather than getting caught up in a low-drama power struggle.  

With empathy and validation comes connection. An upset toddler throwing a temper tantrum is trying to tell you something through their behavior. They don’t have the language skills necessary to express it yet. If you approach your toddler in a way that honors their feelings, they’ll know you’re listening to what they’re trying to say.

 

Connect With An Upset Child In 4-Steps

#1 Listen – Try to figure out what your child is really trying to say behind the whining and crying. Something is setting them off, don’t dismiss their emotions. See if you can figure out what triggered them. Let them know you’re listening and don’t cut them off when they’re talking. Oftentimes if children feel like they have your full attention, the temper tantrums in toddlers will die down.

#2 Validate – After your child is done talking, repeat back what you heard them say to show that you were listening. “You don’t want to leave the park because you’re having fun on the slide with your friend Brett.” Validation isn’t the same as agreeing, it just means you heard their side of the story.

#3 Talk Feelings – Try to pinpoint the emotion your child is feeling and put a name to it to help comfort them. “You seem sad that you can’t stay at the park longer, I know you like playing with Brett.” Or, “you seem angry that your sister got to go to grandma’s house and you didn’t.” If you get the emotion wrong, that’s okay. Your child will likely correct you. The point is to show them you’re trying to understand where they’re coming from.

#4 Ask Questions – Once your child’s feelings have been validated, they will likely calm down a bit. At this point you can ask questions like “what would you like me to do?” or “How can I help you be okay with this?”  The questions will make them think, which brings them back into their head and out of the emotional distress state that causes temper tantrums in toddlers. It might also open your child up to alternatives, like “we have to leave now, but we can make a play date with your friend next week.”  

Connection Is Powerful

The next time your child veers into tantrum territory, try taking the connection approach. It may not work immediately, but your child will at least know they’ve been heard. They will also know you love them, even if they are driving you nuts.

Temper tantrums in toddlers usually aren’t cause for serious concern. This phase generally peters out on its own. As kids get older, they gain more self-control. They learn to cope with frustration. But if your child continues to have frequent intense emotional outbursts, it’s possible a sensory processing disorder (SPD) or other issue may be involved. Talk to your doctor. Some parents have found this guide to be particularly helpful.

On a side note, this 4-step method also works well on adults that are pitching a fit. If a co-worker mimics temper tantrums in toddlers at the office… try the listen, validate, talk feelings, and ask questions method. You might be surprised at how well it works on big kids too. 

Also In Beenke: