Tyrannical Tantrums: How We Deal

Just when we thought the most difficult phase of the infant to toddler age has passed us, we enter the even more difficult phase of tantrums.  My daughter, now age 4, was rarely if ever prone to tantrums. If she had one it was usually pretty simple to talk with her about what was happening.  Of course I am not comparing the two, but the transition from calm pre-toddler in my daughter to mayhem that my spirited son brought with him was not an easy one.

When I say tantrums, that is probably the wrong word, because when we hear it we think of foot stomping, whining, crying, and perhaps even tossing a toy.  That is how it started out, but as time went on his behavior just escalated.  Now to be fair, he has just been through a rough 2 years of life.  Born premature, with chronic ear infections, severe silent reflux, and food intolerance (not allergies, they’re different), it was a wonder he had calm moments.  He would literally toss his body in a complete tirade. I think a record tirade we endured was about an hour nonstop.  There have been full days where he just was not happy, like all little people have, (and grown people too!).  Here is our experience of how to handle it and what to do before you feel yourself losing control.

Is your toddler tired?

Don’t look at the clock, look at your kid.  My son, now 3, still naps for 2 hours a day and he is in bed by 1045 am. Fatigue makes for a very grumpy person, young or grown.  If your little one is no longer taking naps by the tantrum age, there is always a chance they will do what we call “calm time”. Calm time is something we all need but especially growing children. Everyday they are learning something and discovering things that really can be exhausting.  If there is no chance of sleep, there is always a chance of rest, it just needs to be scheduled and reinforced daily.  We separate our children into their rooms, where it is calm and cool with low lights and something that requires no active toddling.  What we have noticed is that as bad as his tantrums get, we as the parents need a break too, especially if the tantrums make you feel angry, which they can and probably will…and that is okay and normal.

When was the last time your picky toddler ate anything?

You would think this would be common sense, but let’s be real, life is busy and sometimes we forget to feed ourselves, our pets and yes, even our children.  Always carry snacks, because hunger is a trigger.

Is it behavioral or is it just a tantrum?

Before we decided to discipline our son’s tantrums, we had him evaluated by our pediatrician and then also by a speech pathologist. When he was a younger toddler, around 14-20 months, his speech patterns were difficult to understand and of course this frustrated all of us. We wanted to be sure we weren’t disciplining a clinical problem that was not his fault. I know one mom in particular whose dear son ended up having autism and she was unaware that this was the reason for his behavior. So my advice is before you scold, or put in the corner, do whatever you do, be sure you know the reason for it.

Is he/she bored?

Boredom is a trigger that we wouldn’t think of right away because it is not obvious.  When our son is feeling frustrated for whatever reason, we have learned to look around his environment and check things that could frustrate him. Is he surrounded by overwhelming toy clutter? Is his train tracks in pieces or is put together to where he can play with it if he wants to?  I am not saying that you have the responsibility to entertain them every single second, but it can be a trigger for sure.

After we have gone over the checklist of things to consider, we then have to figure out how to handle it. The hardest times are when he is in the car seat and he loses control while we are driving. That is the biggest challenge. Believe me there have been moments where my husband, a gentle ben with everlasting patience, has had to refrain himself from taking immediate action. Other than that, here is what we have seen work for us.

Tantrums require an audience:

The most difficult part of a toddler tantrum is ignoring it. Sometimes it can be so bad that intervening seems like the only way to make it stop. Not always true. We intervene when he gets to the point of throwing things or if we feel he will hurt himself. Then there are times we just have to let him toss himself in a tot stupor where he behaves like a drunk person. If you cannot ignore it, walk into another room, and try with ALL your might to ignore it.

Be consistent with consequences:

Once you’ve gone over your mental checklist and assessed that this is a typical tantrum and you now have your lessons ready to teach him/her, it is so important to be consistent. We choose to put him in a corner, where he is safe. If he leaves that corner he goes right back to it no matter what. Taking away a favorite toy also helps. It may enrage him/her further but in time it will be known that all that is needed to retrieve it is to calm down.


Pay attention to the other children in the house:

If you have other children in the house, tantrums are lessons for them too. We learned that the more attention we give his awful tantrums, the more our daughter sees that and starts to mimic his behavior. This is why we strongly encourage ignoring bad behavior. When our daughter sees that we do not respond to his naughtiness, she turns up her charm and good girl behavior and we make it a point to commend her for it. The goal is for it to work in the opposite direction where the tantrumming child sees what good behavior gets them.

Put a word to it:

We have discovered this to be very successful with both of our kids. Whatever emotion they are displaying, put a word to it. For example, when he’s out of his mind with stampeding and convulsing for whatever reason, (when we are passed the point of ignoring) we just keep repeating ourselves, “I understand you are angry…..” Or when my daughter is whining (that is another post to write, I’m certain of it!) we say “It sounds like you may be frustrated because you aren’t getting what you want.” The bottom line is putting a word: sad, mad, happy, angry, etc., not only reinforces us what they are feeling, but it defines an emotion for them. They are new at feelings, remember?

As our son is approaching 3 ½, we see a big difference between now and age 2, when it all started. It still gets pretty bad. We can tell you many times we wanted to rip our hair out. There have been many invitations we have turned down, and many events we need to skip because the severity of the tantrums is something that is not fun when we aren’t in our safe zone of home. We’ve had to wait for that visit to the store or put off that trip to the park because he just can’t get his emotions together. The truth of the matter is that it’s okay.

Don’t give up and if all else fails, call someone who understands. What we have found is that he is always well behaved for other people than he is for us and that tells us something. It tells us that he lets us see his true colors and although I can look at it he is harder on us than other people, I am choosing the former. Honestly though, do you let EVERYONE see your true, raw emotion? Do you let everyone see you on days where you’re annoyed at the world and you do not know why? Of course not. Why expect our kids to be any different?

Hang in there!

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