Diffusing Toddler Tantrums

We’ve all been there.  You are out in public and your “threenager” sees a colorful package of candy and literally loses their mind.  As they are scrambling to get out of the cart to snatch the candy, your heart races.  You tell them “not today, sweetie” and the meltdown begins.  Shoppers are giving looks of disgust while others dart their eyes away because they feel your struggle.

I feel so much anxiety shopping with my young daughter.  She’s three years old and has a severe speech delay.  Speech delay or not, tantrums in public are stressful.  My toddler has made great strides with her communication, however when she doesn’t get her way she suddenly forgets all the new skills she’s learned.  I’ve experienced the horror of her kicking and screaming in public.  One time her blood curdling scream set off the theft alarm at Sam’s Club.  Yikes!  Still afraid to go back there!

These experiences always have me wondering…Am I doing something wrong?  Could I be doing something better?  

Don’t beat yourself up over tantrums.  My own mom reminded me that tantrums are normal, and there was even a time or two (maybe more) where I embarrassed her in public.

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So what can we do?

It all comes down to how you respond to your child’s tantrum.  Are you getting angry?  Are you trying to understand?  Are you simply walking out of public places to avoid others staring at you?  I know I’ve walked out of grocery stores and other public places because I just didn’t have the energy to deal with it.  But this is a learning process for you and your child.

Taking a Mom Moment & Making Eye Contact

Do not pay attention to the people around you while a meltdown is ensuing.  My daughter and I fly frequently from Salt Lake City to Seattle to visit family.  She’s always very well behaved on the airplane.  However during one flight her ears started bothering her and she lost it for about 20 minutes.  Those 20 minutes felt like 20 hours.  I did my best to console her, gave her gummy snacks and did everything I possibly could to get her ears to pop.  I was so embarrassed when I looked up and saw other passengers giving me annoyed looks.  I told myself, “This is the last time I’m flying!”.  I was horrified.  

As I’ve scoured the internet looking for tips I came cross a few resources to help diffuse meltdowns.  First, taking a moment to stay calm and then proceed to address the situation, and second, engaging in eye contact with your child.  In another scenario (you’re probably thinking wow, this lady’s child throws a lot of fits!) I tried taking a moment to myself to get grounded, then proceed to ask my daughter to “look at me”.  She could feel my calm demeanor and made eye contact with me immediately.  If only I had tried to use this method during our horrific flight, maybe I would have been able to better console her and get her on board with finding solutions to pop her ears.  Children are so connected to our feelings and emotions.  They pick up on things right away.  Going into a tantrum highly anxious or angry projects the same feelings onto them, making it more difficult to concentrate on what you’re telling them.

Using Distractions to Your Advantage

Find a way to calmly talk to your toddler about why the tantrum is happening.  Distract them.  Last week, my daughter threw a fit because I wouldn’t let her run up and down the grocery aisle.  The store was busy.  I picked her up and brought her to the corner of the store and explained I didn’t want her to get lost and in order to stay safe, she needed to ride in the cart.  I reminded her of the other plans we had that day, and we didn’t want this meltdown to end our fun.  Take a moment to bring your child to a secluded place, even using your back to block out others, use eye contact and calming explain your reasoning.  Be sure to back up why they need to stop and what they may lose if they don’t.  (Losing TV or play time!)

Mostly Importantly: Do Not Use Bribes

Bribes are temporary solutions.  I know I’m guilty of this.  Sometimes you just need some peace.  I’ve given my daughter a treat in order to get her to behave during our errands.  This can lead them to believe that if they throw a fit they are going to be rewarded for it.  It will become a cycle and your toddler will start expecting treats for basic behavior.  Stay away from this type of bribing!

Remember you are doing an amazing job as a mom!  Tantrums are tough but they are normal!

What tips do you have for diffusing tantrums?  Share and comment below!



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