Most children will start having tantrums at age 1 ½ and will stop having them around age 4 – so how do you deal with these difficult years while staying sane?
"Tantrums in toddlers are generally caused by boredom, hunger or exhaustion," says parenting author and speaker Kathy Lynn. "Make sure your kids get some good exercise before being in a situation where they are expected to be calm (like visiting an older relative)."
Do you know you will be waiting at the doctor's appointment? Lynn advises you to keep your purse stocked with toys to keep them busy. She says to avoid taking kids shopping before mealtime or naptime, or bring food with you so your kids are eating at their normal time. "As much as possible, maintain a regular schedule for meals, naptime and bedtime, even when travelling," says Lynn.
If your child is having a tantrum in a public location, author and licensed family therapist Sharon Gilchrest ONeill, Ed.S, LMFT advises you to pick your child up and leave, showing them their behavior is unacceptable.
"A parent needs to stay calm, and talking rarely works at this point. Once you have your child back at home or up in their room or off in some quiet space -- hold them closely and tightly till they have calmed down. You don't want them to experience abandonment, but to know that you will stay with them and try to understand and eventually talk with them," she says. "Only when your child has calmed down, talk with them. Explain what you want for the future and that you love them."
"Motion changes emotion. We get kids doing another activity and we put out the emotional fire by remaining calm ourselves," says author and behavioral consultant Kirk Martin. If your child is having a tantrum, Martin suggests starting another activity, like coloring, and asking them to join you -- or do something unexpected!
"Instead of yelling, Dad drops to the floor and begins doing pushups. This freaks the child out because he wonders, 'What's Dad doing pushups for?' Dad calmly asks his son, 'Hey, wanna do ten with me?'" says Martin. "You're not giving attention to the tantrum; you're getting them focused on helping you."
Wonder why your child always has a meltdown after a fun, cake-filled birthday party? Blame the sugar! "When the little ones have their emotional needs met, they are much less likely to melt. It is also important for them to have nutritious and protein rich snacks for sustained energy- so they don't melt down when coming down from a sugar high," says holistic nutritionist and owner of Ellaflor, Ella Rich. Make sure you feed your child healthy foods and provide nutritious snacks regularly to keep tantrums at bay.
"Get comfortable saying no to activities," says Candi Wingate, President Nannies4Hire. "If your calendar is full to overflowing, and one of your civic organizations asks you to help put on its holiday program, it's ok to say no. You can't do everything. Invest your time in what matters most."
When your schedule is packed with activities, kids may throw tantrums because they are feeling overwhelmed and overworked. "Your kids go to bed feeling shuttled from event to event without having their psychological well-being validated. They may, as a result, feel like you didn't care about them that day," says Wingate.
"So, it's best to take time to say, 'How was your day?' Take time to sit patiently as your child answers your question. Ask follow-up questions to reinforce that you are interested in how your child feels about how the day unfolded."
Not only is it the title of one of my favorite books, but it is also a good reminder on keeping your toddler happy: Eat, Pray, Love. By keeping their physical needs met (naps and nutritious food) and their emotional needs met, you have the recipe for success in keeping tantrums at bay.
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