My son had just one issue with group games - he had to be the winner! If someone was faster in a race or had more painting skills (a great mystery in his mind), the following sequence of events would follow:
- He would cry, throw himself on the floor, cry again, repeat.
There were times when I wanted to ask the people around me if someone knew that child to avoid the shame, but it was obvious I was the mom.
What was worrisome was that he seemed to get better at tantrums each time. The more I acknowledged his feelings and the situation, the more he would cry.Some of his tantrums were short lived while others lasted longer.
I had tried to correct his behavior during the situation but that didn’t seem to work. That’s when more crying and sometimes the dead drop to the ground scenario would occur.
As an educator, I witness preschool tantrums on a daily basis; inside our schools or in public places like supermarkets or stores. Sometimes I witness tantrums with toddlers, preschoolers, and even with adults, (but that’s not my expertise).
I see parents and teachers deal with tantrums in a variety of ways. Tantrums can lead to important social emotional lessons on self regulation and they are a normal way of exploring boundaries.
Here are four steps to deal with toddler tantrums:
1) Recognize the Triggers
Tantrums are predictable. Usually they happen in the same type of situations.
For example, a child wants something from the supermarket. Don’t fall into the trap of buying the item to avoid a tantrum. When we do, children will learn that when they have tantrums they can get away with what they want.
Bargaining is a learned behavior.
2) Make a Commitment With Your Child to React Differently
What this means is that you will develop a plan with your child before the situation arises. Choose a time and place to discuss the situation when he or she is open to learn.
The key is to be proactive and talk about the issue before it happens.
For example, if your child is the “supermarket tantrum type," the following might be a way to deal with the situation.
Tell your child, “I am not able to buy you a toy in the supermarket today. We only have money to buy the following items. Can you help me find the items?"
Then make a list with your child, or make a list with pictures if they are not able to read, and turn the shopping experience into a scavenger hunt. If your child asks for an item that is not on the list, refer to the original shopping list.
3) Try Not to Teach Your Child a Life Lesson in the Middle of a Tantrum
By then it is too late. They can't learn or they are not listening to you.
So you are left with two choices: ignore or acknowledge the tantrum.
If you acknowledge a tantrum, it might prolong it even more. Your child is getting the attention he or she wants!
If you ignore the tantrum, you are using a new strategy - redirection.
What does redirection mean? According to discipline expert Becky Bailey, “You get more of what you focus on."
What that means is that when you focus on a behavior, like acknowledging a tantrum, you are actually encouraging it. On the other hand, when you ignore unwanted behavior, you are actually discouraging.
So the next time your child throws a tantrum make sure it is a safe place and ignore it.
4) Focus on the Lesson, Forget the Crowd
When you choose to redirect, you have to be ready to ignore the crowd.
I often see young parents in public places dealing with tantrums and my heart goes out to them. What I wish I would have known when I was a young parent is that everyone that has a child knows that all kids throw tantrums.
Of course you have to be mindful if your child starts crying in the middle of church or a play. It's a courtesy to others to remove yourself and the child until the child is calm.
But what this means is that if your child throws a tantrum in the middle of the supermarket, or like my son at birthday parties, just focus on making sure your child is safe, focus on the lesson, and the strategy by reminding your child about the commitment to react differently.
As for me, right after my son Oliver had lost that last game, he seemed to be ready to throw his tantrum. But I was determined that was going to be his last.
Right after announcing the winner, which was not him, he seemed to be in total shock, disbelief, and, confused. But we had already discussed why it was important to acknowledge other children’s feelings and we had already made a commitment to react differently.
When he came running to me for comfort because of the injustice that had been done to him, I looked him in the eyes and reminded him, “Do you remember what we talked about when our friends win?”
"Yes, mom," he nodded.
"How about we try this time to congratulate your friend."
A couple of tears scrolled down my son’s 3-year-old face and his words were difficult to come out. As we approached the happy winner, Oliver extended his arm in disbelief and looked at me for emotional support.
Struggling to finally say the words, he whispered congratulations.
I looked at him and patted him on his back, held his hand, and told him how proud I was for him acknowledging his friends’s feelings. "You did so good my boy," I kindly told him.
Miraculously, his toddler tantrums disappeared and I had learned that the way I reacted to his behavior had a long lasting impact and influence in his life.
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By Marnie Forestieri
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