Whether you are a parent of a toddler or have been a parent of a toddler, it’s likely you’ve experienced the joys of tantrums. Tantrums are hard to understand, challenging at best and can be exhaustingly testing to respond to effectively.
Whilst these uncontrolled outbursts could have your little one featured for an Oscar, here’s the reassurance I want to offer to all of the beautiful mummas out there-- it is all very normal.
You can expect tantrums to start featuring from about twelve to eighteen months old and to worsen, or peak, around two to three years of age. Hang in there, these acting-out behaviours should start to decrease as your little one approaches their fourth birthday and should rarely feature after this age. Phew!
For we mummas who are at the coal face, the pointy end of business, our little darlings’ ability to react with explosive outbursts can drive us to exasperation, utter embarrassment, tears of despair or even punitive self talk that we’re the worst mother in the world. Keep in mind that the uncontrolled outbursts is your toddler’s way of letting you know that they’re finding it hard to regulate their emotions. They can be fueled by feelings of anger and frustration, stress or anxiety and their limited language can make it hard for them to express themselves.
I remember only too well my own supermarket challenge. A routine trip, but little did I know that the brightly coloured lolly packet, that Grandpa always had, would evoke such extreme reaction in my usually sweet natured child. No amount of distraction, no attempts at engaging her in her favourite song, would limit her will for these familiar looking lollies.
I felt my frustration rising as this distraught being lacked any response to my attempts at reasoning with her. I could never have imagined the guttural noises and floods of tears were possible from this miniature human being. All too quickly I felt the staring eyes burning, the judgemental turn of heads; the assumptions of the spoiled brat, and the poor parenting or suggestions of a good slap!
My instinct was to pick her up and run for the hills; my emotions at risk of dictating the reaction rather than considering what might be for her best. The ensuing self argument had me rattled, yet I knew what I was supposed to do. So, I did it. I became that “bad parent” abandoning my uncontrollable child, clenched both fists around the trolley handle (my jaw jammed tight and pursed lips that had me looking like I’d just downed a bag of lemons) and I marched forth, leaving the flailing, screaming body doing her worst on the supermarket floor.
I could only imagine the chatter, the criticisms and the shaking heads, but blinkered I moved forward, desperately trying to ignore the little crumpled mess.
Moments later as I turned into the next aisle, the blubbering stopped abruptly and the ensuing silence had me on edge. I fought every screaming neuron that had me wanting to run back. So I stood momentarily, taking in deep breaths and a sense of attempted resolve that I would not set up a likely recurring hostage scene for similar, future events.
She shuffled around the corner, her relief at seeing me evident to the trained eye. Although red eyed and snotty, she was calmer and somewhat resigned. As challenged as I was, I adopted the “calm mummy” persona, bent down to pick her up and held her in a hug.
Whilst I really wanted to raise a meaningful finger to those earlier, judgemental onlookers, I had to remind myself that I was the adult here, the parent. And so, with a sense of accomplishment I simply took the smile and wave boys, just smile and wave boys approach. They may have judged me as the bad parent, the mother who didn’t even care, but they would carry on with their lives with no further thought of my supermarket challenge. Me, I had silently battled the public judgement, (whether apparent or in my head), I had squashed my own emotions, instead choosing the opportunity as a lesson to us both.
You see, there’s this little part of the brain, (the pre-frontal cortex) that only begins to mature around four years of age; its function, to regulate emotion and control social behaviour. When frustration hits, (they want to sit on that chair, they want to have that toy, they don’t want to sit in that trolley), a physical surge of adrenaline creates excessive energy within our little ones, the fight or flight response as it’s often referred. In an effort to discharge this energy, our toddlers react by getting aggressive towards the source of the frustration.
Likewise, it’s easy for we worldly humans to forget that those ordinary events we regularly deal with, can be confusing, even frightening to those who lack experience and logic. No surprise that when our treasures feel anxious or even stressed, the fight or flight response kicks in.
So when our sweet, smiling child can apparently turn into a mini monster at the throw of a dice, what are we to do and how can we help?
Our children learn the art of self-control and socialisation by our example and through the limits we set and enforce.
Scary isn’t it?
Remember, we are the adult. We are the parent.
Here are eleven reminders next time your child throws a tantrum:
- Check in with yourself. Before you make your first move, just pause momentarily. STOP and check in with yourself. You may be feeling upset, angry, embarrassed or fearful. Remind yourself that this is about your child, not you. Then take a deep breath; this is about helping your little one as best you can.
- Keep calm and in control. Your reaction to their meltdown is their guide to a life lesson in self-control. When the heat is on consider a phrase you can call on that will help you focus on the intention rather than the meltdown. E.g.” I am a great mumma!” “I can keep cool!”
- Ignore unwanted behaviours. If the behaviour is to gain an item or is attention seeking, hard as it may be, IGNORE, IGNORE, IGNORE! (Just a caveat to that, if the circumstances pose potential harm or danger to your little one, i.e. they’re near a road, water, remove them from the danger zone before continuing with the lesson.)
- Come from a position of understanding. Children do not enjoy tantrums; they’re not personally targeted or planned. They feel overwhelmed and their immature systems and experiences mean they struggle to know how to deal with their emotions. It can be like having road rage without the ability to verbally vent.
- Acknowledge their frustration. Let them know that you understand they’re angry, frustrated, unsure, overwhelmed….whatever it may be they’re experiencing, but let them know you love them and that your cuddle is awaiting once they’ve calmed down.
- Be observant and available. Whilst it’s positive to walk away, perhaps into another room or area (so not too far from them) and distract yourself, but be vigilant to them calming so you can act swiftly to this positive behaviour.
- Use the learning opportunity. Once they are calm, reward them for that behaviour; hugs and love will always help. Tell them that you’re pleased they’ve calmed down and talk with them about alternative ways to express themselves instead of screaming, kicking or biting. Encourage them to use words or signals and be sure to reward their efforts when they try.
- Send clear and consistent messages. Try to respond and adopt the same strategy every time. The minute they see a chink in our armour, not only does it send conflicting messages, but also offers an opportunity to create persistence on their part and a lengthening of their tantrum next time.
- Keep your eye on the target. Don’t let the opinions and judgements of others impact your well versed strategies. This is about your child and not the look, the mutterings or labelling by others!
- Beware the moments of sadness when you want to jump in; it can pull at our heart strings and be near impossible to resist. A premature rescue to offer solace in the heat of their meltdown may only serve as reinforcement of an unwanted behaviour.
- It ends as quickly as it started. Tantrums are short lived when the message is caring and consistent. Enjoy the returned calm when the moment is over; pat yourself on the back,you did a great job!
It’s all too easy to succumb to a toddler meltdown, after all we are human with a unique connect of love to our children. So gird your loins and take heart for the next time your little one reaches boiling point; where the meltdowns serve as opportunities for strangers and bystanders to offer ignorant looks and critical mutterings; where your emotions can be pushed to the limit and your fears of failing can be painfully heightened, tell yourself this, “I am a great mumma and I am doing the best that I can with what I have.”
We are amazing mummas, ready to rise the challenges of toddler tantrums (even if that means we have to let them scream) because we do it with love, understanding and patience with a selfless approach. That’s golden!
Whatever challenges this motherhood journey brings you, I want to help and that starts with my free gift to you. Being a better mumma is not about being perfect. Learn how to let go of the “perfect mumma” expectation in just 15 minutes. My GIFT to you.
Whatever your struggles or challenges, I’m here for you and I’d love to help:)
Connect with me at: firstname.lastname@example.org