Toddler temper tantrums are so stressful they can almost make YOU have a temper tantrum. Here’s the #1 thing you should NEVER say to your child when they’re having a tantrum, and what to do instead.
The other day I was sitting in my car with the windows down, having a snack before driving to do more errands.
I was in a parking lot during the day and I was people watching as I snacked.
Suddenly I heard yelling and a child crying.
A toddler was having a temper tantrum and the mom looked like she was about to have one too.
The child wanted something that the mother didn’t want to give him. That’s fine, sometimes we have to set boundaries and say no to our kids. There’s nothing wrong with this.
The little boy got upset and started crying and having a tantrum.
This is also fine.
Little kids have tantrums and get upset. This is normal a normal response to feeling frustrated at this age and not something they can control yet. It’s a normal response to feeling hungry or tired or overwhelmed or overstimulated.
But what came next from the mother didn’t help:
That needed lots of exclamation marks because the mother was yelling loudly.
It turned some heads and it made my heart hurt.
Losing control like that can look like temper tantrums in adults
I don’t know what that little guy wanted or needed but what was absolutely not helpful was yelling at him to stop yelling.
This doesn’t teach our kids emotional regulation, it’s shows them the exact opposite of what we want them to do.
Our job as parents is to support our toddlers with these big feelings. These feelings of frustration, disappointment, sadness, etc can feel so huge to a little body. They need our help to get through them. Not our judgement. Not our yelling.
“Teaching” our kids by intimidating them or scaring them is not the way to go.
What makes this more difficult is many of us weren’t raised in households where our feelings were validated and we felt supported to express sadness, fear, anger, frustration. So we can get triggered when our toddler has a tantrum.
- How to deal with toddler temper tantrums without time-outs or punishments
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How to stop temper tantrums
You can’t stop a toddler temper tantrum in its tracks in any gentle way. And I would argue that it’s not necessarily the best thing to do to stop a tantrum super quickly. Your little one needs to get out some big emotions. You know how you feel a release after a good cry? Your toddler needs that too, and will feel better after getting their feelings out in their own time.
So what can you say instead of “stop yelling” or “stop crying”?
Here is a cheat sheet of ways to support your child if they’re having a tantrum:
- Offer a hug (but let them decide if they want it)
- Say “I’m here with you”
- Stay with them when they cry or yell
- Take some deep breaths yourself
- Tell them “I won’t leave you”
- Say to them “You are safe” (feeling that out of control can feel scary to a toddler)
- Remind yourself during the tantrum that you are not a terrible mother
About this last point:
Sometimes we feel like a crappy parent when our toddler is in the middle of a tantrum. Especially when they are toddler tantrums in public.
We can feel embarrassed, inadequate, exposed, and we just want to make it stop fast. It takes a lot of work in ourselves as parents to hold the space for our toddlers, and to block out the inner noise or judgements we might be saying to ourselves.
You’re not a bad parent. Tantrums happen. They’re almost always very developmentally normal and they don’t mean anything negative about you or your child. Try to quiet your own voice and be gentle with yourself too when your toddler is having a tantrum. They’re hard. They’re not fun. For you or your child.
Notice that a lot of things on this list don’t involve talking. You don’t need to say a lot during a toddler temper tantrum, and it’s probably better if you don’t. If you’re supporting a friend who is crying, most likely your friend doesn’t want to hear a big speech from you or lots or words of wisdom just then.
They just want to know that someone is listening.
Our kids are the same.
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