Shockingly Easy Strategies to Stop Your Toddler’s Tantrums

Toddler tantrums. They happen. Your kid doesn’t care if you’re stressed out, or stuck in traffic, or trying to enjoy a lovely meal in a restaurant. Contrary to what you may think, your child isn’t trying to be a jerk. Seriously! That fiery little ball of energy is not that vindictive and has not yet mastered the art of manipulation. A few small changes in how you interact with and respond to your toddler can help you regain control and stop the tantrums.
Wet Noodle Tantrum

All Tantrums Serve A Purpose

You read that right. A toddler’s ‘wet noodle’ flop to the floor, kicking and screaming, red-faced and wailing is all in an attempt to communicate. Before you can reduce your child’s tantrums (and you CAN, I promise), you have to understand them. Stick with me. I will teach you some basic go-to strategies that Speech Therapists and other professionals use every day to motivate and engage children and increase cooperation.

Behaviors Are Communication

When you start to think of everything your child does as an attempt at communication, you will begin to understand them better than ever before. You know that cute little coo and giggle you get when playing your favorite tickle game with your little one? Communication. That’s your child telling you they like what you’re doing and to keep doing it. Those chubby arms reaching up to you after they took a tumble? You got it – communication. That’s your child asking to be picked up and comforted. And that ‘wet noodle’ flop to the floor, the deafening cries, screams, kicks, and flails when you say “no”? I think you know the answer, even if you haven’t thought of it this way before. It’s communication. A tantrum is just your child expressing their frustration.

Behaviors Are Not All Bad Even If It Seems Like It Sometimes

When parents talk about “behaviors,” they are usually referring to the “bad” or less-desirable things their child is doing. Not listening, acting out, fighting with siblings, and throwing tantrums. But to deal with “behaviors,” we to learn to separate our emotions from your child’s tantrums. They aren’t “good behaviors” and “bad behaviors”. It is a big ask. I remember reaching my breaking point when my toddler had meltdowns. Instead of focusing on the “behaviors,” ask yourself, “what is my child trying to tell me?”.

Child tantrum shopping

The Parenting ABCs You Need to Understand

Not the song by The Jackson 5 or the alphabet. The ABCs I am talking about stand for Antecedent, Behavior, and Consequence. They are just fancy words to help you think about and provide insights into your toddler’s behavior. Start by thinking about what happened before the behavior (aka the “antecedent”), the actual behavior itself (remember, no negativity here – just your observations of what occurred), and the consequence (aka what happened after the behavior). Consider this:

  1. It’s late afternoon, and your child is quietly playing when she hears the sound of a car pulling into the driveway. She runs to the window to see who it is or confirm if it’s who she thinks it is. Then she squeals in delight, running toward the door to greet the parent who just got home, greeting her with a huge smile and a gigantic hug.
    • Antecedent – she hears the car in the driveway (a familiar sound).
    • Behavior – runs to the window to confirm, then to the door to greet the new arrival.
    • Consequence – gets scooped up into a big hug by one of her favorite people. 
  2. You’re grocery shopping with your child on a busy Saturday morning. The lines are long. It took you too long to get everything you needed, and both you and your child are tired and just want to pay and leave. She sees the candies and gum in the checkout line, tempting her, just out of reach. She looks to you, grunting as she reaches for the sweets. You say, “no, honey, not today. No candy”. Then all hell breaks loose. She wails, trying to grab the candies, kicking her feet furiously and causing a scene.
    • Antecedent – sees the candies she wants, reaches and looks to you, communicating that she wants a treat. You say no. 
    • Behavior – If your child is anything like mine, this is where she doubles down her efforts, and the tantrum begins. Her legs flail, and her volume increases as heads turn to the commotion. You flush with embarrassment and cannot wait to pay and just get out of there. 
 

Consequencethe choice is yours. Do your child’s doubled-down efforts work? Do you give in and give her what she wants? Choose your own adventure, but choose wisely because….

Your Reaction Teaches Your Child How to Behave

That can be a tough pill to swallow. Children are little scientists, testing theories and continuously learning what works and what doesn’t. How things (and people) behave in response to what they do, especially after repeated trials. So, suppose you react to the tantrum by grabbing the treat. You hand it to the cashier to scan before you pass it back to your child to soothe her (and stop all the strangers from judging you and your crying child). In that case, you’re teaching her that tantrums work. And you better believe she’ll expect a treat next time you’re waiting in line. What a powerful tool! Her brain has done this basic equation:

 

want + cry/scream/kick = I get the thing I want

 

However, if you stand your ground, use simple language to repeat your original message (“No. No candy. Not today.”), you’re teaching her:

 

want + cry/scream/kick = I don’t get the thing I want

 

The second option, my friends, is what I think you want. This doesn’t mean you can never treat your child in the checkout line. But it does mean you should pay attention to their behavior and reward the behaviors you hope to encourage. Or, as I like to say, “catch ‘em being good.”

It Takes Time to Master New Strategies

As much as I wish I could flip a switch for you and make things work immediately, you have to expect that changes take time. Instead of automatically responding to your child’s tantrum with frustration and anger, approach the problem with as calm a tone as you can muster and try the strategies I’ve given you. Some children will take your new response to their actions as a sign to double down on their efforts to get what they want. Just be aware that sometimes the tantrum gets worse before it gets better, but consistency is vital.

You Got This!

The way you speak with your child will significantly impact their overall happiness, which can make your life easier and more enjoyable. A happy child is one who is better able to interact and learn more from their world. So think positive and proactive, build routines and predictability, and offer choices when and where you can.

In my experience, as a parent and as a Speech Therapist, I find starting with just one idea at a time works best. Do one thing, and do it well! Once that strategy feels like second nature, or when you’re using it without focusing so hard, it is time to add another. Find the idea that jumped out at you most or sparked your interest and start there.

 

Comment below! I can’t wait to read how these ideas help reduce your toddler’s tantrums or if you come up against any challenges as you make these changes. Sign up for our updates and follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more.

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