You’re at the supermarket, and your daughter is focused on a bag of chocolate candies. When you take them from her, she throws herself on the floor, screaming.
Sound familiar? The toddler years are a trying but rewarding state in your child’s life. Toddlers are learning that they are independent little people, but often lack the language and coping skills to communicate their wants and needs effectively. These years are also an opportunity to teach children the limits of appropriate versus inappropriate behavior, which will impact their success in school, work, and relationships in the long-term.
So, what’s a parent to do?
Stay calm and in control.
Losing your temper or yelling at your child will only worsen their temper tantrums. Teach your son or daughter good behavior by modelling it.
Teach your child to label and cope with their feelings.
Young children don’t have the words to explain their many emotions – anger, sadness, frustration, and disappointment. Talk through feelings with toddler – such as disappointment when his block tower falls over, or when their grandparents leave after a weekend visit. Tell your child, “I know you’re sad that Grandpa and Grandma are leaving. Let’s go wave goodbye to them and make a plan to see them soon.” Read more about talking through angry feelings.
Reward positive behavior.
Social rewards (like hugs or kisses) are especially effective, and always available! Social rewards teach children to think about how their actions affect other people, as opposed to material rewards like toys or candy. Sticker charts or similar reward programs can also change her behavior.
Give age-appropriate consequences.
Toddlers have short attention spans, so give consequences right after a behavior. Short time-outs can be an impactful consequence. Explain time-out to your child beforehand. Avoid yelling at your child or spanking them – this teaches children that anger is the best way to handle things, and research shows that spanking increases their aggression later in life. After the action, explain why you gave the consequence, and return to positive social behavior. Read more on time-outs.
Try to prevent situations that may create an environment for tantrums beforehand.
This doesn’t mean making sure your child is never upset or always gets his way. Toddlers thrive on regularity, and major changes in their routine are hard for them. Keep regular, nap, snack, and meal times, and recognize that traveling or having guests over can disrupt this routine. If traveling, make sure to pack snacks and a comfy pillow, and if your mother comes to visit, give the child quiet time at their usual naptime to avoid tired tears later in the evening.
Resources for more information:
• “I Said I Want the Red Bowl – Responding to Toddlers’ Irrational Behavior” (PBS Parents)
• Essentials for Parents and Toddlers – Using Discipline and Consequences (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
• Toddler Development (U.S. National Library of Medicine)
• Toddlers (2-3 Years of Age) Development (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse