My toddler never wants to be outdone. Baby Z started walking at 8 months, climbs like a tree monkey, and jumps off the dock into the water with the big kids. So when she heard that toddlers have tantrums, she had to go all out on having her own.
Adjectives I'd normally use to describe Baby Z include sweet, calm, obedient,and shy. When she has a tantrum though, she turns into a possessed ninja. You know the look, arms and legs flailing, limp body on the ground so you can't pick her up, unintelligible screams. She shows true commitment to her tantrums, which I keep telling myself will turn into a trait that helps her in the future. Hey, it makes me feel better ok. Since she's my first child I was truly baffled by how to handle these tantrums at first, but I've since developed a set of tools to help me head off and handle the toddler tantrum.
Reasons Baby Z has had tantrums in the last 7 days:
- She wanted to buckle the stroller clips herself, but dad didn't know that and did it for her
- We wouldn't let her take all of the wipes out of the container in the middle of a hike
- I politely asked her to stop eating dog food
- I read the wrong bedtime story, you know, the one she asked me to read
- Baby brother was crying (I feel you Z, I feel you)
- Poking baby brother's eyes is not allowed, even if you are practicing the names of body parts
- Kicking the seat of the nice guy in front of you on the airplane is not allowed (Yes, an airplane tantrum. Be jealous.)
- The dog didn't want to play fetch
That's just a sampling of the toddler tantrum magic that Baby Z is working over here. So what's the perfect remedy for taming the toddler tantrum? Sorry, I don't have the perfect answer, as should be evident from the list above. However, we're making progress in heading off her tantrums by identifying some over her obvious triggers and changing our own expectations of what's reasonable.
1. Tired or Hungry?
These are the obvious triggers that we can do our best to avoid. Along with passing down his sweet brown eyes, my husband also apparently gave her the "hangry" gene. Baby Z can go from sweet girl to hangry beast in a a matter of minutes. While she does know the sign for eat and communicates it, we've learned that it's often too late for us to really get something healthy ready for her. I know keep a stash of healthy options available and ready to whip out at a moments notice. Cut fruit or cooked veggies usually work, but less healthy items like Goldfish or even a Hershey's kiss have come in handy as well in a pinch. We have done a better job of keeping an eye on the clock and having meals ready at Z time, instead of the time that would be more convenient for us. Same goes for naps and bedtime. Keep them consistent to avoid the tired toddler tantrum trigger. When she was upset I read the wrong bedtime story, she was really just overtired and her brain didn't know how to deal with it.
2. Reevaluate your Expectations
I have my easy going husband to thank for this one. When we returned from the grocery store and were taking groceries inside, Z decided she really wanted to buckle all of the buckles in our stroller parking lot. Buckling is one of her current favorite activities. I asked her several times to come inside and she was on the verge of a tantrum when my husband pointed out that we really didn't NEED her to come inside right then. He was right. Although I needed to get the groceries put away, I could do that while leaving the door to the garage open so that I could keep an eye on her at the same time. Yes, a fly got in the house and some of our air conditioned air got out. But Z happily buckled everything and then made her way into the house a few minutes later. No tantrum necessary. Since then I've learned to reevaluate my expectations and really consider the situation. If she isn't going to cause bodily injury to herself or anyone else, damage anything, or put herself in harms way I try to give some leeway and let her do what she wants. She's testing her independence and we can meet in the middle in terms of setting boundaries and saying no.
3. Leave Extra Time
Nearly all toddler tantrums are caused because you say no or the toddler isn't able to do something they want to. That might be because it simply isn't possible, isn't safe, or you have other plans about what they should be doing right then. Baby Z wants to do everything herself now. She is learning at an impressive pace and wants to test out her new skills and independence. That takes time. Time to velcro her shoes on herself. Time to pick out what diaper she wants to wear next. Time to buckle the car seat buckles herself. I realized I was trying to hurry her or just do these things for her. It takes considerably less time for me to put her shoes on her myself. Instead of telling her no because we needed to get moving I've left more time for everything and try to ask myself if I'm saying no because it's really not ok or just because it's not what I want. Again, we can meet in the middle. She doesn't get to dictate everything about our day, but I can give her extra time to do things herself when reasonable.
4. Get out of the Way
Seriously, sometimes once the tantrum starts you just have to move out of the way and let it happen. If they're in a safe place and aren't going to hurt themselves or someone else (you know, like baby brother) then you may just need to ride it out. I read a scientific article recently that basically stated that toddlers are actually out of their minds during a tantrum. Part of their brain just stops working. They haven't developed the ability to reason yet, so that's not going to work. So when the dog food eating tantrum hit, I let her lay on the living room floor and practice her ninja skills. It didn't take long before she forgot why she was even mad and was distracted by something else she realized she wanted to do right then.
5. Remove them from the Situation
You can't always just let them ride it out. Public tantrums are truly special. If possible, remove them from the situation. Sometimes just changing environments can reset Baby Z and calm her quickly. If not, then I can hopefully get her to a safe place where I can ride it out. If you can't remove them, like when you're on an airplane for example, then I suggest just crying along with them. While that's what I wanted to do while I got angry stares on the airplane, I held it together, and just held Baby Z tight. I let her know I loved her but her behavior wasn't acceptable and I'd be ready to help her when she calmed down. Sometimes the best you can do is keep them safe or remove them from the situation and try to talk about it once they've calmed down.
Clearly I haven't solved the tantrum problem. Baby Z will keep having them and teaching baby brother how to make the most of them. However I can recognize the situation ahead of time, give Z time to be independent when reasonable, and evaluate if I really actually need to say no to try and head them off. What are the ridiculous situations your toddler has had a tantrum about and how did you handle them?