I have five tips to share with you that I have personally used with toddlers for over ten years as a preschool teacher’s aide and then as a speech therapist, and I hope you find them helpful.
Tip #1 Distract.
If your child is upset about something that he can’t have or can’t do at that moment, distract him with something else. The distraction I choose is usually music. I have a relaxing, calming song that I use to distract kids. Then, when the music is over, we can move on with whatever we need to move on to do. They’ve usually forgotten about what they’re upset about by this time.
Now, a disclaimer. I want you to be careful to say we are trying to distract, not bribe. Okay?
Tip #2 Avoid bribing!
Don’t let your child be the boss! Right? Don’t give in to the manipulation of the tantrum. It’s hard, I know. I’ve been there, where it’s like, “I just want to give in!” But don’t, because—remember—you’re not just raising a two-year-old right now, you are raising a future eight-year-old and twelve-year-old and sixteen-year-old. You want to make sure that your child learns from early on that you can’t be manipulated. So, be careful. Avoid bribing.
Avoid things like candy. Yeah, it usually works, but the problem with candy is the sugar. Sugar is rewarding to the brain. It is using a chemical to tell the brain, “Wow! I just got rewarded! Woohoo! I like that. I like sugar. I cried, and I got sugar. I’m going to cry more!”
Please don’t do it! Because they’ll learn. They are smart, and they’ll know: “I cry, I get candy.” So, be careful of that. Avoid the bribing, avoid the candy.
Tip #3 Be consistent.
Again, we’re not just raising a two-year-old. We’re raising a future teenager. So, they need to learn that when Mommy says no, Mommy means no. I use that phrase all the time. I use, “Kayla said no.” That’s how it is. Okay? It’s tough, but they learn. They do, and it’s essential for them to trust you.
There’s a certain amount of security that children get from knowing what to expect. So, if the rules are consistent—if Mom and Dad and all the caretakers are consistent— then eventually they learn to trust your word more.
Tip #4 “Don’t Watch the Show.”
I call this tip, “Don’t Watch the Show.” The show is the tantrum because that’s what it is, right? They’re putting on a show—a big, dramatic performance! Don’t be an audience member.
Literally, turn away. (You are still in the area and taking care that the child is supervised and safe but not giving direct visual attention to the behavior). This is actually written about in books, and it’s called different things, but I call it, “Don’t Watch The Show.” Turn away from the tantrum. You do something else. Okay?
Go ahead and distract. We talked about that tip: distract. You go and play bubbles. You listen to a song. You enjoy that song on your tablet, and you start singing it and having fun. Guess what? I’m telling you, I see it happen all the time. The kids get bored, and they think, “Uh, oh. Mom’s consistent again! She really means no. Look, she’s having fun over there. She’s blowing and popping those bubbles…All right. I give up.”
And they give up! They come over, and they start playing or watching the video with you.
Sometimes, they’ll stop crying just for a little bit, and then they’ll pick right back up. So, what I usually do is I count to five in my head as I’m distracting and having fun on my own over here. Then, if I hear them stop and I count to five in my head, I might turn to them, and I might say, “Oh, are you ready? Want to come?” (I use a soft, calming voice.) I’m not talking about the crying or reminding them of why they’re upset. I’m just saying, “Are you ready to come? Come on!”
I’m not going to beg the child. I’m not going to say, “Come on. Please come! Come on, come on, come on!” I don’t want them to think that they have the power. We’re not going to let them manipulate.
You can encourage them, but not beg them, of course. Most likely, the child will come over, and they’ll forget about it. But, if they resume their tantrum again, repeat the process and go back to having fun with whatever you’re doing.
Now, I want to put in a disclaimer. Of course, YOU are the parent. You know the difference between a fake cry and a real cry. Well, sometimes kids do work themselves up. They started with the fake crying, and now they really are physically upset. For some kids, they’re not very good at self-soothing—calming themselves down.
So, let’s say we’ve tried the “Don’t Watch the Show,” and we’ve tried the distraction, and we’ve been consistent, but they really have upset themselves. Then… it’s your call. You know, as the parent, when it’s time for you to provide comfort and help soothe them because they’re not able to do it on their own.
They may need a really nice, deep, big bear hug. A big, nice squeeze can be calming to the sensory system for most kids and helps them just kind of regroup and center again. Give some pats on the back and maybe give them some rocking in your arms.
These five tips are not for everyone, and you should defer to a child psychologist or a behavior specialist if you are having a lot of trouble with your child’s tantrum and behaviors.
Tip #5 Reward!
Reward when they have either soothed themselves or allowed you to comfort them. So, when the crying is over… reward the child. Let them know that you like that. Give a little special attention to that positive behavior.
I say things like, “Oh, good job. I see you’re not crying. I like that! Oh, that’s a happy girl. You make me happy.” I just spend a few moments talking about how well they recovered.
So, give them appropriate attention for appropriate behavior. Reward what you like.
Disclaimer: Every child is different. I am not a behavior specialist, and this is meant to be a general education based on my experience with children. Please consult a behavior specialist for specific recommendations for your family.