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toddler tantrums

Tips to Stop Tantrums

By Stacey Feintuch

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Your daughter is flailing her arms on the grocery store floor because you won't buy her the candy bar she sees (and wants!) at the checkout aisle. You feel like the entire store is staring at you, and the checkout woman can't scan your items fast enough.

Believe us, tantrums are totally normal. All those people gawking at you have likely been in your shoes. Tantrums can happen anywhere, anytime.

It's never a pretty sight when kids express their frustrations with a tantrum. But, sometimes it's the only way they know how to deal with something that's bothering them, like hunger, boredom or fatigue. Maybe they can't communicate what they want because they don't have the language skills yet to do so.

Whatever the case may be, you're likely desperate to learn how to deal with tantrums. Here are some strategies you can try so that there'll be fewer tears—for both of you.

Ditch the yelling.
Sometimes toddlers are just looking for a reaction. They try to test their limits with mom and dad. But, don't give them the satisfaction of losing your cool and raising your voice. Instead, take deep breaths and count to 10—or higher if needed! And remind yourself that you're the adult around here.

Don't ask questions.
A 2-year-old can't answer questions in the middle of the tantrum like, "Why are you fighting with your sister?" Asking him to explain himself will only make his rage persist.

Skip the empty threats.
If you say you'll turn off the television since it's nearly bedtime, then do it. If you tell her she won't have dessert at dinner if she doesn't leave the park when you say it's time, don't serve her the treat. Be sure to follow through and be consistent. That way, she'll know what to expect next time.

Avoid reasoning.
As with answering questions, reasoning typically goes out the window during a toddler's tantrum. "Why don't you understand that you can't have a lollipop before your dentist appointment?" won't make any sense to him. Trying to rationalize with kids when they're in a rage can be downright impossible.

Don't ignore her if she could hurt herself or others.
Experts are divided on whether you should or shouldn't ignore a kid who is having a tantrum. But they do agree that you shouldn't ignore her if she's at risk of doing something that could hurt her like running into the street. And don't walk away from her if she's biting, kicking, throwing or hitting a person or pet. Stop those behaviors immediately and remove her from the situation. In fact, you may want to adopt a zero-tolerance policy for such actions.

Create a plan.
Going to the grocery store or on another errand? Be sure your child is fed and rested. Temper tantrums are common in kids who are hungry or tired. Bring something to occupy him like a toy or book because boredom is another tantrum trigger. And get him involved in the activity, like choosing what fruits to buy at the supermarket. Know your child's triggers so you can plan accordingly and heed off tantrums as much as possible. And realize that you may need to stay home so your child can nap instead of tackling your to-do list. That might just be better for everyone.

Give warning.
As you hop in the shower, your daughter can't find her favorite stuffed animal. You tell her she has to wait until you're done, and she isn't happy with that response. Next time, give her plenty of warning that you'll be showering—or talking on the phone or leaving the park or other change. Kids this age don't like surprises; they like to know what's happening next. Giving a heads up will comfort your child and give a sense of control.

Practice distraction.
Before a tantrum reaches its full force, consider moving your child to another room or giving him a different toy. In a mild situation, use humor like a silly song or face to make him laugh or get distracted (as long as he knows you're not mocking him). It's not too difficult to get a toddler to chuckle—they're easy to divert.

Stand your ground.
It can be tempting to just say to a screaming child, "Fine, we can stay at the playground 10 more minutes." But caving will show her that tantrums can bring results. Rather than negotiating with him, offer some limited choices. "You can go down the slide once more or get five more pushes on the swing. Which do you want to do?" Providing limited choices that are direct will help give her a sense of control and independence and not make her feel like she's always being told what to do. Next time, warn her before you get ready to leave the playground. Say something like, "One more time down the slide and then we have to go home."

Pick your battles.
If all you do is say no, that will just stress out both of you. Maybe it's fine if he has that extra healthy cracker since you aren't eating dinner for another hour. Save your battles for when it really matters, such as when he wants unhealthy sugary treats or wants to buy a toy that's a choking hazard. Try to actively avoid having to say "no" all the time. For example, childproof your home so you're not constantly saying, "No!"

Talk about it.
After the tantrum has passed, put your child in your lap and talk about what happened. Use simple language to help her express herself like, "You were upset that I didn't know what toy you were looking for. Now that you've calmed down, you can tell me what you want to play with." That will help her understand that using words gets good results. Hug her and move onto another activity; don't dwell on the tantrum.

Seek help when needed.
If tantrums are happening daily or worsening or you feel like you're in over your head, speak with your pediatrician. Also talk with the doctor if your child is hurting himself or others or holding his breath during tantrums to the point of fainting. Your pediatrician can make sure no underlying psychological or physical conditions are contributing to the problem. And, your pediatrician can offer ideas on how to handle tantrums. He may also refer you to a school or community program or a mental health care provider.