Toddlers, Tantrums and Sleep
Imagine this scenario: Your toddler is having a great time playing outside. He’s got his favorite fire truck and he’s rolling it through the dirt. Now he’s finished playing outside, but not finished playing with that dirty fire truck and wants to bring it inside onto your lovely white carpet. You tell him “that is an outside toy, if you want to play with it, you have to play outside”. He then has a tantrum so epic that you can’t help but think your neighbors will all put their houses up for sale! Can you relate to this? I can, because it happened to me yesterday.
Despite the fact that I’ve been a counsellor for 7 years with a focus on parenting, I’ve taught parenting classes, I even work in a parent-child playgroup, neither of my children have perfect behavior (often far from it!). As frustrating as it is, it is completely normal. Toddlers LOVE to test limits as they learn and grow. They want to see “what will happen if I ________?”. They also don’t have as many tools for coping as adults do. If I toddler is frustrated, hungry, tired, mad etc they generally don’t have the understanding, language and/or the skills to deal with their emotions. Think about how you feel when things turn out in a way you didn’t expect. If you just spent an hour preparing a great dinner and it came out of the oven burnt, how would you react? Do you yell, swear under your breath, chuck the meal in the garbage? Whatever it is, you probably have the coping skills to keep under control (at least mostly!). Toddlers don’t have these skills…yet. This is the time where they can start learning with a lot of help and patience from you.
With toddler tantrums, the first thing to think about is why is your toddler doing this? There are different reasons for tantrums. If you think your child is having a tantrum due to a physical need (eg. hungry, hot, tired etc) or something disappointing has happen (eg. a special toy broke, had to say goodbye to grandma), then the best course of action is to provide comfort. I think of these a little less as a tantrum and a little more as a “meltdown”. This isn’t really naughty behavior but more of an intense emotional reaction. In this case, try and hug or soothe your child. Let them know you understand and you are there for them. On the other hand, if your child is having a tantrum because they didn’t get want they wanted or because you removed a toy due to a bad behavior, then it is better to ignore this behavior. Anyone who has ever attempted to reason with a tantruming toddler can understand this. As long as your child is in a safe place, quietly ignore them until the tantrum is over. Do not leave the room, but wait patiently without speaking for it to end. This is very difficult, but if you can stay consistent, you will reduce the behavior. If your child is throwing things or hitting, you will need to take them to a quiet and safe place until they calm down.
When you go through a phase of difficult behavior from your toddler, it can often feel like you are saying “no” or getting angry with them all the time. Try and forgive yourself, as it can be a huge test of patience to get through these stages.
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