First off, I must say, that I don’t think there is a magic cure for reducing toddler tantrums! Kids will be kids and they will have tantrums, they will whinge and wine! That’s life. But I do think, there are ways of managing these tantrums and ensuring they don’t happen ALL the time, which is what was happening to us when we had this turning point.
All in the space of three months Harper started child care, we moved to a new house and she got a new baby brother. This was a lot for such a little person to take on. It was around this time that Harper entered the world of the terrible twos. She was only around 18 months at the time, but being quite an intelligent and verbal little girl, it hit her early. She was winging ALL the time and throwing tantrums NON-STOP!
Jase and I were pulling our hair out! How were we going to deal with this??? Especially with a newborn baby.
I stumbled on this podcast that totally spoke to me and I must say I am so sorry but I can’t for the life of me remember who it was or where I found it (“gee thanks Mel, I hear you say”) but it changed our lives and how we parent. So, to make it up to you I’ll share the key points we got out of it.
One night, Jase and I lay in bed together listening to the podcast (how romantic!), and we were amazed! It made us see what we were doing in a completely different light. It was like someone had been observing directly into our house!
It asked… do you feel like you’re being bossed around? Do you find yourself constantly at the beckon and call of your toddler…? Do you constantly hear things like;
“Mummy, get my drink bottle” … YEP!
“Mummy, open the window” … YEP!
“Mummy, pick me up” … YEP!
“Mummy, I don’t like this” … YEP!
“Mummy, I won’t wear that” … YEP!
Jase and I looked at each other, Harper was doing it all.
It then said, “Do you ask your toddler BIG questions?
“What do you want to wear today?”
“What would you like for breakfast today?”
“What should we do today”
We were YES for all the above as well.
What this podcast was really getting at was pointing out the obvious… Harper was running our lives. She was bossing us around. She was making all the decisions and we were letting her. We were responding to her demands. We were not in control. We were not being the parents. She was!! Because Harper had so many changes in her life in such a short amount of time, we were letting this happen. We just wanted to make her happy. We didn’t realise how unstable it was making her feel. Kids need rules and boundaries to feel safe.
So, this is what we did and let me tell you, we saw results INSTANTLY!
We took charge. We became the parents. We started making the decisions.
We stopped giving her so much free choice but still gave her choices. Kids like feeling involved in decisions and they like feeling important. But if you give them too much free choice, it can be quite hard and confusing for them. So instead of asking Harper what she wanted for breakfast that day, we would ask her “Harper, would you like toast or Weetbix today?” When asking her what to wear for the day, I would pick out two outfits and give her the choice between the two. Still give her some choice. But not free choice. You choose two options and she chooses between them. This way they think they have power but really, you are still totally in control. In saying this, there are some things as a parent, that you should obviously just decide on. Don’t give them options for every decision, you’ll get nowhere. You are the parent after all.
We became decisive. I know I’m an indecisive person (I blame this on being a Libran) but I never realised how indecisive I was in making my parenting decisions. Harper was totally taking advantage of this. She would ask me if she could watch TV, I would have to think about it and I’d umm and I’d ahhh. She would whinge and eventually I would say yes. This taught her, that if she whinged, there was a possibility I would change my mind. What this podcast taught us, is to be more decisive, pick your battles, say yes or say no, mean it and stick to it!
We stopped letting her boss us around. If Harper demanded something that she could do herself, we stopped doing it for her and made her do it. For example, “Mummy, get my drink bottle” I would respond with “No Harper, you can get it yourself, it’s on the kitchen table”. And if there was something that she couldn’t get or do herself, I would only respond to her demand, if there was a please and/or thank you in the sentence. I can’t believe I didn’t realise earlier that this was happening. But it was a big game changer for us.
I know they seem like small changes but no joke, Harper’s behaviour changed straight away. She was a different child. She became happier, more relaxed and the tantrums decreased significantly. She preferred having parents who were in charge. Of course, she still had her moments when she wanted something and we would say no. But she learnt very quickly that no meant no, yes meant yes, so there was no need to push us and test the boundaries like she had been doing in the past.
All behaviour happens for a reason. Now this is something I learnt when studying the science of behaviour. All behaviours occur because they have been reinforced in the past. So as parents we also really need to think about what we do when our child throws a tantrum. If we give in, even if it’s just occasionally, then we are reinforcing this behaviour. Think about it. So the key here is to try and ignore the unwanted behaviours. Reinforce/praise/reward the behaviours we want to see more often. And this should also drastically help with toddler tantrums too.
Can you change something in the environment to help manage or avoid the tantrum before it happens? This is another great tip I learnt when studying the science of behaviour. If you know your child gets upset when hungry or tired, etc. Can you try and preempt these situations and feed them before they get hungry and give them their nap a little earlier? I promise you this has worked for us as we have learnt that our kids get angry when hungry.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re not experts or perfect parents by any stretch, and we still have bad days, but overall these slight changes made a big difference for us.
For those of you who can totally relate to this, I’d love to hear what’s worked for you? And for those, of you still struggling with tantrum after tantrum, give some of these tips a shot and let me know how you go.
Cheers to a bit more peace and quiet.
PS. This article was also featured on Kidspot