Posts Tagged ‘tantrum’

When Good Toddlers Go Bad

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

When Good Toddlers Go BadI’m kidding. All toddlers are good. But sometimes, even the Perfect Baby has an off day. I would know, because our third child is a Perfect Baby and right now she is upstairs throwing an Exorcist-worthy fit that made me start thinking about tantrums and what having three very different toddlers has taught me about them over the years.

Tantrums or meltdowns generally begin occurring around 18 months. Your toddler is gaining a sense of autonomy, and is haphazard about when to use it. They are also discovering language. On top of that, they are developing emotions and learning how to deal with them. Plus, babies in general are always running little experiments to test the world around them: What happens when I drop my cup from the stroller? Refuse to eat carrots? Say “no”? Take someone’s toy? Sometimes, all these discoveries collide, and they end up in a meltdown. Growth spurts, fatigue and overstimulation can also play a part.

During a meltdown, your toddler’s emotions get ahead of their ability to communicate or understand what’s happening, and they lose it. No amount of bribing or reasoning can get them out of it. You have to go back to square one—nonverbal communication.

Here are the tools we have used to get through the toddler years with our girls:

  • Hugging, swaying and shushing. Some of the 5 S’s still work at this age. I wouldn’t try to swaddle a toddler in mid-tantrum, but swaying and shushing while you hold them close can be reassuring and help bring them back to a state of calm. I tend to shush or say, “I’m here, It’s OK,” over and over. I personally don’t like it when people say, “Don’t cry!” or “Calm down,” to toddlers. When I’m upset the last thing I want is someone bossing me around, and babies absolutely understand everything you say.
  • Teething/Colic tabs. I love Hyland’s because they are homeopathic. Remember, toddlers are still getting molars, and they hurt the most before you can see them. I even used Hyland’s when my oldest was having night terrors and would wake up inconsolable. They helped her calm down enough so that she could talk to me and tell me what was wrong. If you don’t have any, just brew some chamomile tea and mix it with juice or milk.
  • Going outside/Going for a walk. It doesn’t matter if it’s day or night, the fresh, outdoor air can calm a baby really fast. I never quit being amazed at how sometimes, the moment we stepped outside, the crying stopped.
  • Playing a favorite song. Each of my children had distinctly different songs that made them stop crying immediately. Right now, Clara is upstairs with Galactic’s “Hey Na Na” on repeat. Alice liked ‘90s alternative. Maisie would stop crying every time she heard “Clap Your Hands” by Britpop singer Sia. Whatever works.

It’s possible that if your toddler had colicky or fussy periods as a baby, you may experience a little flashback to that desperation and frustration you felt when your newborn baby cried for hours on end. Toddlers are stronger than babies and can accidentally hurt you during a tantrum, and it’s easy to feel like they did it on purpose, especially if it really hurt or if you feel like the whole day has been a struggle.

If you feel yourself getting angry or you stop feeling sorry for your crying baby, put her somewhere safe, like a crib or pack n play, and walk away for a few minutes to compose yourself. Ask your spouse to take over for a bit. Call a friend, neighbor, grandma, or resident baby whisperer for back up if you’re home alone. These feelings will subside, but they can be scary at the time.

The tantrum phase doesn’t last. Your toddler will learn to use words, deal with emotions, and transition from activities with ease, and you’ll feel like a capable parent again. For now, turn up the music, grab some wine and go to Reasons My Son is Crying for a cathartic laugh.

Erin Burt is a freelance writer and mother of three who survived two toddler phases and is patiently waiting on her Purple Heart to arrive in the mail. She lives and writes in Queensbury, New York.

API Principle #3: Respond with Sensitivity

Friday, November 18th, 2011

Responding with Sensitivity is the 3rd principle of Attachment Parenting International. This one really hits home for me right now as I have recently been struggling with the intense emotions of my almost three year old son. Reviewing the information from API regarding tantrums provides me with perspective and clarity on how I can best respond during these highly emotional episodes. The following two statements were the most meaningful to me:

  1. Some emotions are too powerful for a young child’s underdeveloped brain to manage in a more socially acceptable manner
  2. A parent’s role in tantrums is to comfort the child, not to get angry or punish her

The first statement helps me accept that my son is expressing his emotions in developmentally and or age appropriate ways. While I might desire for him to better cope with disappointments or frustrations, I need to remember that he may not actually have the ability to do so during times of highly intense emotions. Simply recognizing that he is expressing genuine emotions to the best of his ability, helps me respond with more compassion and sensitivity. For example, rather than belittle (oh, it’s just a balloon, we’ll get another one next time) or berate (you should have held onto it tighter) I can acknowledge and label the intense emotion (you are really upset the balloon floated away). In doing so, I am helping him process the intense emotion he is experiencing.

The second statement is worded quite perfectly. I like that it gives parents guidance on what to do during tantrums. So often a child’s tantrum makes a parent feel out of control and helpless. We simply want it to stop, but often don’t know how. We end up trying everything and anything we can think of that might bring an end to the tantrum and when that still doesn’t work, we get frustrated. In attempt to regain control over the situation we might begin to threaten punishments. However API encourages us to take a step back and let go of the need to feel in control. We can allow our children to express intense emotions and support them through it. Because the more opportunity they have to express those feelings, the more refined their ability to express them becomes. When we validate their emotions, we affirm that what they are expressing is worthy of being heard.

Much of the above relates to older children, so you might be wondering, well what about babies? What does API say about responding to their emotions with sensitivity? First they state that “Babies’ brains are immature and significantly underdeveloped at birth, and they are unable to soothe themselves” And it is “through the consistent, repeated responsiveness of a compassionate adult, children learn to soothe themselves” (, 2008). They recognize the importance of the child’s relationship with the primary caregiver in providing a secure foundation for the child. It is completely normal for a baby to want to be in close physical contact with their primary caregiver and to feel anxious when separated from them. This does not indicate that a child has been spoiled nor has an insecure attachment. Rather that the child is developing life-long relationship building skills such as trust and empathy.

This is all stuff we know and aspire to do, but yet it can be so challenging to actually implement. As parents we are often tired, in a hurry, have a mile long to-do list, and all around operating at (or beyond?) our maximum. All of that combined can make it very difficult to respond to our children’s intense emotions in a gentle, compassionate, and sensitive way. It takes a great deal of energy to be intentionally present with our children during difficult emotions. Although the benefit is the close connection we form with our children through parenting consciously.

What do you do when your child has a tantrum? What has been a helpful approach and/or mindset in responding to your child(ren)’s intense emotions?