The scene is painfully familiar to any parent of a two-year-old: A screaming, tearful child flings herself to the floor, stubbornly refusing to move as she kicks out wildly at anyone who tries to budge her. The distraught parent strains to comprehend what has caused the outburst: "What happened? What's wrong? I can't understand what you want when you're yelling."
So what is the best way to calm a toddler's temper tantrum?
First and foremost, stay calm. No matter how big a scene a child makes, a parent losing self-control creates an even bigger scene. Keep in mind that children need security; when their emotions spiral out of control, they appreciate their parent's matter-of-fact demeanor.
Second, do not bribe. This common-sense advice might seem self-evident, but the temptation to end an unpleasant scene quickly by the handiest means available can be overwhelming. While the disapproving glances of (probably childless) strangers might tempt to you squelch the tantrum at all costs, this tactic will certainly backfire in the long run. If you buckle under pressure and ply your little one with a lollipop, you may soon find that every outing becomes an ordeal. Remind yourself firmly that you will regret this course of action.
Whereas bribes are taboo, distraction, is definitely an important tool in a parent's arsenal. When you sense a storm brewing, look around quickly for something that might appeal to your child. Pets, trucks, airplanes, or construction vehicles can all be lifesaving diversions. If nothing around you seems likely to catch his interest, try giving your child a simple task he enjoys. For instance, you might ask him to fill a grocery bag or help empty the cart at the checkout counter if you are shopping. If you are at home, you can calmly begin reading your little one's favorite book. Quite often, he will slowly lose interest in his tantrum and become absorbed by the story and pictures he loves. Distraction works wonders, particularly when you catch a tantrum before it becomes full-blown.
Hug or Shrug
When your best attempts at avoiding the tantrum fail, however, turn your focus to calming your toddler down. Some two-year-olds will be happy to be picked up and held while their tempers fizzle out. Others, however, will resist being cuddled. If you are at home and your child does not want to be picked up, gently and firmly tell her that you see how upset she is and that you will be ready to talk to her when she stops screaming. Then go calmly about your business. Every few minutes, come back and gently remind her that you are there for her. Offer a hug. In all likelihood, after a few rejections, your little girl will snuggle up to you, relieved to have finished her tantrum. If she persists in her struggle, she will no doubt cry herself to sleep. You might feel a pang of guilt, but in all likelihood she’ll wake from her slumber happy and rested without any trace of the incident.
If you are in public, you do not have the option of walking away from your toddler. In this situation, the best tactic is to pick your child up and carry him away. Ignore the screaming and kicking, smile apologetically at onlookers, and find a private place where your child can unwind.
While tantrums can try your patience, make sure not to let them ruin your mood. Take comfort in the knowledge that as your child's ability to communicate improves she'll learn new, more mature ways to express frustration. Who knows, in a few years’ time, you might even end up being the subject of an angry tweet!