Like many adults, toddlers thrive under routines. The main reason that toddlers have tantrums is because they feel frustrated over a lack of control. They are getting to the age where they crave independence and want to make decisions by themselves. This means that when they don’t get their way or something unexpected happens, they have a tantrum. If your toddler follows a daily routine, they will feel like they know what is going to happen next and that they are in control.
Make sure they consistently wake up, eat, play, bathe, nap, and go to bed at regular times to decrease the risk of tantrums.
Make sure they are getting enough sleep
We all know that sleep is one of the most important factors in determining our mood and stress levels. Toddlers are no different. The Department of Health recommends that toddlers get about 13 hours of sleep per day, including naps. Tantrums are much more likely to happen when your toddler isn’t getting enough sleep.
Some parents find that no matter how hard they try, their toddlers just don’t seem to sleep as much as other children their age. If this is the case, Rebecca Chicot does ‘not recommend being complacent and assuming your toddler just needs less sleep than other toddlers… just because a toddler is wakeful for longer periods and seeming to cope doesn’t mean they are not sleep-deprived.’
Check if they have low blood sugar
Toddlers get just as hangry as the rest of us. If they eat a large meal that is high in sugar, they will probably have a blood sugar crash a few hours later, which can cause a tantrum. Try eating more foods that have a lower glycaemic index, like sweet potato, oatmeal, and fruit, as opposed to sugary cereals and white bread. This will make sure your child isn’t on a blood sugar rollercoaster and help to minimise tantrums.
Abide by their natural schedule
Toddlers crave independence, so love to do everything by themselves, but are still learning, which means they take their time. They will insist on putting their own socks and gloves on, no matter how late you are for an appointment. You might notice that the tantrums happen when you get frustrated and try to do it for them. In these types of cases, temper tantrums aren’t necessarily bad, they are just signs of your toddler’s blossoming independence. Try to manage your schedule around these sorts of things, giving him or her time to learn new skills.
The way you respond to a tantrum has a huge effect on their behaviour. If they want something they cannot have and you give in to the tantrum, they will think that tantrums are a way to get what they want. If you respond with equal anger and aggression, it is very difficult to get them to calm down. Dr Chicot recommends keeping your cool and making ‘soothing and calming noises’. Your toddler should start to mirror your response. She also notes, ‘when your toddler is having a tantrum she’s not on ‘receiver’ mode, so you need to calm her and get her attention if you want to impart any life lessons.’
Use positive discipline
Instead of punishing your toddler for bad behaviour, reward them for good behaviour. Being put in a time-out or on the ‘naughty step’ can be really frustrating for a child, making their tantrum even worse. Rather than getting angry when your toddler misbehaves, tell him or her how good it made you feel when they acted the right way.
Don’t battle with your toddler
Many parents refuse to give into the demands of their toddlers out of the fear that they will raise spoilt children. They turn even their toddler’s smallest defiance into an exhausting battle, usually causing a tantrum that is upsetting for everyone. To avoid this, try to let the small things slide. Dr Chicot notes: ‘This doesn’t mean giving in to every demand, but don’t see this as a continual battle of wills where all opposition must be squashed to avoid raising a brat.’
Your toddler is not capable of understanding your argument; it will only upset them further.
Speak their language
Toddlers understand time very differently to us. They might struggle with the concept of ‘five minutes’, or ‘in a bit’. Dr Chicot recommends putting time ‘into a context he will understand.’ Instead of telling your toddler they can paint in ten minutes, say, ‘we can get the paints out after we have fed the cat and I’ve washed the dishes.’
Toddlers insist on doing all sorts of strange things – from wearing their favourite coat to the beach during summer, to tasting the spicy food you’re eating. Instead of saying no and setting off a tantrum, just humour them. Chicot writes, ‘if your toddler insists on having a lemon for pudding it’s fine to let them learn the sour lesson that your suggestion would have been more delicious.’ Unless their choice would hurt them or someone else, try to go with the flow.
The Calm and Happy Toddler is the ‘how to’ and ‘why’ of toddler parenting. This book will help you understand your toddler, get on the same team and thrive together.