With five kids between us, my husband and I have experienced too many toddler tantrums to count. From mornings where no one seems to want to wake up, eat breakfast, or find their freaking shoes to bedtimes that seem to last forever and make us want to cry, to everything in between. We've found it's best to get creative when you respond to your toddler's tantrums, at least until you figure out what works for your kid. In my experience, what works doesn't look anything like the suggestions you read in parenting books.
My partner and I consider ourselves to be peaceful parents, which means we don't use physical discipline, we believe in natural and logical consequences, and we try not to yell at our kids. It's a work in progress, and it's seriously hard sometimes, but it's generally more effective and fun than losing your sh*t every time your toddler has a tantrum. Most of all, we try to remember that kids respond to attention, whether positive or negative, so we try to give them lots of positive attention for being helpful and kind, rather than giving them negative attention during the moments when we'd like to give them away on Craigslist. (I'm kidding. We made them, so we'd totally list them on Etsy.)
We also try to remember that our kids are little humans. Most of the time, when a toddler throws a tantrum, it's because they are having a hard time. It's not because they are trying to give you a hard time. They have an unmet need and an inability to communicate, so they're frustrated about it. With any luck, if us parents can show our kids a little empathy, meet their needs, and stay calm, we might just find that we can teach our tantrum-throwing toddlers how to manage their own emotions and ask for what they need.
Give Your Toddler All The Snacks
Hanger is real. Heck, even I get super cranky when I am hungry. I have found that 90 percent of the time, hunger is at least a contributing factor to any tantrum. My solution is to always have snacks on hand.
Give Your Toddler A Play-By-Play
I call this sportscasting and it really works. It goes something like this: "I can see that you are having a hard time right now. What's going on? Is there anything I can do to help? Oh, you want a treat? I'm sorry, we're not having treats right now, but maybe later. I know that's disappointing."
This one makes you feel a bit silly, but it is great at letting your toddler know that you are there for them and care about what's bothering them. Also, it seriously helps me stay calm during moments when I want to scream.
Give Your Toddler Snuggles
I call this snuggling down or a "time in." Most of the time, when my toddlers throw tantrums it's because they are feeling emotions that are too big for them to effectively communicate with their little bodies. Some one-on-one snuggle time seriously helps both of us feel better.
Use The Counting Game
When my oldest used to throw tantrums as a young toddler, I would sit with her, hold her hands in mine, look into her eyes, and count to 30. After a few weeks, she started counting with me. At age 2, she was the only kid in her daycare class who could count that high, and all of the teachers thought she was a genius.
(Please don't tell them that the reason she could count to 30 was because she had a lot of tantrums that year.)
My husband is so good at this one. He tells the best jokes. I, on the other hand, have a terrible mommy brain, so I fall back on some old standbys. Either way, if you can get a giggle or snort out of a toddler, you are way more likely to be able to help them unwind from a tantrum.
In my previous career working with trauma survivors, I learned a technique called four square breathing. Basically, you breathe as if you are following the sides of a square: in for four, hold for four, out for four, pause for four. After you've traced your square for a few cycles, you seriously start to feel calmer and less panicky. I wondered if this would work with a toddler, and not surprisingly, it totally does. If your kid is into it, you can even have them trace a square with a crayon while they breathe.
Use Guided Meditation
Don't laugh, because this totally works. Seriously. I have found a ton of short guided meditation albums for kids on YouTube and Spotify. They really love to listen to someone's soothing voice tell them a story about going on an adventure or relaxing in the sand. I'm calmer just thinking about them.
Use Coloring Time
I would really love to color with my kids every day. It is calming for them, relaxing for me, and we love to spend time together doing something we all enjoy. Next time your toddler is getting worked up, try asking them if they want to color with you, or make it part of your nightly routine.
Help Your Toddler Convert Their Rage To Fun
In my experience most tantrums are generally the result of pent up emotion, trouble communicating or both. I have had a ton of luck converting that energy into fun — a race in the backyard, a dance party in the living room, building a pillow fort, dyeing our hair purple, singing karaoke — all of these are great ways to tackle toddler tantrums, and way more fun than time outs.
My magic words are, "That must be so hard." It works with adults, too. Showing someone that you care about them, what they are going through, and how they feel, makes them feel loved and validated. That's something that every toddler needs to make it through a tough time.