Before having kids, you hear tales of epic meltdowns that come along with the “terrible twos.” Perhaps you even witnessed one of those meltdowns in the checkout line at the grocery store. And these tantrums can be over things that seem totally insignificant to us parents, but clearly mean everything to our kid. And while there’s plenty of great advice on how to handle your child's meltdown, there’s not enough info on helping parents deal with temper tantrums. Because the outbursts aren’t just hard on your kid; they take a toll on you, too.
Providing emotional support and helping your child through a tantrum is incredibly important. But you have to remember to support and care for yourself, too. If you’re not taking care of yourself, it becomes harder and harder to deal with the stress of parenting over time. There is a cumulative effect of repeated exposure to toddler meltdowns; dealing with the irrationality, mood swings, and stubbornness of a small person day in and day out begins to wear on you.
How can you cope with the stress of having a toddler in the house? How can you be the calm, strong presence your kid needs when you want to rip your hair out or scream right back at your screaming child? How can you be the calm eye in the midst of your toddler’s storm? Here are some ways to help yourself cope when your child is losing it.
1. Rehearse Beforehand
Having a plan makes life easier. If you know there’s a chance that you will have to deal with a toddler meltdown in the near future, decide how you plan to handle it before it happens. What lines will you have prepared to say? What is your backup plan? Having an idea of how you want to deal with a tantrum before it happens can make you feel more prepared and in control (of yourself) when it does.
2. Take A Deep Breath
This is classic anxiety-reduction. Breathe in, breathe out. Taking a deep breath can help ground and center you in the moment, and keep you calmer than you have a right to be in the face of your screaming toddler.
3. Walk Away
Just like when you’re arguing with your significant other, sometimes you just need to walk away. It’s OK to go into the other room and let your child get their feelings out. You don’t have to be there to witness every second of the meltdown. Give yourself some space (though I wouldn’t recommend this if you’re in public, for obvious reasons).
4. Validate Their Feelings
Being a toddler is hard. Do you know what it’s like to have very strong feelings that you think no one else understands and you’re not entirely sure what to do with? That’s what being a toddler is like every single day. Maybe they’re angry or frustrated. Tell them, “It’s OK to feel angry” or “I know you’re upset right now.” That doesn’t mean you have to give in to whatever it is that they want, but it does show them that you understand how they feel, and how they feel is perfectly valid.
5. Understand Toddler Development
It is incredibly helpful to have an understanding of why your child behaves a certain way. Claire B. Kopp, a developmental psychology professor at Claremont Graduate University, told BabyCenter that, because a child’s ability to express their wants and needs has not yet caught up with their ability to understand the world around them, they often get frustrated when they can’t express how they feel. This leads to temper tantrums. Understanding the tantrum as a normal developmental phase helps me stay calm, and maybe even grateful that my kid is hitting their milestones?
6. Change The Scenery
A change of scenery can be helpful for everyone. My daughter immediately calms down when we go outside. So when she’s having a rough afternoon, we’ll go outside and take a walk. It makes both of us feel better.
7. Talk To Them After The Fact
Once your kiddo has calmed down, talking to them about how they feel and how you feel is important. Try to help them articulate what they were feeling and why. This will improve their emotional intelligence, help them be more in touch with their feelings, and give you a better understanding of what your child is going through.
8. Practice Self-Care
Do something for yourself that makes you feel better. Is that knitting? Cooking? Drinking wine to your face? Binge-watching Netflix after your kid goes to bed? Whatever that thing is, do that thing. “Me-time” is a revitalizing and necessary part of rebooting and preparing yourself to face the next day.
9. Seek Support
Finding a supportive community that gets it, that will let you vent without trying to fix the situation (because, let’s face it, tantrums are a normal part of toddlerdom and there’s no quick fix for the behavior) can be a lifesaver. Whether it’s a group of other moms, your partner, your sibling, or your favorite online community, find support outside of your kids. Adult time and conversation is a necessary part of staying balanced when you spend most of your time arguing with a two-year-old.