I have to admit, life with my toddler is never boring. She is SO busy, always experimenting, trying new things, copying what I do (sometimes things that I really wish she wouldn’t…). We’ve begun the journey of potty training, and she’s discovered the word, “Oops!” and finds excuses to use it quite often. We have also landed squarely in the midst of what I call Tantrum Time, that developmental stage when frustration cannot be contained and erupts in meltdown after meltdown.
I was reading this post over at White Cotton Peonies, and it got me thinking about some of the reasons why my little one has tantrums. It just cracked me up, because it is like reading a post about my life with my daughter. Our toddlers are trying SO hard to understand the world around them, and to have some sense of independence and mastery in it, but usually they’re just too little! Every day, we deal with tantrums that seem completely ridiculous and random. You know exactly what I’m talking about. Yesterday, we had a full scale meltdown (thankfully we were at home, so the scornful stares of strangers were avoided).
My sweet little baby is just learning about how to share. She likes to share her toys, her snacks, her cup, and even brings over imaginary food for everyone to sample. The expectation is that you will accept her offering with grace, and will nod approvingly and say, “MmmMMM!” That’s what you do when someone offers to share something great with you, right? Well, her Daddy was relaxing on the couch, and she brought over a handful of delicious, hand-gathered dog food. Straight from the dog’s dish. She held it out to her father, who absentmindedly turned his head away and said, “No, thank you. I’m not a dog.”
Cue the waterworks. Worst. Day. Ever. Little one was so devastated that she ended up chucking all of the dog food at ME (an innocent bystander, I may add), and dramatically running into the dining room, where she threw herself to the floor in anguish. It was all very sad. And, if you have a baby, you know that that was just ONE episode in an entire day of episodes. Because they’re toddlers.
I also had come across this post awhile ago over at Daily Mail, and I think it ties in quite nicely. Ridiculous reason after ridiculous reason for toddler tantrums. They’re so hilarious to us, because of how inconsequential they are. But the thing is, to our toddlers, these things are NOT inconsequential. They are very, VERY important things that they don’t have the emotional maturity to accept with any sort of grace and poise. I know that we parents get frustrated and we need to let off some steam sometimes. It’s difficult to manage these tantrums and pretend that you know what you’re doing in front of store clerks or mall-goers. It’s a pain to leave your cart in the aisle and retreat to the car while your child attempts to rearrange the cosmos.
However, something that Melanie says in her post, is often missed when we talk about the crazy tantrums our toddlers throw. She says, “She simply doesn’t understand her own emotions at this point.” That’s the key here. They just don’t know how to manage frustration, disappointment, anger, and sadness. Sometimes, they don’t know how to manage happiness or curiosity, as well. They are constantly learning and developing social and emotional skills. I think that, while it’s good and cathartic for us to be able to laugh about these wild moments in parenting, it’s also so important for us to be understanding and fair to the toddlers we know and love when they can’t contain their feelings. So this begs the question:
How can we teach toddlers to cope with difficult emotions?
I know that it seems like total chaos when you’re in the middle of a tantrum, and honestly, most of the time all you can do when you reach that point is to be firm, fair, and understanding until the storm has past.
- Don’t give into screaming demands, and don’t reward the tantrum with a treat or a toy. Stay firm.
- No need to punish, spank, or yell. Your child isn’t having a fit to get back at you for something. Stay fair.
- Understand that your little one isn’t choosing to completely lose control of himself to the point of hacking, coughing sobs and snot running everywhere. This isn’t something that they can control just yet. Stay understanding.
In the midst of a tantrum is not the time to be working on building social and emotional competence. Honestly, the best way to help your child learn how to manage emotions is through play! At 17 months, my daughter is starting to really get into imaginative play. She’s making her toys talk to each other, pretending to cook, and taking imaginary dogs for walks. She’s starting to mimic what I’m doing around the house in her play, and that opens a great opportunity for me to be a model and be supportive when I see pretend coping techniques at play. My book, Little Bodies, Big Ideas, goes into detail in each of the Learning Center chapters about how different kinds of play support MANY types of development, including social and emotional.
Another great time to pinpoint and support coping like asking for a hug, going to find another toy or blanket, etc. is when I first start the see the beginnings of upset. Before the dog food is thrown, and before there is nothing but a red mist of rage and anguish painted across my home. Stopping her when I see the lip start to puff up and saying, “Oh, no! Daddy doesn’t want that dog food, but he might like a grape instead.”
Parenting is hard, and it’s crucial to find humor in it when we can. Be sure, though, to do your best to support your little one’s emotional growth and not get carried away with the ridiculous tantrums!