Toddlers and tantrums go together like milk and cookies, only a little less sweet. If you're like most parents, you worry about what to do when your kid hits the floor. Do you pick him up? Bribe her to stand and stop crying? Let him get the frustrations out of his system? You have to make a quick decision. After all, the clock is ticking, people are watching, and your patience is running thin.
What if you could learn to (sometimes) prevent an outburst before it begins? With regular observation and quick action, you can. First, you have to learn how to spot the signs of an oncoming tantrum. Little ones wear emotions on their sleeves. That's why you get impromptu hugs and hear over-the-top laughter all throughout the day. It's also the reason tears come easily and frustrations loom large over seemingly small issues. Toddlers do happy big and they do sad big. Believe it or not, this toddler tell is your biggest clue for tantrums on the rise.
You sometimes have just a few minutes—seconds even!—to pick up on the hints before emotions boil over. So you have to pay close attention. This is what you're looking for:
- Slumped shoulders and a face with a scowl
- Whining that can't be talked down with your tried-and-true method
- Playfulness interspersed with lots of laying down
- Your "no" is met with more anger than usual
- Thrown toys, books or food
As soon as you spot one of these signs, take action with these six ways to stop a tantrum in its tracks:
1. Provide a smart snack
Hanger—you know, hungry anger?—doesn't only affect adults. It hits toddlers hard, too, but they can't fix the problem as easily. Be prepared by stocking your pantry with smart snacking essentials and packing a snack for the kiddo whenever you're on the go. Be sure to offer food with plenty of protein and fat, like cheese, peanut butter crackers, a hard-boiled egg, or avocado, which energize little brains and bodies.
2. Encourage a nap
If hunger isn't the problem, sleep likely is. Toddlers need lots of rest. Sure, they fight sleep in hopes of playing a while longer, but their growing bodies need 12-14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period! Look at your schedule over the past few days, and if things aren't adding up, do your guy or gal a favor and make adjustments. In the moments before a tantrum begins, you may need to break a few rules. Rock your little one to a restful state before laying her down for a nap.
3. Take a walk
A change of scenery works wonders for the frustrated mind. And nothing is quite as relaxing as a dose of fresh air. So take your toddler for a stroll. Yes, even when it's cold. Just bundle up! Being outside allows a toddler to clear his head and take in the wonder of nature. It also frees you up from correction and discipline for a bit. A 30-minute walk can reset your entire day!
4. Read books in bed
Before a fit hits the fan, grab a stack of your toddler's favorite books. You'll know best whether this is a time when your little one wants your attention or needs to refocus. If it's time with you she needs, invite her up to mommy and daddy's bed for snuggles. Get comfy and flip through the books together. Or, if she could benefit from some time alone, place the books on her bed, set a timer and tell her you'll be back to hear all about the stories she read in just a bit.
5. Distract with enthusiasm
This tip is easy and effective. Simply take your finger, point at something—anything!—and discuss with passion. "Look! Look! Do you see that light? Look how bright it is! And it's so high on the ceiling!" Ask questions like you really don't have a clue about the answer. "Woah! What is that? A tractor? You're right, it must be a tractor! What color is the tractor? How tall do you think it is?" When all else fails, dive into a game of "No, I love you more!" with all the sincerity you can muster. Toddlers can hardly handle the humor.
6. Offer to help
Many a toddler tantrum is born out of anger for something they can't do. How discouraging right? The world is open to them; they're reaching out; and—bam!—they get rejected, either by a lack of ability, patience, or even mean ol' mom and dad. If you add to these frustrations that toddlers are still trying to learn to express themselves, it's no wonder they quickly melt into tears. A kind "Can I help?" goes a long way. With three words, you defuse the situation and bring about immediate calm. When you get the puzzle piece in place, the doll's hair braided, or the blocks stacked just-so, a quick follow-up conversation becomes a teachable moment. You might say, "Next time, instead of whining, ask me for help."