6 tactics to defuse a toddler tantrum

While my first born was never particularly into tantrums (persistent whinging is more his style), my second, Alfie,who is two this week, is all about fist-pounding, ear-splitting explosions in the most public places.

There is heaps of advice out there about dealing with a toddler tantrum; lengthy books on the subject by well-meaning (but often desperately irritating) parenting experts.

But as every tantrum is triggered by slightly different circumstances, I haven’t found a one-stop solution. Or any real solution at all in fact.

I do find, however, that deploying one of the five tactics below seems to help sooth the situation.

Or maybe it’s just that I calm down if I feel like I’m doing something.

Any other suggestions gratefully received!

– Distract

This only works when I’m on the ball enough to sense a tantrum coming on. Then it’s a question of airlifting him out of the particular situation and distracting him with something else – a different toy or book, another type of food, something else to look at, a change of scene.

However if he has already become fixated on, say, using his toy hammer to “do building work” on the plantation shutters, it’s too late and any attempts to distract lead to a roar of indignation and tears of rage.

– Empathise

I’ve been trying this one a lot recently after reading this article on Huffington Post blaming a “lack of connection” with parents as one of the top reasons for tantrums – and warning against using “naughty step” and “time out” (leaving toddler on their own) as coping strategies. (I’ve tried both and now feel very guilty).

“Common causes [of tantrums] include the arrival of a new sibling, starting nursery or the mother returning to work,” says parenting expert Sarah Ockwell-Smith, who wrote the blog on Huffington Post. “In each case the toddler feel less connected. This lack of connection leaves the toddler feeling highly vulnerable, confused and scared.”

So rather than ignoring Alfie, I try to work out what exactly has triggered the tantrum (not always easy) and then agree with him that whatever it is is annoying/ unfair/ frustrating. Once he knows I’m on side, it’s easier to distract him (see above) or help him to calm down.

toddler tantrum

– Cuddle

This one follows on from the above. Apparently (according to parenting guru, Rachel Waddilove) there are two main reasons toddlers have tantrums: frustration and sadness. If you think about it, neither of these is a punishable offence.

So as tempting as it is to tell Alfie to get off the floor and stop crying, I’m experimenting with cuddling him to show him how much I love him. Admittedly he usually pushes me away and carries on tantruming but it’s definitely worth a go!

– Give space

While excluding a tantruming toddler is now thought to be the wrong thing to do by child psychologists, in certain instances Alfie definitely needs space to calm down. Sometimes, if I take him somewhere quiet, tell him to take a deep breath, and then start getting on with something myself – where he can still see me – he will pull himself out of it. And my pulse will stop racing, too.

– Keep calm

Public tantrums are so stressful. I feel like punching anyone who so much as looks at us. A few weeks ago I had a particularly grim flat-on-the-floor tantrum experience in the doorway of the giftshop at Battersea Zoo. Alfie and I both left in tears. But me getting worked up only makes Alfie feel worse. As Ockwell-Smith points out, toddlers HATE having tantrums as much as we hate witnessing them.

They feel humiliated that they’ve lost control. So I now try to force a smile on my face,  to make light of it ….. and then get a migraine later.

– Give in

Parenting experts will probably kill me for saying this but this can also work! I’m not saying I always give in to every tantrum. Very often there’s nothing to give in to: if he’s pissed off at his Brio train carraiges for not magnetising together properly, there’s little I can do about it.

But if it’s something relatively innocuous, like he wants to take a wooden spoon from the kitchen drawer to the park with him (this happened last week) I think twice before interfering. Often my own arbitrary rules just aren’t worth enforcing.

NB: Alfie’s grandfather has another tactic…. the lollipop.

This tends to be every bit as  successful as any of the above (or more!) and if you arm yourself with a sugar free Chuppa Chups you don’t have to feel so bad about it.

More from Anna Tyzack

Adam Shaw’s Nutritious Chicken Pie

You don’t get a much more comforting food in this cold weather...
Read More