When your tot’s on the way to a meltdown, try these 5 tips for diffusing a toddler tantrum with minimal tears (yours included!). I’m going to be honest – we made it out of the terrible 2s unscathed. I was prepared for the terrible 3s as a result, and they went by without incident. We got into the 4s, and I let down my guard. That was my first mistake.
Four and a half hit, and a gremlin took over my son’s body. My kind, cooperative little boy disappeared, and in his place is a crazy person who rolls his eyes and smirks at me when I ask him to do anything. Although my son is no longer a toddler, and his tantrums don’t always come with tears, they are tantrums nonetheless, and these are the tried and true ways I’ve learned to diffuse them.
5 Tips for Diffusing a Toddler Tantrum
- Nip it in the bud before it’s in full swing. If you miss the window to stop a tantrum before it starts, move on to the next tip – this one only works if the tantrum isn’t fully tantruming yet. The best way to nip it? Redirect by making it fun! The other night, I was getting resistance when I asked my son to put on his PJs. Rather than fighting with my tired and emotional little man, I told him I was going to start counting so we could see how fast he could put on his pajamas. Voila! He immediately cooperated because it was a game!
- Stay calm and whisper. Okay, so you missed the pre-tantrum window, and your little one is really going. Her emotions are raging, and she will feed off of your energy if you get upset or raise your voice. Instead, stay calm and talk in a whisper. In most cases, she will quiet down to hear what you’re saying.
- Just because your toddler is upset about something you may find silly, don’t forget that it is a huge deal to him. He really does feel as though it’s the end of the world because he didn’t get the blue plate at dinner. Tell him you understand how he’s feeling and explain why he’s not allowed to have the plate. Be specific: “Jamie, I understand you feel angry because you didn’t get the blue plate at dinner tonight, but it’s in the dishwasher so it can be clean for dinner tomorrow night. Tonight we have the green plate, and look – it matches your green beans!”
- Take breaths together. Get down at the same level as your child and look into her eyes. Tell her that you and she are going to work through this together and take deep breaths. She will most likely mimic you, and her emotion will fade as she focuses on what the two of you are doing.
- Hug and kiss until it’s over. When all else fails, I just grab my kids and hug them until the tantrum ends. I have a very hard time watching their little bodies rage with such strong emotion, and sometimes all I can do is hold them so they know I am with them. Once the tantrum is over, reinforce that you love them even when they are angry or sad. This helps set the stage for them to feel comfortable talking with you about their emotions.
If your child is a little older, you may want to revisit the tantrum after it’s over to discuss how it could have been handled differently. Ask your child to help you come up with ways that he can stop himself when he starts to feel very angry or sad. If he’s invested in the solution, it will be easier for him to remember it the next time.