There’s no faster way to end a play date or shopping trip than your toddler hitting the deck and wailing while everyone around you stops and stares. But there are ways to stop a tantrum in its tracks…
It’s almost impossible to remember in the heat of the moment, but toddlers aren’t being naughty when they throw a wobbly. ‘They’re going through an important development stage and, as their language is still emerging, they’re usually just frustrated,’ says Joanne Mallon, author of Toddlers: An Instruction Manual (£7.99, Nell James Publishing). The good news is, this phase won’t go on forever – and there are ways to tame them.
At home or at a play date
Strategy: The naughty step
The naughty step, or time out, is where you remove your child from a tantrum situation, so he can calm down. ‘A meltdown needs an audience,’ says Joanne. ‘If you’ve tried negotiating and it hasn’t worked, give him a time out. Sit your child on a low stair, then crouch down his level. Calmly explain why he’s having time out, why his behaviour is bad and that he needs to think about it.
Don’t leave him for too long – one or two minutes is enough.
‘When his two minutes is coming to an end, kneel down to his level and explain his time out is up and ask him to say sorry for what he’s done,’ says Joanne. ‘Then give him a big cuddle and any bad feelings will soon be forgotten.’
When you’re in a rush
Strategy: The countdown technique
Give your toddler a time frame in which to do something. For example, ‘I’m counting to five, then I want you to leave the park/get out the bath/let me put on your shoes’.
This is good for older toddlers who understand numbers.
Issuing a threat at the end of it, such as ‘I’m going to count to five, then I’m taking your toy away’, means you must follow through. ‘Toddlers will learn quickly they don’t need to behave if you issue empty threats,’ says Joanne.
When you see danger
Strategy: The scoop up
While it’s preferable to calmly explain to toddlers why they shouldn’t do something, sometimes quick, physical action is needed, for example, if they’re about to step out into the road. ‘As parents, we want to stay calm, but, in dangerous situations, just act fast and use reasonable force,’ says Joanne. ‘It’s a horrible feeling making your toddler do something against his will, but sometimes it’s for his own good.’
Don’t feel guilty. ‘Toddlers won’t hold a grudge,’ says Joanne. ‘By the time you get home, you’ll still be beating yourself up, but he’ll have forgotten all about it.’
Special occasions and outings
Strategy: The distraction trick
The importance of situations like a wedding or eating out in a restaurant can be lost on a wriggly two year old. ‘This is when distraction is brilliant,’ says child psychologist Dr Angharad Rudkin. ‘There’s no point trying to reason with him during a wedding, so use distraction instead.’ She advises taking along favourite toys and books, then bringing them out one at a time to hold his interest.
If a tantrum starts to escalate, go outside. ‘It’s easier and fairer for you and your partner to take turns to go outside with your child,’ says Joanne.
When nothing else works
Strategy: The ignoring method
There comes a time during every tantrum when it’s easier to give up and walk away. ‘If you’ve tried everything, ignore a meltdown,’ says Angharad. ‘Only do this if your child is safe in your home or car. If you’re driving, it’s also safer to ignore the tantrum.’
Be ready with a hug once your child is calmer. ‘Toddlers often feel shame and sadness after a tantrum. So, when he calms down, give him a cuddle,’ says Angharad.