9 Tricks To Eliminate Tantrums

As any parent knows, tantrums with our little ones tend to sneak up on us. For the first weeks and months, it seems as if we have this sweet, charming little baby who could never be capable of behaving the way we see other slightly larger kids behaving. Inevitably, one day the tantrum faucet gets turned on and we can feel overwhelmed and unsure of how to turn it back off. While some tantrums make us turn around and hide our faces while holding in a laughing fit, for the most part tantrums are not our favorite part of parenting. In this article we are going to lay out how to minimize the frequency and intensity of tantrums. I have yet to meet a parent who joyfully looks forward to a toddler meltdown at the grocery store! The tips and tricks below are ALL worth trying.

1. Try to Avoid Saying "No"

I'm not suggesting you give your child whatever they want, I'm suggesting that as often as possible if your response to them is going to be “no," try to rephrase your response in a positive way. Here are a few examples.

Child: May I have a cookie?

You: Right now we're having apples or grapes. Which would you like?

You're still saying no, but you aren't saying the actual word “no.” With toddlers and preschoolers, the actual word "no" is more upsetting than whatever it is they aren't getting. This is because they hear no all day long. It's their job to explore and test boundaries. It's our job to show them there is indeed a boundary. There's no way around the fact that we have to say no multi-ple times throughout the day. Here's another example:

Child: (Wanting to or currently eating with their hands)

You: Please show me how good you are at holding your fork.

Or this one...

Child: (Driving their toy car on a surface you don't want scratched up)

You: Let’s see how fast your car will drive on the kitchen floor! Let’s try together!

Basically, if it's possible to phrase the “no” in a positive way while still maintaining your loving authority, try that first. You'll be shocked how often you avoid a meltdown with this simple manipulation of your words. Don't confuse this advice with me giving you permission to never say no to your child. It’s quite the contrary. You still need to set boundaries and they still have to learn that they won't always get what they want. But this trick will often help you avoid the tantrum that was brewing.

2. Divert Their Attention from the Tantrum

This won't work as well with your 5 and 6-year-olds, but this works great with children ages 1-4. This will work to prevent a tan-trum as well as to stop a tantrum in its tracks. Let's say your little one has decided to throw a fit for one reason or another. While they aren't looking (and that is important), place something distracting or interesting on the floor where they will easily find it. It needs to be different or out of place enough to capture their attention. For example, a bowl of cotton balls, or 3 tangerines, or a pot and a wooden spoon, etc. Anything that will surprise them and make them curious. They trick here is, you cannot be seen when you place it there, and you cannot be looking when they discover the item you put down. Especially with older ones who will be more suspicious. Just quietly and quickly set it down and then move on with the dishes or chatting with your spouse or whatever you are doing to not give any attention to your child that is throwing a tantrum. This is another trick that will really surprise you how well and how often it works.

3. Give Choices Within Your Pre-approved Boundaries

If you know you are arriving at an event your little one will be upset about, frame it like they have a choice. Rather than saying, "It's time to leave the playground," you could say, "Would you like to leave the playground in 2 minutes or 4 minutes?" Another example would be bedtime. Rather than saying, "It's time for bed," you could try saying something like, "Would you like to do books or pajamas first tonight?" Here’s one more example; let’s say it's lunch time, which can often be a tricky time for toddlers and preschoolers. Rather than placing their plate in front of them with no discussion, you can try this-"Would you like apples or grapes for your fruit today?" Or maybe, “Would you like to choose your plate and cup or should I choose for you?". So you see, the child isn't given the power to not leave the playground, or the power to not go to bed. Nor is the child given the power to dic-tate what he will and won't eat or demanding something else be made. The child is simply being given what feels like more con-trol and independence within boundaries you have already decided are okay.

4. Give a Countdown of Things Ending

Transitions are hard for little ones. One way to avoid a meltdown when something they enjoy is going to be ending is to give a countdown, so it isn't a surprise when it happens. Now obviously this trick is only effective with kids older than 2.5, as younger children aren’t super verbal. For the older ones, the following things are sad when they end: play dates, time on the playground, playing anywhere, anytime, in any context, reading bedtime stories, watching a show, having any sort of screen time, and bath time (for some). Rather than suddenly saying to your child, “Okay, it's time to go!" which is almost totally guaranteed to cause a tantrum, you can say, "Okay honey, you have 15 more minutes to play." When you say this, make eye contact, make sure they hear you and acknowledge you. I even like to throw in an extra reminder for children three and older: "Ok honey you have 15 more minutes to play, and are we going to leave with a good attitude or a grumpy attitude?” Then when it is 5 minutes, give a 5-minute warning. Once you do leave, and they do so with a good attitude, make a big deal of it. "Wow! Thank you for having such a positive attitude when we left!" This trick will make a big difference in how frequently you see tantrums if you use it consist-ently.

5. Remind Them of Rules Ahead of Time to Give Them a Better Chance of Success

Give your kids a better chance to succeed by reminding them of what you expect of them. If, for example, sharing has been an issue on playdates, you’ll decrease the chance of a melt down if RIGHT before you walk in, you go over your expectations. This needs to be done like so:

  1. Get on their eye level, don't speak from above, or from the driver's seat to the back seat, get down and connect.
  2. Remind them that you expect them to share toys with their friends. Next you have a chance to remind them of what to do instead of the impulsive behavior when they feel upset.
  3. This isn't a negative or punitive talk. You say this with total confidence that your little one will succeed. Smile and finish up the quick reminder by giving a high five and saying, "I know you'll do a great job sharing today!"

This is just an example of something that causes tantrums. The point is, discuss your expectations ahead of time and you are greatly decreasing the odds of a tantrum.

6. Distract with Laughter

If you are paying attention and are even halfway cognizant of the fact that your child is nearing the sleepy/hungry/meltdown stage and a tantrum is imminent, act fast and make them laugh. You can't do this once the tantrum begins because that would be giving positive affection and attention during a tantrum, which only reinforces the undesirable behavior. However, if you see it coming, and you get them giggling ahead of time, this will often be enough to avoid the incoming meltdown.

7. Reward Good Behavior

This one doesn't help in the moment, but it's critical over all to make sure you're rewarding desirable behavior as often as you possibly can. This doesn't mean giving toys or candy or screen time. And it doesn’t mean bribing. It means giving them what they fundamentally crave and need: Affection from you. A high-five, a big smile, a hug, a verbal acknowledgment of what they did that you liked. When your child is being adorable and well-behaved, you are going to actively decrease tantrums by acknowl-edging that you are happy with the choices they are making in the moment.

8. While in Progress, Don't Give Any Attention

This is another one that in the moment, won't prevent a tantrum and it won't immediately bring it to a grinding halt either. How-ever, if you do this consistently it will reduce the overall frequency and length of tantrums. Here's what you do:

Nothing. Don’t do anything. You literally step over the screaming child and keep doing whatever you were doing before. Email your cousin, fold laundry, ask your spouse how things went when he was at his dentist, etc. Give absolutely no emotional atten-tion to the screaming child. Even in tip number two, when I suggested using distracting to break up the tantrum in progress, no-tice I mentioned the importance of not letting your child see you during tip number two's strategy.

Unless the screaming child is doing something to physically put themselves in danger of course. But that is a different level of throwing a fit. In this article we are only referring to the run of the mill, screaming loud, kicking feet, crying, snot bubbles hap-pening, throwing themselves dramatically on the floor, standing at your legs jumping up and down, stamping their feet kinds of tantrums. You know, the regular ones. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a completely neutral non-response to your child throwing a tantrum. Don't get upset and frustrated with them. You can just be present, let them feel upset, and wait for them to calm down. Stay calm, indifferent, neutral and ignore the tantrum. The more you talk, try to use reason and logic, the worse the tantrum gets. There is simply no reason to be talking during a tantrum, with hardly an exception.

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