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Dealing with Toddler Temper Tantrums Part 3

Continuing on from my last post on Dealing with Toddler Temper Tantrums Part 2

Controlling the Situation and Environment

In the first part of “Dealing with Toddler Temper Tantrums” I mentioned the importance of understanding your child and being able to see the situation from his perspective.  Not only does this help you assess the best method for handling your child’s tantrums, but it also helps you pre-empt situations and conditions that can trigger more tantrums.  Awareness and empathy with your child helps you limit such situations which reduce the number of tantrums that your child experiences – and the number that you have to deal with.

1. Reducing Temptations

For instance, keeping objects that are off-limits out of sight and out of reach reduces the number of “battles of will”. It is the nature of a toddler to want what they can’t have, but if you keep these “forbidden fruits” away from curi0us eyes and hands, they won’t have to fight you for them.

Again, understanding your child can help you predict the possibility of such moments and take measures to circumvent them.  An example would be the crystal vase in grandma’s dining room.  If you are visiting grandma, you can make sure the door to the dining room is shut.  As the parent and adult, it is your job to think ahead of possible scenarios where your toddler can get into trouble and take the necessary counter measures.

2. Distraction

If a child is young enough, you can still circumvent the desire to play with “off-limit” objects using the distraction technique.  You can replace the coveted object with another equally desirable object that they can have or begin a new activity to replace the frustrating or forbidden one.  It is worth noting that older children tend to be more immune to this as their attention is more focused and not so easily diverted.

3. Avoiding Melt-down Situations

Most toddlers are more prone to melt-downs when hungry or tired – who isn’t?  Even as an adult, I know several people who get rather aggressive and moody when tired or hungry.  Imagine being a toddler still struggling to communicate this.  Sometimes when you’re overtired or too hungry, the sensations can become difficult to recognise – this is especially so with a child who is not experienced with their body’s signs.

Have you heard someone mention they were so hungry that they stopped feeling hungry?  That happens sometimes and a child who feels this way will not be able to communicate that he is hungry.  Remember that children can run on adrenaline, fun and excitement and “forget” the need to eat or sleep until it is too late.

If you know your child melts down more easily when hungry, keep a stash of snacks on hand for emergencies.  Be aware of when your child needs to sleep.  Look for the signs before he becomes overtired.  If you do happen to miss the signs (which can happen on a particularly busy day), don’t worry, just be aware of it and try not to get mad at your child for something that is beyond his control.

4. Keep Your Toddler Busy

Remember that a bored toddler is trouble waiting to happen.  By keeping activities readily on hand, you can avoid boredom from triggering confrontational moments when a child gets into trouble for doing something undesirable while looking for something to do. For example, offering toys to play with or colouring books to occupy your toddler so he doesn’t need to climb the chairs and tables at a restaurant.

One evening, I was busy in the kitchen preparing fruit juice.  Ordinarily, I would allow Gavin to help me.  On that day, I just wanted to get it done quickly as doing things with a toddler usually takes much longer, so I told Gavin he didn’t need to help me.  Left with nothing to keep his little hands busy, he started trying to take “interesting” objects off the kitchen counter-tops to look at them – including a sauceplate of chilli which he accidentally spilt in the process.

Positive Reinforcement

1. Provide Lots of “In Time”

Sometimes a child acts up because he or she isn’t getting enough attention from a parent. Studies have shown that children would rather experience negative attention than no attention.  In other words, a child that craves a parent’s attention would rather act up and be punished for it (thereby getting “negative attention”) than to be ignored completely.

By providing plenty of “in time” or opportunities for spending time together, you can ensure your child doesn’t need to act up to get your attention. A child who’s attention needs are satiated won’t need to seek negative attention by acting up.

There was an instance when Gavin swipped a cup off the table when I had been ignoring him one afternoon despite his numerous attempts to get my attention the regular way.  Initially, I was shocked and upset because Gavin wasn’t the sort of toddler to push cups off the table, but then I remembered the number of times he kept telling me his hands were dirty.  His hands weren’t dirty, of course, but he was using the excuse to get my attention and I kept telling him not to worry about it instead of stopping to listen to him.

2. Praise and Attention for Good Behaviour

Aside from providing lots of “in time”, always be on the lookout for good behaviour and reward your child with attention and praise whenever you can. This encourages them to act appropriately to gain more praise and attention from their parents.  For some parents, this can be a challenge especially when you’ve grown up in a negative culture, that is, being told off for your mistakes rather than being rewarded for your achievements.  Lots of Asian cultures tend to be like this.

You can begin by thinking of a characteristic you want to encourage and look out for it.  For instance, if you want to encourage your child to share, be on the look out for sharing moments and reward your child with lots of praise whenever he shares his toys, food, etc.  Once that particular trait becomes a regular habit, look for another characteristic to promote.

Select Your Battles

Before the age of one, a child is often encouraged to try everything. Every whim and fancy is met with a positive “yes”. As a child grows older, he begins to encounter more “nos” as he learns what behaviours are not acceptable and which objects are off-limits. The frustration of always hearing the word “no” can be very challenging – especially to a toddler who thinks he is the king of the world (as toddlers often do). It can be equally hard on a parent to always be at loggerheads with a child.

Try to minimize confrontations by assessing what your child wants to do before saying, “No.” Sometimes the activity or object is not necessarily an unreasonable one.  A great example is when a child wants to stop to play at the playground.  As adults, we’re always in a hurry to get things done and to move from one place to another.  Once in a while, slow down and accommodate your child’s request.

Ideally, you should try to accommodate whenever you can, especially with a young toddler.  Make sure you are firm and consistent when you cannot accommodate your toddler’s requests.  Having had lots of opportunities where your child has “won the battle” will help your child accept your “nos”. A toddler who hears the word “no” too often eventually becomes immune to it.  To keep it effective, reserve it for the non-negotiable events and situations.

There are many ways to manage your child’s temper tantrums.  Different methods have different success with different children.  As a parent, you must learn what works best for your child.  Much of it requires you to understand your child’s needs and feelings.  When armed with such insight into your child’s emotional world, sometimes you don’t have to wait until your child has a tantrum before you deal with it.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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