13 Ways to Raise a Tantrum-Free Toddler
(Above: Horus. Just want to note that I cannot take any credit whatsoever for his amazing and gorgeous fashion sense. I love it. What a guy.)
Contrary to what we often hear in North America, tantrums are not a normal aspect of childhood development. When a child has a breakdown, it is a sign that there is something wrong in their world, and that they are missing something they need. Children have tantrums because they are not being heard, because they are angry, or sad, or because there is something about their environment that isn’t working for them. Tantrums don’t happen out of the blue, without cause or catalyst. A child who tantrums is a child who has tried expressing himself (but not necessarily verbally) for some time, to no avail. A child who tantrums frequently, is deeply frustrated.
I want to emphasize that having a child who tantrums does *not* mean you are a bad parent! And while my kids have really only had major screaming breakdowns once or twice, I have come a long way in my consciousness as a parent–and I am still so far from being as effective a parent as I could be! For the most part, our issues lie elsewhere (I promise!)
But it is important for me to acknowledge that my children, and all children, are a reflection of their caregivers, and of their environment. Because when we realize that it is entirely possible to give our children the kind of environment, attention, respect, and experiences that allow them to communicate and be heard without freaking out, we can start to address the underlying issues that contribute to tantrums, rather than just dismissing this behaviour as simply an expected part of toddlerhood or childhood. And as we become more peacefully powerful and inspiring to our children, we are laying the groundwork for our kids to grow into powerful, effective, respectful and respected adults.
The following are some habits, approaches and ways of being that I have found
fundamental in creating the kind of atmosphere in which a child feels supported and heard and acknowledged to a degree that they don’t have to resort to tantrums to get the reaction they’re looking for.
1. Create a Secure Foundation of Attachment from Birth: If you’re reading this blog, you probably know how essential I believe birth to be, for every child. Birth does matter, as it sets the stage for so much of what goes on during the first year and beyond. Try to make peaceful birth choices. I have chosen never to use mother substitutes like bottles or pacifiers, or cribs, as I find that these tend to complicate the mother-baby dyad which, during the first year, is so simple and easy! Breastfeeding, co-sleeping and in-arms parenting has, I think, contributed to my kids’ secure sense of self, their independence, and their sense of security in the world.
2. Talk to your children: I strongly believe that we greatly underestimate our children’s capacity for language, both in terms of comprehension and expression. When we talk to our babies from birth, using rich, varied language, treating them like the brilliant, sentient beings that they are, they will grow into a world (and a relationship with us) that is similarly articulate and expressive. I am not even remotely interested in having children who speak “early” or who are “advanced”, for my own sense of intellectual superiority. I simply think that most kids, if they were spoken to like intelligent individuals from day one, (and spared the screen), would be able to express themselves more readily at age two than many kids are able to, without as many blow-ups. My kids all talk at what is considered to be a very early age (full sentences at a year), not because they are especially brilliant, but because I talk *to* them, all the time. And I do not mean holding up a spoon and asking them to “Say spoon! Say spoon! Sssppoooon… Say Spoon!”–an approach that drives me absolutely mad! Children do *not* learn language from adults who ape mindless didacticism! Children learn language in context! *only* in context!!–which looks like this: “Ok Felix, it seems to me that you’re famished! So why don’t you come here and have a seat on my lap..there you go! Now, I’m going to have a spoonful of yogurt myself, would you like a spoonful too?” etc. That’s how a kid learns the word “spoon” (and “famished”, and “yogurt”. You know what I mean).
3. Ditch the Screen Time: Studies have shown that the length of time children spend in front of the screen (computer, video games, tv), is directly proportional to a decrease in their vocabulary compared with other kids whose screen time is limited. Not only do children *not* learn from tv, but screens, in my observation, tend to engender obsessiveness, aggression, attention issues, and whining (which, as most parents know, is certainly related to the tantrum issue). I know that many parents use the screen as an effective short-term babysitter. But I *promise* that ditching the screen all together will, in just a couple of days, have the effect of calming everyone down, and removing what is, for many families, a source of whingeing, tantrums and sometimes outright conflict.
4. De-emphasize stuff (toys): So many tantrums and blow-ups involve toys. I have found it useful to just simply not have very many toys around, since day one. My kids play with sticks and clothespins, and rocks. My response to conflicts about sharing is very low-key. I lovingly acknowledge the feelings of both party, I remind everyone that the toys are for all of us, I find new toys or objects to play with, and we all move on. I try not to scold, or to label anyone victim or perpetrator. The feelings matter. The objects do not.
5. Abandon threats, bribes, rewards and punishment. While threats, bribes, rewards and punishment might seem to “work” in the short-term, these are not strategies which create strong loving, joyful ties between parents and children. If we want our children to be constructive, dignified and respectful, we need to comport ourselves with those qualities. While I admit I often fail, I do make every effort, every day, to inspire my kids as their leader, rather than bullying them like a dictator. Bribes, rewards and the removal of favourite toys or “privileges” simply serves to fetishize objects, entrench consumerism, and create false incentives. I want my kids to discover the intrinsic motivation for honourable behaviour, rather than basing their comportment on whether or not they’re going to get something in return. And when we bribe, withhold, or use objects to motivate our children, we are setting ourselves up for a constant upping of the ante, power struggles, and tantrums.
6. Say Yes, to almost everything: Every single situation, if we rotate it, just a little bit, involves a yes, somewhere. You’re at a store, and your child sees a toy, and wants it. “Yes! It is a really beautiful truck. I can see why you like it so much. Let’s take our time and play with it for another few minutes, and then maybe we can come back and play with it again next week.” When my kids ask me for something, they almost always get a yes: Yes, some day. Yes, for your birthday, or just, Yes, I understand why you’d really like to have that. I don’t *ever* capitulate to demands, and because they simply know that this is the reality of being my child, there are rarely any demands made, nor is there much whining, or tantrums.
7. Don’t tell your children how they feel: Most of us grew up with parents or caregivers or teachers or well-meaning adults around us saying “You love [this food]” or “You’re not hurt, stop crying” or “You’re ok”. I have had to train myself out of this behaviour. When I stopped to think about what I was doing, I realized that *I* hated it when people told me how I felt as a kid. But it is also an insidious behaviour, that undermines kids’ sense of self and agency in the world. It is also patronizing, paternalistic, and leads to frustration, self-consciousness and the second-guessing of our all-important intuition. And of course, these real canada goose norwegian outlet are often at the root of why children tantrum.
8. Attend to your kids’ primary needs: Children are far less prone to feeling upset and overwhelmed when they are well-rested, well-fed, and well-attended to. Kids cannot spend all day in a vehicle, or shopping, and be expected to keep it together. I have learned this one the hard way. Don’t push it! I try to shop for groceries only once a week, and my preference is to go by myself, (a huge treat! rarely happens!)
9. Model calm: Children really are a reflection of their parents, caregivers, and environment. Conflict and chaos, while sometimes unavoidable (!), are hard on everyone, when sustained. I do a lot less freaking out now, than in my younger years. Everyone is better for it.
10. Validate and acknowledge your kids at all times. No matter how atrocious our kids’ behaviour sometimes is, the feelings that gave rise to that behaviour is *always* valid. Everyone wants and needs to feel understood. Children who act out, are simply expressing their needs. When we consistently acknowledge and validate our kids’ feelings and emotions, they feel loved, heard and respected–and are therefore much less likely to lose their cool. And it is entirely possible, and very healthy, to affirm our children’s feelings, and their selves, without necessarily condoning their behaviour. Tantrums are so often a result of *not* feeling validated or acknowledged. When children consistently *are* validated and acknowledged and heard, tantrums are pretty rare.
11. Give them space: Allow your children space to roam. Kids need to touch everything, and to experience the world. This is their job. When children are constantly being told not to touch, not to run, not to vocalize, not to fulfill their biological imperative to learn experientially, they are going to become extremely frustrated, which often leads to tantrums. We don’t need to hover. Often, we need to back off.
12. Give your children the attention they need. Yes, another paradox: while children need space to roam, they also need the near-constant presence of a loving, attentive, adult, ideally a parent. Of course, as a child gets older, the ratio of wanting to free-range to needing attention will shift, quite beautifully and seamlessly, in children who feel secure and safe and seen and heard. I have noticed that the most confident, secure, independent kids, tend to be those who have a very stable family rhythm, with a parent at home all, or most of the time. The only kind of “socialization” that institutionalized child-care engenders is “socialization” to the institution.
13. De-Escalate, Cut the drama, Relax. We parents do get so worked up. If we can say Yes to our kids for the most part, and affirm them, while staying true to our own values and approach to life, realizing that our kids’ behaviour is always valid, at the core, it is so much easier to respond with compassion. We are always more effective as parents if we work the angle of connection and solidarity, rather than separation.
I have the rare fortune of going at this parenting real canada goose norwegian outlet a few times, and I’ve messed everything up so much, that I’m finally starting to recognize my mistakes. What a profound, fantastic, and sometimes painful journey it is to be a parent!
And of course, on those days when real canada goose norwegian outlet *do* fall apart, and your child has a fit at the library, the best way to diffuse a tantrum is to simply be there, calmly and lovingly, and simply acknowledge that your child is angry or frustrated, and try to validate their feelings by verbalizing what you think her upset might be about. “I can tell you are really mad right now. As soon as you can take a breath, I will listen.” Please don’t walk away, please don’t withhold your love, or your attention. A tantrum is really a sign that your child needs *more*. Not more things, or more treats, or more separation or more “independence”, but more attention, more love, more rest, more of you.