4 practical tips for handling tantrums, from a mom and two scientists.

Toddler Thursday: Tackling Tantrums

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I’ve mentioned in the past that age 3 was my least favourite phase, primarily because of all the tantrums that I had to contend with. My local public radio station hosts a feature called Two Guys on Your Head in which two professors take a practical pop science approach to various matters of human behaviour and the brain. Recently, they talked about tantrums. You can hear the entire 7 minute discussion below.

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/187321533″ params=”color=ff5500″ width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

My 8-year-olds and I listened to this together, on my urging, and I was surprised by how much they took away from the podcast. When my daughter M began to whine about something and started to escalate, J looked at me and said, “Don’t feed her tantrum, mom. I’ll talk to her later.” For those of you without 7 minutes to spare, allow me distill it down for you.

  1. Tantrums are a black hole. Whatever energy you put in simply feeds the tantrum.
  2. Don’t reward a tantrum with attention. No matter how well-intended, it will simply extend the pain. You can’t rationalize it away.
  3. A tantrum is no fun without an audience. Place your child somewhere safe and alone until it abates.
  4. Give children time to calm down, even after the loud part of the storm has passed.

4 practical tips for handling tantrums, from a mom and two scientists.

Do your toddlers throw tantrums? How do you handle them?

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Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 10-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. They live in the Austin, TX suburbs, where Sadia works full time in information technology. She contributes to a number of parenting websites and magazines and also runs The Mommy Blogging Guide, where she answers mommy bloggers' technical questions.

8 thoughts on “Toddler Thursday: Tackling Tantrums”

  1. I can honestly say we made it through the toddler years, in their entirety, without tantrum issues. Things got tough for us around 4 1/2…and at age 6, we still have the occasional tantrum. (I *really* thought because we didn’t hit the “terrible 2/3’s” I was home free….HAHAHA!!!)

    I wholly subscribe to the ideology you outlined…but there’s part of me that is torn, particularly with my kiddos being older. Against at least part of my judgment, I sometimes do “time in” instead of the “leave it alone” approach. It depends on the situation, but sometimes I feel like someone just needs to be held in order to diffuse a situation.

    1. I wholeheartedly agree with that point. I usually offer up one sentence of acknowledgement before withdrawing my attention, something along the lines of, “I can see that you’re losing control. I can’t talk to you when you’re in this state, but I always love you.” If I get that in early enough, every so often, the anger will melt away and the “tantrummer” will come in for a hug.

  2. My almost-5yo had a doozy of a tantrum just last night (never as a toddler either), over incomplete homework. She’s been doing a little bit of Chinese character writing each night for almost a year now, but recently it’s gotten to be an immense battle. We’ve changed it to be done in the mornings, but because it’s often a rush out the door we don’t always get to supervise, so she will sometimes end up having to finish at night when she’s really too tired.

    Like last night. I was giving the twins their baths while she was screaming, crying, and stomping around. I had to lock the bathroom door because the twins tend to cry when they see their sister cry… and I definitely was not going to deal with that.

    I agree that we don’t feed a tantrum and that there is no talking sense during one. But the patience required to wait it out. Ugh!

  3. I’m SO with you on age 3 not being my favourite age! one of our girls have VERY high persistence levels so tantrums can often carry on longer than 1.5hrs- not fun. She has also hurt herself in a rage, so sometimes intervention is necessary.

    1. Yep, I have one of those too. Safety is more important than the rules sometimes. Hang in there. Three ends, despite feeling interminable!

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