I’ve seen a lot of people posting about tantrums on Facebook and various blogs. So many mamas seem to believe that their toddlers are just trying to manipulate them. I don’t think that’s really true, though. I mean, I’ve seen people say their babies are just trying to manipulate when they cry. I really don’t think they’re capable of manipulating yet.
Toddlers throw “tantrums” for a reason. They’re just starting to feel lots of big emotions and they don’t really know what to do with them. Anger, fear, frustration and sadness are all extremely overwhelming to a toddler. The emotions themselves can be scary. More often than not, when a toddler starts feeling those emotions, his reaction is going to be screaming, crying, hitting and kicking–all typical tantrum behaviors. They aren’t trying to be bad, though. They just can’t handle what they feel.
Another reason toddlers throw tantrums is when they can’t express a need to someone. Toddlers understand way more than they can communicate. They know exactly what they need or want, but have absolutely no idea how to express that to you. They can tug on your sleeve, chatter in baby talk or point, but sometimes, the adults in their world don’t notice or can’t understand what they want. That is insanely frustrating for a toddler! Actually, it’s frustrating for anyone. Try going into a group of people who don’t speak the same language as you. It’s hard! I know very limited sign language, but stick me in a room of people signing and I’m quickly lost, confused and extremely frustrated. That’s what your toddler feels like when he can’t get something through to you.
So, what do you do about toddler tantrums? There are a couple of options. Some I recommend, others, not so much. I’ve been told that if I’d just spank him a couple times, Isaiah won’t ever throw a tantrum again. Ok, sure, it didn’t work on me, but maybe Isaiah is just a better kid than I was. Not likely.
Another option is to ignore the tantrum. On the rare occasions Isaiah is screaming because he wants something he can’t have, I tell him why he can’t have it, offer an alternative and, if the screaming persists, simply walk away. I always tell him I’ll be happy to play whenever he’s ready and he’s free to come to me at any time. He usually gives up on the tears pretty quickly to join in a new activity.
The most effective cure for a tantruming toddler that I’ve found is to talk them through it. As I said before, Isaiah often tantrums for one of two reasons: emotions that he doesn’t understand or having a need he can’t express. Both can be helped and eventually solved by talking. When Isaiah has a need, he usually starts by signing “please.” If I’m not sure what he’s saying “please” for, he might start to get frustrated and cry or hit. Other times, he skips straight to crying. Either way, the next step is to take him into my lap, say to him “Isaiah, you need to use your words. Help me figure out what you need.” Now, he doesn’t fully understand what that all means yet, but it’s laying the ground work for when he’s older. Once I’ve said that, I start guessing. “Are you hungry?” “Does something hurt?” Eventually, I get an “uh-huh” from Isaiah and we’re able to go from there. When we solve a problem, I always show him the sign for what he wanted as well as saying the word for him a few times.
The same basic rules apply for a toddler who’s tantruming because of emotions. Isaiah doesn’t necessarily understand why he feels something or even what he’s feeling. If we’re with other kids and a child takes a toy from him, he’ll hit them and cry. No question about it, he will react. When that happens, I can say, “you’re angry because he took your toy” then intervene to get the toy back or find another one for Isaiah. Usually, that’s all it takes for him to get over it. If not, he’ll clutch the toy close and come in for a quick snuggle for moving on. Helping toddlers identify and understand their emotions, as well as encouraging them to feel them, rather than hide them, will help them to deal with all kinds of situations in the future.
Next time your toddler throws a huge tantrum in front of all your friends, instead of being embarrassed by your horribly behaved child, stop and listen to his needs. If you work with your toddler, the episode will soon be over and you can move on to enjoying your day. Isaiah is already throwing fewer tantrums now that he knows I’m always listening and on his side, even when I still have to say “no.”