Dear Dr. David + Amanda,
I'm reaching out because I'm having such a hard time dealing with my toddler's tantrums. It's like the "terrible twos" hit us like a tidal wave, and I'm left feeling lost every time my little one goes into meltdown mode. I've tried to do everything I can to avoid triggering him, but once he gets going, I just don’t know how to stop it. I don’t want to spank him or threaten her, but I don’t know what to do. Sometimes I try to be reassuring and he yells even more! Help a struggling mama out? -Alex

Hi Alex, 
We can tell from your message that you care so much about your daughter, and truly want to help her, and we understand (from our own experience!) how chaotic those tantrums and meltdowns can be - for parent and child! First, it's important to know the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown! They're not the same thing, though they're often conflated!

Handling a toddler's tantrum with a Peacemaker Parenting approach involves a couple of different elements: 
  • Understanding and empathizing with the child's emotions 
  • Setting appropriate boundaries 
  • Teaching emotional regulation skills
That might sound complicated, but with practice, it really can flow naturally and efficiently when you’re in the moment. 

When a toddler throws a tantrum, it's typically a sign that they are overwhelmed, frustrated, or unable to express their needs effectively. Although witnessing a toddler tantrum can bring up feelings of anxiety or shame for us as parents, it’s a normal part of toddler development and isn’t something to be afraid or ashamed of! (And here's what was tricky for us: the more stressed or anxious we felt about our kids' tantrums, the worse they became! Because parental stress fertilizes child stress.)

So how do you handle toddler tantrums gently?
  • Remain (or return to) calm: It's essential to stay composed and avoid reacting impulsively to the tantrum. Be “the calm” in your child’s “storm.” Take a deep breath and remind yourself that tantrums are a normal part of a toddler's development.
  • Validate their feelings: Let your toddler know that you understand they are upset. You can say, "You seem really frustrated right now." Validating their emotions helps them feel understood and supported. If this doesn't come naturally for you, it may help to remember that validating emotions doesn't mean you accept the behavior - it means you acknowledge they have strong and/or uncomfortable feelings.
  • Provide comfort and reassurance: Offer* hugs, gentle touches, or soothing words to comfort your toddler. Reassure them that you are there for them and will support them through strong emotions. This might sound like, "This is hard for you, would you like a hug?" If they don’t accept this, it’s okay! They still know you’re there and supportive! 

    *While we do recommend offering a hug or snuggle, don't dwell there or try to convince your child to accept a hug or comfort. Some children need space and less attention in order to move through the tantrum faster. Plus, experiencing and recovering from frustration is how your child is going to grow their tolerance for it, so don't make the mistake of stepping in to rescue them, but do be emotionally available and supportive.
  • Use positive language: Instead of saying, "Stop crying," or "Don't be upset," try using positive and validating language like, "I makes sense to feel upset. We can take some deep breaths together when you’re ready,” or “Feelings come and go. It’s okay to be sad. I’m here and have enough calm to share with you.”
  • Set clear boundaries: While it's important to validate their emotions, it's also essential to set boundaries for behavior. Let your toddler know what behavior is not acceptable, but do so in a sturdy, but kind manner. For example, you could say, "I understand you're upset, but I won't let you hit me. I'm going to hold your hands to keep us safe." then set a physical boundary by blocking them from hitting or holding their hands. You can also remove them from a setting where their tantrum is disrupting other people–for example, if they’re having a hard time during Sunday dinner at Grandma’s house, you can carry them to a spare bedroom and stay there with them while they express their feelings without a large audience, and so the family can eat in peace.
  • Teach problem-solving skills: As your toddler calms down, encourage them to express their feelings verbally and help them find solutions to the problem that triggered the tantrum. This teaches them valuable problem-solving and emotional regulation skills. If they struggle with physical aggression, you'll also need to be intentional to teach them how to recognize their impulses and what to do with their body instead. 
  • Stay patient and consistent: Tantrums can be challenging for both parents and toddlers, but consistency and patience are key. It takes time for toddlers (and, let's be honest: parents!) to learn how to manage their emotions effectively, so continue to support them with love and understanding.
By approaching tantrums with empathy, patience, and gentle guidance, you can help your toddler navigate their emotions in a healthy way while also promoting a strong parent-child bond.

Want to learn more about parenting as a Peacemaker? Our next online webinar, Punitive to Peacemaker is open for enrollment!


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