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Five Tips for Dealing with Toddler Tantrums

This blog post is about to join the library of complementary articles swirling across the Internet, claiming to have the answer to the unpredictable, yet powerful, toddler tantrums.

What I’m about to share with you is probably nothing new, nothing earth shattering, and probably nothing you haven’t already tried. But in the rare case I can help a momma out, I do have a fresh perspective on taming – or just tolerating – the tantrums.

Toddler Tantrums

While I’ve noted in the past that my child was a horrible sleeper in his first year, tantrums were not his thing. He was an unusually reasonable child who responded obediently to even the slightest feedback. This was, obviously, a result of my superior parenting skills. The sleep thing… I don’t know where that came from.

Then, he turned 18 months old.

I kind of blame my sister; she was over for dinner one night and remarked at how calm and mild-mannered Reggie is. “He never even cries!” she said. I smiled, admittedly, a bit smug, because who doesn’t take that kind of compliment as a parenting win?! Queue the jinx.

The next morning, Reggie woke up as usual – pleasantly playing in his crib, chattering away with whatever new words he had picked up recently. (He’s suddenly obsessed with diggers and dirt). He greeted me with a warm smile and a hug. I picked him up from his crib, laid him on the changing pad, and then all heck broke loose.

You would think that changing pad was covered in molten lava! He screamed, kicked, rolled, hit; I think I even caught him trying to bite me as I struggled to keep his little body from a painful tumble.

This has become the new normal for us. My husband, Matt, and I bicker over who has to change his diaper, take off his coat, change his clothes – kind of like a game of, “not it.” The everyday tasks have become battles, followed by a good 30 minutes of miserable toddler meltdowns. And in those rare moments that he does let me take off his shirt without a fight, I feel like I’m handling a live grenade that could explode at any moment.

At first, I was dumbfounded. I thought for sure, “there’s something wrong.” I’ve been reassured that this is totally normal.

(Yes, I’m that mom who calls the pediatrician with every concern under the sun). I’m told this phase will pass, but in the meantime, here are a few ways we’ve been easing the burden of daily toddler tantrums.

  1. Distraction: The obvious go-to, distracting Reggie works wonders. The downfall is that the distraction has to change often, otherwise he catches onto our scheme. The intuition of a kid his age would mesmerize me if it didn’t terrify me so much. Sometimes I distract him with a toy, a book, a song, a quiz on what sounds certain animals make. Some days his obsession with his male arts creates a distraction of its own. Other days, my husband and I take turns making faces, singing songs, or putting on a freaking puppet show… either way, we keep a pile of possible distractions on every floor, in every car, and I’m pretty sure I still have a mini container of bubbles lurking in my purse. I can also recite all of the Pout Pout Fish books from memory without hesitation. This works wonders during car-seat meltdowns.toddler tantrums
  2. Games: Peek-a-boo is the clear choice in this category, especially since it appears that changing diapers and clothes are our biggest tantrum triggers. “Reggie, where’s your hand?” as I race his tiny paws through a shirt sleeve. “Peek-a-boo! There it is.” Rinse and repeat: Hands, feet, head. It’s not 100% successful, but definitely worth keeping in the top 5.
  3. 1,2,3 and Ready, Set, Go: We recently taught Reggie to count to three and “ready, set, go.” He’s enamored by counting everything, and thinks ready, set, go can apply to anything he does. This tactic could nestle under the Games category because we turn dressing into a counting game – “one, two, three” and his arm is through a sleeve. “Ready, set, go” and a foot through a pant leg.
  4. You choose: I think this tip will work better when Reggie is a bit older, but it’s a very popular one. I was told to let him try to pick his own clothes; give him two options and let him decide. Sometimes this works wonders and I’m surprised he even cares; but most days when he sees me pull a pair of pants from his drawer he simply yells, “no” and takes off – naked buns disappearing around the corner. I’m going to keep this in the rotation for variation purposes.
  5. Repeat after me: Reggie is in his parrot phase, which has been both fun and troubling. (I recently slipped up after spilling coffee on myself and Reggie scooped up a new, less-than-ideal, phrase that very instant). This is similar to a distraction tactic, but instead of trying to entertain him, I work with him on his words so he forgets that I’m rapidly applying diaper cream and hoisting up his joggers.  

Every child has different tantrum triggers, and I don’t pretend to be an expert mom, but I have found that these tricks have eased some of our tantrums and in some cases prevented them altogether. But other days, the meltdowns are unavoidable. In those instances, I hug him when he wants a hug, leave him be when he doesn’t, and let him experience his feelings on his terms. At the end of the day, this phase will pass and

At the end of the day, this phase will pass and we’ll all need to navigate a new one. When all else fails, there’s always wine.

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