Toddlers and tantrums. You can’t have one without the other. Since toddlers use tantrums as a way to process what they are feeling, you can expect your toddler to shout and cry more to communicate what they are feeling. Emotions like anger, sadness, excitement, and confusion can all trigger tantrums.
There is a Montessori way of handling tantrums both at home and in public. Today, we are going to give you some tips to make dealing with temper tantrums easier.
What are Tantrums and Why Do They Happen?
The technical definition of a temper tantrum is “an expression of frustration by a child who is prevented from demonstrating unconstrained action.” Tantrums may involve behaviors like head-banging, breath-holding, screaming, flailing limbs, and rolling on the ground.
Although tantrums can happen in older children and even with some adults, they are most common between 18 months to 3 years old, during a stage of development when children desire control. It’s a roller coaster for parents to deal with, because tantrums can be set off for any number of reasons.
Handling Tantrums at Home
Whenever a tantrum begins at home, you can just ride the roller coaster to the end. The main strategy here is to let your child feel their feelings and to show them that such emotions are neither overwhelming or frightening. Showing a child that they can emote in such a way is important to their mental and emotional health.
Here is how you send such a powerful message:
1. Be patient and present
As your child throws their tantrum, sit with them on the floor. Do not talk or touch them right away. Just look at them. Let them know you are there. If you touch them too quickly, you risk overstimulating them, and they will be unable to hear you over their roaring emotions.
Do not try to end the tantrum early, either. Just watch and stay calm. Make sure your child feels safe.
2. Never rush a tantrum
As mentioned above, it is important to let the tantrum run its full course at home, no matter how inconvenient that may seem. If your child cannot get all the emotions out, another tantrum will most likely happen in public.
Again, be as calm as possible, even if you are short on time. The tantrum will pass.
3. Acknowledge their feelings
You will soon see that the tantrum is diminishing. The tears are drying, and your child seems to have lost their energy (even if they are still thrashing a little). At this time, you can show them that you are willing to comfort them by opening your arms or patting your lap.
When they decide to calm down or snuggle with you, it is time to discuss what happened. As a parent using Montessori methods, you will know that observation is key. Note why the tantrum happened and say something like, “You felt angry when I told you to put your toys away.” Perhaps the tears will flow again, and that’s fine.
It’s important that you name what the child feels and that they understand what happened. Touch on the emotion then let it pass.
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Handling Tantrums in Public
Ideally, all tantrums would happen at home, where you or your spouse or an older child can sit with the raging toddler until the storm passes. However, that is probably not going to be the case. Dealing with a tantrum in public can be hectic and embarrassing, especially when others are staring at you and your toddler.
If you are fine with sitting with your child throughout the tantrum, then you probably don’t need to switch up your strategy. But if you get flustered, there is another approach.
1. Assess what’s happening
As soon as the rumblings of a tantrum begin, stop what you are doing and assess the situation. Is the tantrum just beginning? Can you distract them? Are they willing to go somewhere safe? Take a calming breath and figure out the next step. Remember: you need to be a role model for your child, so don’t freak out. Don’t ignore them. And don’t get angry with them.
2. Find a comfortable spot
If the tantrum is full-blown and can’t be curbed immediately, find someplace private, such as the parking lot or the restroom, where you can sit. The key to this is not to do it with exasperation. Even if you are angry, don’t show it. Don’t tell your child that they’re being ridiculous or ruining the day. This will only add to their upset emotions.
Instead, tell your child that you are going somewhere where you can sit together and relax.
3. Use a distraction—for now
While distracting a child away from their tantrum is not recommended when you are at home, sometimes you won’t have that choice while in public. Should the tantrum be in its early stages, you may be able to redirect your toddler’s attention to something else. For example, if your child is throwing a tantrum in the grocery store, you could ask them to help you find something or if they want to help you choose ingredients for dinner.
Giving them an element of control could rein in their emotions temporarily. Keep in mind that, because the tantrum was prematurely halted, it may bubble up later.
Montessori Strategies for Preventing Tantrums
Tantrums are a natural outburst of emotion, and so you should accommodate them when you can. That said, there are some ways you can stop tantrums from happening:
- Preparation is key. If you know you are going somewhere that could overstimulate your child, bring something to distract them, such as a book or a favorite toy.
- Understand their feelings. That way you can label their emotions.
- Ask how you can help. If it looks like your child is having difficulty with something, offer them help. They may not accept it, and that’s okay.
- Tell them yes as much as you can. Remember “freedom with limits.” Saying yes to harmless desires will make the times you say no easier for them to swallow.
- Routines. When a child knows what to expect throughout the day, they will be prepared and not so easily overwhelmed.
Childhood is full of big emotions. Children will want to learn how to express themselves or be independent, but with that comes frustration. That is when a tantrum happens. As a parent, you must be there to show them that emotions are valid and that they are safe. Stay calm, use these tips, and the tantrum should pass.