How do you feel?
Sometimes you can see it coming, but sometimes it will hit when you least expect it. It can strike anywhere. You could be at home, in the car, at the store, at grandma’s, in the playgroup… it often starts as a whimper then quickly amps up to the same volume as a jet engine. You feel lucky if you can ward it off before it gets out of control, and helpless if it does. When it does strike you can be left feeling bewildered, angry, afraid, frustrated, anxious, and embarrassed. It’s worse if you’re in public; you feel like everyone is watching you and judging you as a bad parent. It can be horrifying. If you have ever parented a toddler, you know I am talking about the dreaded tantrum.
I remember waking up, lying in bed before my head even rose from the pillow, praying please, please just let us just get through the day without tantrums. Sometimes that dream would be over before breakfast. It became a quest of mine to understand what made a good day and what made a bad. I didn’t always get it. Like the time after just returning to work when I was trying to get some breakfast into her before dropping her off at our child care provider. I was rushing, trying to get myself ready, trying to get her ready, trying to get to work on time. Then next thing I know oatmeal is thrown across the room, on the floor, cupboards, and fridge. Goo everywhere and she is screaming “NOoooo!”
Now that I’ve lived through this phase, I can see that tantrums are all about communication, and just like adult communication, there are many subtleties. Communication is both listening and talking. It is not just what we say, but how we say it. It is both words and actions.
How do they feel?
Toddlers are just learning the language skills for talking, so they communicate in actions. They are telling us things all day long in their actions. They are telling us how they feel, what they need, what they want. As parents we need to pay special attention to those subtle ways they are talking to us. Really listening to our toddlers can go a long way in preventing tantrums. She was telling me she felt rushed, stressed about the change in routine, sad Mommy was no longer at home with her, overwhelmed by a new caregiver and spending the day with other children. I wasn’t listening. I was too focused on my own feelings about returning to work and trying to do it all.
What do they need?
To be reassured; tantrums are normal, not a sign you are failing as a parent. I know it’s not that simple. Toddlers are learning and they can have very strong feelings. Our job as parents is to teach them ways to express and cope with these feelings in acceptable ways. Take a deep breath and ask yourself “what are you trying to tell me and what do you need to cope?” She was telling me she needed more time to transition from home to childcare, she needed more time with me, and she needed time to adjust to and practice the new routine.
What to do?
- Check out our web page on Toddler Tantrums for lots of ideas of how to understand why your child is having a tantrum and what you can do to help prevent the tantrum, and what to do if you are faced with a screaming toddler, a kitchen covered in oatmeal and pressure to get to work.
- If you are worried your child’s tantrums are more intense than normal, or you need help coping with the tantrums, call us. We would be happy to listen, help problem solve and link you to more specialized information and people if necessary.
Share your experience:
For more tips and hints about temper tantrums, or to share your experience, there are many ways you can talk to one of us directly: