Tantrum help


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Can any more experienced mums give me some handy hints on handling tantrums? My 18 month old daughter now loves to throw HUGE wobblies when things don't go her way. Triggers can be a nappy change, leaving the playground, having to share a toy with another child, having to get in the stroller, in fact just about anything can set her off.

I know this is just a stage. I know she is pre-verbal and I hope that when she is better able to express her needs they will hopefully lessen, but at the moment it is quite trying.

I don't think she is chronically over-tired, but certainly when she is tired she is more likely to throw a tantrum. She sleeps around 14 hours a day (11/12 at night, 2/3 during the day), so generally she is pretty well rested for her age.

Should I ignore the tantrum? hold her (which is quite difficult as she kicks/bites and pinches)? Hmmmm, how challenging. What happened to my easy going, lovely natured little girl????
Dealing w/ tantrums

I usually tried to give them warnings before transitions. For example, when getting ready to leave the playground, I would give a "ten minute" warning "We'll be leaving in ten minutes" then 5, then 3 then 1 then "time to go". If they fussed I would ignore it and carry protesting child away telling him her "if you cannot leave nicely, then we will not come down to play again tomorrow." and follow-through. But, mostly I found the warnings combines with a "let's blow a kiss" to people or waving bye-bye as we left worked pretty well.

Avoid overstimulating - I rarely took both kids grocery shopping.

Keep in phsyical contact: since I am pretty strong, I carried my kids in child carriers until they were about 2 years old. They were less likely to fuss and cry when we were out if I was carrying them.

Forget about privacy - one thing that set my son off was me going into a separate room - so I was not able to use the toilet alone until he was about 3 years old. But, it was better just to let him in then deal with the pounding on the door and cries - YMMV.


If, for example my son fussed and cried about leaving the playground, when we got home I told him "you must sit on the bench if you don't calm down". Then put him there and turn my back to him for 30-60 seconds. This worked sometimes.

My daughter, sometimes she would be so into the tantrum that I could see she needed help calming down. I would try to hold her hands and say "look at me, take deep breaths" and try to model some calming breaths. This worked sometimes.

Singing - sometimes holding them and singing the "Don't Worry" song (real title - Three Little Birds, by Bob Marley and the Wailers) helped.

Ignoring - a few times a tantrum was so awful that I removed them from the living room. Took them into my room, and kept half an eye on the, while reading a magazine or book.

Violence - never had to w/ my daughter, but a couple of times when my son was tantruming when he was over three, I warned him that if he did not do as I said (take his bath) and calm down, I would spank him. He didn't, and I did (two or three blows on the bottom with my hand). That stopped the tantrum. I would not recommend this to someone whose child us under three.

In general - try to cultivate detachment. Remember you are bigger and stronger and smarter and who cares if this small wild creature pitches a hissy fit. Except of course the fact that it is so ANNOYING.

If you keep that attitude and give a kind firm "No" consistently, your kids will learn to accept "No" when they hear you say it. Rememeber, you are in charge - be authoritative, not authoritarian. :)

Also, read Christopher Green's "Toddler Taming", it is full of good suggestions and comforting data (e.g. parents of 2 year-old who state their children are "never still" 98% or some such huge figure).
Hi, Jane,

My daughter, Zanna is now almost 2 years old so we've had quite a few months of tantrum throwing and non-cooperation. What has helped me is understanding that this is a developmental phase and I think the term 'terrible twos' with all it's negative connotations is not useful at all. I try to put myself in my toddler's shoes and remember that she's getting to grips with becoming more independent and 'separate' from mommy. Zanna's no's are really her way of testing the limits and her tantrums are frustration at her own inability to control her world. Thinking in this way first of all helps me be more patient with her and less stressed. Secondly, it helps me think of creative ways in which I can get her to do what I want without taking away her autonomy.

But anyway, if Zanna's already in a full blown tantrum, we usually just ignore her. Of course, if she's in a public place with lots of people, it's probably best to take her to a safer place first. We NEVER give in to her demands. But we are there to comfort her when her fuse has run out, which it inevitably does. Over the months, Zanna has learnt she's not going to get anywhere by throwing a tantrum and as her language skills have progressed, she's learning to say what she wants or 'mummy, help me.'

Meanwhile, there are 'strategies' you can use to pre-empt the tantrum and here retaining a good sense of humour and being calm is crucial. Saying No and Naughty or screaming at your child are only going to escalate the situation. If Zanna's not in the mood for changing nappies, I usually disarm her resistance by changing the teddy bear instead. She finds this so amusing that she eventually lets me do it for her. She has enjoyed being 'blasted off' into space before landing in her stroller. Instead of saying, 'NO, silly girl, you can't wear those shoes the wrong way around", I let her try them and feel how awkward it feels. She takes them off herself then and I get to put them on the right way around. Yes, it does take an extra ounce of energy to come up with the creative solution, but better than having to spend the next 20 minutes trying to scrape a screaming child off the floor.

Two books that have helped me are Dr. William Sear's "Discipline Book" and "How to Talk so Kids will listen, and Listen so kids will talk." by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. I'm also attending a workshop based on this latter book run by Maggie Holmes of the La Leche League at the moment but not sure how frequently she runs them. Both the books have lots of very practical solutions, which of course need to be tailored to the child and the situation. If I'm not mistaken, I bought the "Discipline Book" from Geobaby!

Hope this helps, Jane!

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Hi Jane,

I've learnt the hard way that I must anticipate the tantrums (hungry, tired, sleepy) whatever and preempt it. But once it does begin the only thing that worked was ignoring him. If we were outdoors I'd take him home (kicking and screaming !) and at home I'd just leave him on the floor and go about my usual activities. I found that it made him stop pretty quickly when he realizes he's not getting anywhere and would come to me for comfort.
Good luck
Thank you all very much for your replies. It is great to get some information from more experienced mums.

scr - yes, I'm still learning what sets off a tantrum. At the moment it seems like just about anything does, sometimes. She is not very predictable at the moment .

stephchoy - thanks for the book references. I'm not a Dr Sears fan, but will have a look at the How to Talk book. I totally agree with you about not backing down once you say no.

loupou - thanks for the detailed instructions. The 5 minute warning before leaving the playground is a particularly good one. I have a copy of Toddler Taming, so will have to read it again.

Thanks again.
For leaving the playground, I found that with my young one, since she has no concept of time, it's been more effective to say, OK, one more go on the slide and we're leaving. And of course we say, "bye, bye playground."
Other thoughts

Yeah, the Discipline Book was pretty good - & while I haven't read the "How to talk..." book, I read an earlier book by them called "Liberated parents, liberated children".

One thing I didn't like about the Discipline book was that when I read it I sometimes felt like "If I were a better mother (more "attached" etc.) then there wouldn't BE a discipline problem. <<SIGH>>

Choosing your battles is important. For example, sometimes my kids didn't want to put on a sweater when it was windy and chilly out. OK, I say, go out. Then once out there, they usually ask for a sweater. Now that they are older, I can *not* bring the sweater and let them take responsibility by fetching it themselves.

Routine helps, kids know what to expect, so less need for fussing and crying.

Another technique that I learned from the "Liberated parents..." book was not to deny your kids perceptions. If they say "The bath is too hot" don't argue w/ them about it and say "No it's not." Instead you can say "it doesn't feel hot to me, but do you want to add some more cold water?" Get to the crux of the matter, so to speak.

The discipline issues change w/ age. Now my kids are in primary school it's physically easier to discipline them, and I don't worry about them doing things like eating stones, but it's mentally harder.