This week, my normally sweet and well-behaved toddler inducted me into an elite club of moms that have experienced (and survived) a full-blown toddler temper tantrum in public. It was on this day that I earned the title of “That mom of the kid that is screaming and crying on the floor of Target.” It was honestly a title that I never thought I would earn. Up until this point I had only witnessed such meltdowns. Any time that I have seen “that mom” out in public, I always give her a silent smile as if to say “I am so sorry that your child chose this particular moment to be an uncontrollable screaming banshee” and “I know that you’re doing the best you can even though you feel like a failure.”
Now, it was apparently my turn in the trenches. As my child was screaming at glass-shattering volume on the floor of the cereal aisle, I was like a deer in headlights. I stared at her as she made a loud and dramatic transformation into the Hulk. She was completely inconsolable. Why? I truly have NO idea…never in my three years of parenting have I been so dumbfounded about how to make the “right” parenting decision. I didn’t know what my next step should be. But I’ll let you in on a secret I’m learning: there is no “right” thing to do in this situation. However, here are some things that you can try if you ever find yourself in a hostile standoff with your toddler. In other words, my ideas on how to tame a toddler tantrum:
Try Deep Breathing
I am not sure if this will benefit you or your child more, but what it will do is give you both a minute to calm down and evaluate the situation. They will have the opportunity to start breathing again, and you will have a chance to lower your blood pressure. Win-win.
Communicate: Talk and Listen
Give them an opportunity to tell you why they are upset. Help them find the words to express their feelings. Sometimes a productive conversation may have to wait until after you are in the car, or when you get home.
Choose Your Battles Wisely
Don’t get involved in a power struggle with a toddler, because they will often win. Decide if the problem is something that has a solution, and see if you and your child can compromise. Make sure that they change their behavior before you give in to what they want. You do NOT want to reward inappropriate behavior.
Remember that They Are Human
Even though they may not be acting like it in this moment, remember that your child is only human. Sometimes we all have bad days for a variety of reasons. Sometimes even as adults, we have a nasty attitude for no good reason. There may not even be a concrete problem, but it is possible that maybe they didn’t sleep well, or they have an illness coming on.
Ignore or Console
Depending on your child (and why they are upset) they could need you to console them. Sometimes just a simple hug can turn a whole situation around. Alternatively, if your child is throwing this tantrum specifically for attention, it may be in your best interest to do some planned ignoring. This is the route I went with and it did the trick eventually. (Warning: be prepared for strangers to potentially look at you like you’re the worst parent on the planet)
Bribery: Let’s Make a Deal
If ___, then ___ statements are basically how I survive motherhood. For example, “If you get off the floor, then you can help me push the cart” or “If you stop screaming, then we can go look at books.” Try bribing with distracting activities and use anything that your child enjoys to do as your arsenal. If you’re desperate though you can try bribing with items: “If you calm down and walk with me, then we can go find a lollipop together.” And don’t forget to reward yourself, mama: “If I survive this shopping trip, then I earn a large glass of wine.”
Don’t Be Embarrassed
It is likely that our dramatic meltdown in Target will not be the last that I experience. I learned so much about my child and about myself as a parent. Most specifically, I learned that I embarrass VERY easily when my child is not behaving. It is easy to feel like everyone’s eyes are on you. I sadly paid more attention to my embarrassment than I did on working through the situation with my child. Focus on what matters, do your best, and don’t worry about what anyone else thinks of you.
If all else fails when you try to tame a toddler tantrum, scoop your child up and walk swiftly to your car. Do not run though, or someone may think you are stealing the screaming child that is flailing in your arms.