If you find yourself wondering how to deal with your toddler tantrums and meltdowns, trust you are not alone! In this post you'll discover ways to prevent toddler tantrums & meltdowns, as well as what to do during them.
Be sure to check out the first post on tantrums vs meltdowns to make sure you have a clear understanding of what you're dealing with!
Preventative Solution To Tantrums
The preventative solution to toddler tantrums is pretty easy: give them independence and control as much as reasonably possible.
This is why I think montessori parenting has taken off. It's really a simple foundation for raising toddlers from 1 to 3 years old with less tantrums.
Freedom within limits
What this looks like is thinking things through and involving your toddler where you can. When getting dressed, give them a choice between 2 or 3 things. When packing food or preparing their plate, let them choose 1 or 2 things to include. Ask if they want to read a book first or brush their teeth.
Basically include them in their life and you'll drastically reduce tantrums before they even happen.
More preventive toddler tantrum tips:
- Prepare your environment for success – keep things you don't want to tempt them with out of sight so you don't need to take them away after your toddler discovered it
- Pause before you respond – it's easy to go on autopilot, but if your toddler makes a request, instead of saying no blindly, pause and think it through. Does it really matter if your toddler wears pajamas to school when they ask? No, probably not.
- Keep your child's limits in mind – keep them fed, rested, and charged up by declining guests, skipping the grocery run until you've fed them, or cutting TV off a couple hours before bed can make a world of difference
Lastly, play with your kids. Try to do 10 minutes a day, or a few days a week, where there are no phones, no one can come in, AND you don't ask them any questions or do the whole “mom” or “dad” thing.
You just fall into their world. Imagine you're visiting a foreign country for the first time, show up with that same respect/humility to those 10 minutes. The first time or two may be a little awkward, your kid may expect you to do your normal “mom” thing, but once they realize what this time is, they'll open up during it much quicker.
What not to do during a tantrum:
As discussed in tantrums vs. meltdowns, a lot of people say to ignore a tantrum, but in my experience as a child myself once, that's one of the easiest ways to push a tantrum to a meltdown.
Your kid is having a hard time, they want something they can't have typically with tantrums. I think the best thing we can do is keep ourselves calm and just be with our child.
With that said, you CAN ignore the behavior if it isn't threatening the child or anyone else's safety. For instance, ignore the whining but address the child.
How to handle toddler tantrums in the moment:
Acknowledge their feelings and narrate the reality in as few words as possible is key.
I like to use this opportunity to say something like “I know you're not happy with my decision right now, I still love you and am here when you're ready.” It shows that we can not like a choice, but still like the person and that their “darker” side doesn't scare you away which I think is really important.
You also aren't trying to have a talk with them about their behavior. This is simply like 2 sentences acknowledging what is happening to give them a sense of order around the situation and help ground them back to the present.
From there, practice your own self regulating behaviors like closing your eyes and placing a hand on your chest while breathing, singing, counting, etc. Try to do this at their level so it feels easy for them to join you in the practice if they choose.
A note on giving into toddler demands:
In the middle of the tantrum, I think it's important to stay grounded in your decision or just don't say anything if you realized you were being a little too rigid.
Basically you don't want to imply that if your toddler screams and kicks you'll change your mind.
With that said, it's okay to change your mind after the tantrum has passed. You just need to create a little space between the behavior and your change.
What to do if you feel triggered during a tantrum:
As mentioned before, the best thing to do during a tantrum is just be with your child at their level, acknowledge them, and then tend to your own self regulation by placing a hand on your heart and breathing. Hopefully this practice will help you release any triggered feelings in the moment and restore your sense of calm.
However if that doesn't work and you're in the middle of a tantrum, getting angrier or yelling, remove yourself for a moment by saying something like “I know you're angry right now. You can handle this feeling. I'm going to the bathroom, and will be back for you in 2 minutes.”
This practice acknowledges the child, reassures them they are bigger than the feeling, and lets them know you aren't abandoning them. They may still escalate when you do this, which is hard for everyone, but it's better then continuing to get angry and risk lashing out yourself.
In a future post, I'll cover how to play with your child to process emotions. This is very important if you need to remove yourself as you'll need to talk about it with your kid at a later time so they don't think you're scared of their big emotions.
What to do after a tantrum:
Acknowledge what happened as an unbiased narrator.
You can say something like “You really wanted the blue plate, not the green one. I didn't know that and you felt upset by my choice. Thank you for telling me.”
If you got triggered:
Additionally, if you needed to leave because you felt angry you can say something like, “You were angry, and I was angry at the same time. That was hard for us both. Sometimes, when I feel angry I need to take a moment alone to breathe and clear my head before I come back to those I love and that's what I did. Thank you for waiting for me, I will always come back to you.”
If you find you need to leave during tantrums with your child, I strongly suggest in times you can be with your child, saying something like “you're angry, I can handle this. Let your anger out.” So they can learn that you aren't scared of their anger and need to leave always. These two practices together can be really powerful.
You can also use play to process what happened, but I'm going to cover a simple formula for that in a different video.
Toddler/Preschool Meltdowns: How To Navigate Them
Melt downs are different because they often have a layer underneath them that can feel trickier to access.
Sometimes meltdowns are a result of sensory overload other times they are a result of mineral or hormone imbalance or gut dysregulation as discussed in tantrums vs. meltdowns.
Prevent Meltdowns In Young Kids:
- Limit screen time
- Spend 2+ hours outside a day.
- Get a good night sleep
- Eat a nutrient dense diet – something I'll cover more in a couple months in my baby led weaning series which will apply to toddlers as well
- Consider a probiotic or working with a practitioner, especially if baby had cradle cap or any other skin stuff, or has ever been on an antibiotic, there's likely a fungal and/or bacterial overgrowth to do an in-depth GI map
- Don't ignore them/tantrums
- Lookout for “low simmer” signs of dysregulation or unease throughout the day like tight fists, lethargy, hyperactivity
- Listen to them – if they say they don't like a shirt, trust that. If they say they don't want to go somewhere see if you can be flexible. Kids sometimes don't have the words to express why they don't want to go somewhere or like something, but it could be there way of protecting themselves from sensory overload
- Offer fidget toys to soothe themselves during “low simmer” situations
- See a chiropractor or occupational therapist that also specializes in craniosacral therapy
How to handle toddler meltdowns in the moment
Just be with them. Don't leave them in a room to handle it themselves. Show them you aren't scared of their big feelings and you can handle them.
You'll essentially follow the same practice as handling temper tantrums in the moment and afterwards outlined above, with the added layer of making sure you are taking care of their nervous system on a larger scale with time outside, nutrient dense foods, and movement.
- Tantrums vs Meltdowns
- What To Do For Toddler Tantrums + Meltdowns
- Emotional Containment For Big Feelings
- Emotional Play Activities + Examples
- What Is Montessori? At Home Philosophy + Education Method
- Montessori Tips To Encourage Independent Play For Toddlers + Babies [0-3 years old]
- Montessori Books For Parents
- Tips For Choosing Books For Infants + Toddlers
- Things To Avoid When Selecting Books Carefully