We’ve all been there, done that, but if you’re like me you’re not interested in doing it again anytime soon. While toddler meltdowns are not totally avoidable (and unfortunately developmentally appropriate) there are some strategies you can use to hopefully decrease how often they are happening.
It’s important to consider why your child is melting down or having a tantrum. Is your child frustrated because he/she can’t communicate what he/she wants? Is he/she overtired or getting sick? Or is he/she just a little shit?!? (kidding!) Having a better understanding of why your child is having a meltdown can help you be better prepared to tackle it head on, or prevent it before it starts.
Ok, so we all know that toddler meltdowns and tantrums happen, but what can we do about preventing or minimizing them and what is the difference? A tantrum is goal oriented, the child watches for a reaction, it is quick to end, the child will avoid getting hurt, and the child is in control. A meltdown has no goal, the child has no interest in reaction, he/she may hurt themselves, it is slow to end, and the child is not in control. Meltdowns can often arise when your child is over stimulated. Now that we have clarified the difference, let’s talk about some strategies we can use:
Strategies for Preventing Tantrums and Meltdowns
Using a countdown rather than 2 minute warning
Now be honest…. How many of you have told your child, “You have 2 more minutes to ____.” Did you really mean 2 minutes or does it vary from 30 seconds to 30 minutes depending on the day? Young kids don’t really grasp the concepts of minutes and it can be confusing when they are getting mixed messages about how long “2 minutes” really is. One strategy I like to use instead is a countdown. “When I get to zero it will be time to put your toys away.” Now I can do this quickly or space out the countdown, either way giving a more concrete expectation for my child and some warning along the way.
Offer choice of 2
Offering a choice of two can be a win-win for you and your toddler. It gives him/her some control while allowing you to still be in control (our ultimate goal as parents, right?). This can also be a great way to model and encourage the use of language.
We often try to talk to toddlers like they are little adults, but forget that their systems are not matured yet. In the heat of the moment adults often start talking more, rather than simplifying things for our already overwhelmed toddler. Using “First ____, then ____” language can be an excellent way to simplify and clearly define the expected behavior for you little one.
Reinforcing positive behavior
Like most of us, toddlers respond well to praise from others. Catch them being good and point out the behaviors you like to see. Be sure to use specific praise (e.g., Good listening/I like when you clean up your toys) instead of “Good job” so that he/she knows what they are doing right. Other kids can also be motivating so pointing out desired behaviors in others might work well for some kiddos.
This is probably one of the most important things you can keep in mind when dealing with toddlers. Being consistent from one situation to the next and from one caregiver to another is key. Toddlers are masters at figuring out who is going to let them get away with it and who is going to be consistent and follow through. They are like wild animals sometime and can smell the fear (or exhaustion) and will capitalize on it!
Move or distract
If all else fails, move your child away from the situation or distract them with something else (there is a time and place for that cookie)! Toddlers can often be distracted quite easily and will forget what they were even upset about.