The INSIDER Summary:
• To avoid tantrums in the first place, figure out what sets a child off and steer clear.
• If a child isn’t totally hysterical yet, express empathy and label their emotions to help them understand what they’re feeling.
• If it’s a total meltdown, get them to a safe place and let it run its course.
• Afterwards, reassure them that you still love them.
Dr. Tovah Klein knows a thing or two about tantrums.
As the Director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development and author of How Toddlers Thrive, she’s spent more than 20 years studying children’s social and emotional development and how parents shape these early years of their lives.
Meltdowns are an inevitable part of parenting a toddler, but that doesn’t mean they have to be completely disastrous. Here’s how parents can do their best to avoid tantrums and minimise the damage when they do occur.
Avoid tantrums in the first place.
“If you think about when children really have a meltdown, it’s because they’re overwhelmed by emotion,” said Dr. Klein. “They’re frustrated, they feel misunderstood, they’re angry, they’re just at a point of exhaustion.”
The keys to stopping a tantrum before it starts are figuring out which situations or times tend to trigger meltdowns and adjusting their routine accordingly, like adding 10 extra minutes to the morning rush out the door.
“Often for parents, it’s lowering our expectations of what’s really possible in the morning, or what’s possible throughout the day,” she said.
When a tantrum is about to erupt, express empathy.
If a child isn’t totally hysterical yet, saying things like “This is hard” or “I know you don’t want to say goodbye” can help a toddler process their feelings and bypass a full-on outburst.
“When we label those feelings, like ‘Wow, this is frustrating,’ then you’re helping them in the long-term understand those emotions,” said Dr. Klein.
If the tantrum is in full swing, wait it out.
The best thing to do when a child throws a fit is to get them to a safe place, say “I’m here,” and let it run its course.
“You can’t reason with them at that point,” she said. “They’re really emotionally wiped out.”
Don’t shame them.
However unreasonable and exasperating a toddler’s tantrum might be, it’s important not to make them ashamed of their feelings.
“If you don’t shame the child, but you recognise that this is a really rough time for them, they move on quicker,” Dr. Klein said. “It’s a phase that children go through, but when we’re in it, it feels like it’s going to last forever.”
After the dust has settled, reassure them.
Some kids might want to be held and comforted, while other might not let you anywhere near them. In any case, Dr. Klein advises staying close.
“The most important part of a tantrum is when the child settles down,” she said. “It’s actually very scary for children to get to that emotional meltdown point. When they come to, they’re pretty worried, like, ‘Do you still love me?”
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