Toddler tantrums

Toddlers Guide sibling rivalry illustrationWhen it comes to toddler tantrums, rule number one is never give in. Imagine this: child sees tasty sweeties. Child says "want it". Mummy says "no". Child screams and hurls themself on the floor. Mummy looks embarrassed and says "OK then".

Regardless of whether this persuasion takes 20 seconds or 20 minutes, the child has learnt that screaming and tantrumming equals sweeties. And next time they'll know exactly which buttons to press.

Alternatively, if mummy says "no", child screams and throws themself on floor, and mummy picks them up, tucks them under one arm and calmly finishes off the shopping, the child will learn that screaming and tantrumming is actually a bit rubbish and doesn't result in sweeties.

So tell yourself now that you won't give in to tantrums. Not now, and not in 15 years when he wants to borrow your car to get to college.
 

Coping with tantrums

  • Ignoring (and staying calm)

Toddlers like to be the centre of attention and a lot of bad behaviour is to get mummy or daddy's attention. If you make a big fuss about bad behaviour this in itself can be a sufficient reward for an attention-seeking toddler. One common approach to a tantrummy child, therefore, is to ignore, ignore, ignore.

  • Distraction

Another weapon in your anti-tantrum armoury is distraction (best employed in the early stages of a tantrum, before the child is an incoherent hysterical wreck).

  • Praising good behaviour

Some children seem to thrive on negative attention, so naughty behaviour to whip Mummy into a frenzy is a reward in itself. If this sounds like your little darling, you could try giving them lots of your time and attention when they're being good and behaving well.

As toddlers get older, tantrums may need to be tackled with a different approach. Time out is really a variation of ignoring. Like ignoring, you're basically boring your toddler into submission.

Although confusion and frustration still play a part in tantrums, as your toddler gets older she needs to learn her behaviour isn't acceptable and to learn to control her rage and emotions a little better. At this point, time out is a good solution

Time out involves a bit more exclusion, and so is generally a last resort, imposed when all reasonable requests have been stamped on and thrown across the room.

Some parents have a specific place for time out, such as the bottom stair or a quiet hallway, and some just sit the toddler down on a sofa, or in their bedroom. Essentially, time out has to be unrewarding and away from where all the fun stuff is happening. 

The basic idea is that you divide a wall chart into days of the week. On 'good' days your toddler is awarded a star or a sticker.

At the end of the week, if the agreed target is met, they're given a reward (perhaps a magazine, or small toy). Obviously, there are lots of variations on this theme.

One Mumsnetter's star chart axioms

  1. Only do them for a specific thing eg. going to bed. I find that if I do general charts for anything my son soon gets bored.
  2. Plan the rewards WITH your child and draw the chart together...that way the child knows what he or she is working towards.
  3. We never make food a reward, our rewards are activities or trips out or little cheap things like a little car that he has had his eye on.
  4. Make the target manageable. At three, our son was getting a reward after five stars.
  5. A fun star chart is to make a picture like a face or a boat or a car or something like that and number the places where the stars go (a bit like dot-to-dot). Ghosty

Some parents don't like reward systems, because they think it's important children learn that you have to obey rules for their own sake, rather than to earn rewards, which smacks of bribery.

As one mum explains: "I stopped using reward systems because I felt that my daughter needed to learn there are a number of things you just have to do and rules that must be obeyed because you have to, not because of what you get out of it."

The pasta jar method

This is a technique for toddler compliance used by many mums. It works with older toddlers who can understand the concept of exchanging something for rewards. Pasta is earned for good behaviour and lost for bad behaviour.

  1. Take a glass jar and put five pieces of pasta in it at the start of the week (or day). When they are naughty, you give them a warning.
  2. If they persist then you take a piece of pasta out.
  3. For good or compliant behaviour, you put a piece of pasta into the jar.
  4. At the end of the week (or day), count up the pieces of pasta and when you have hit the 'target' (say ten pieces), you swap the pasta for a small pressie/pocket money/praise.
  5. After a while, you will just need to hiss 'pasta' and this should be a sufficient threat to ensure good behaviour. Twiglett

Edible currency (ie chocolate buttons) can be a variation for younger toddlers.

Being consistent

It's crucial when disciplining children that you follow through whatever consequence (or punishment) you threaten to carry out. A suitable consequence might be: "You can sit in the hall until you have calmed down." Or if children are arguing over a toy, then confiscate it.  

What Mumsnetters say about tackling toddler tantrums

  • When he hits you, say 'no' firmly and put him down for 60 seconds and ignore him. Do it consistently. It's a game to him. It's not violence, it's toddlerdom. He is just exploring and expressing his new-found independence. Twiglett
  • Use more positive words like 'can we put the toys into the box please' or 'play nicely' rather than 'don't smack'. I know it all sounds a bit hippy but it does improve the atmosphere at home. You don't shout so much and things are a lot calmer once you have the hang of it. BATtymumma
  • Praise the good and ignore the bad. My daughter is only two and I have found that really giving lots of positive attention is the only thing that works. Oliveoil
  • I often feel like I should be working in an American burger bar, smiling sweetly and saying nice insincere things while silently swearing and wanting to manhandle my son to get him to behave. Ajm200
  • We only use the step when our two year old does naughty things on purpose (like hitting or wilfully ignoring instructions). The idea is that it's supposed to teach her what's acceptable and what isn't, and it seems to work. We tend not to use it for the small stuff, only when she can understand that what she has done is really wrong. Biza
  • The only thing that works with my toddler in a real screaming tantrum is sticking him in his cot for time out for a few minutes, then having a cuddle. EffiePerine
  • Make sure you go through the rules of using the star chart once the plan is all worked out. Ask questions about it to be sure your toddler has got the idea and understands why they have or haven't got a sticker. Planning and understanding are very important factors in successful star-charting. KarenThirl
  • After several embarrassing 'do that again and we won't go on holiday/have Christmas/ever watch telly again' moments, I try to keep the consequence realistic and logical. Porpoise
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Last updated: 24-Sep-2013 at 4:58 PM