Dealing with Toddler Tantrums

Not to throw my favorite little boy under the bus or anything, by hoooooo-boy are we dealing with toddler tantrums these days. I’ve always said that Henry has big feelings. When he laughs, it’s from down deep in his toes and every part of him rejoices. When he cries, it’s this huge, wailing sob that you can tell he just feels so deeply. And when he’s mad, right now it’s tantrum central.
Dealing with toddler tantrums
It hasn’t always been this way. We actually made it through the “terrible twos” pretty unscathed. It was right around when he turned three that it got real. His tantrums are usually triggered by frustration or a lack of autonomy. If we tell him it’s time to brush his teeth and he’s not quite done with whatever activity he’s doing, he goes from zero to 100. Or if he is trying to accomplish something by himself that he just can’t figure out, it makes him lose it. I mentioned this recently on Instagram and said that we were dealing with toddler tantrums little by little, giving Henry tools to understand with his feelings and navigate his way through them (as best he can, at three years old), and got lots of questions about how we’re dealing with it. So I thought it might be helpful to break it down.

Dealing with Toddler Tantrums

First off, let me say that we’re no experts. This is definitely not a proven method; it’s just what has proven to show results in our family. And the results, you should know, are incremental. When you’re dealing with toddler tantrums, it’s not going to dissipate in a day. Or even a week. It’s a long process that takes an insane amount of patience and consistency on the part of the parents. It’s also exhausting. Ha! So here are the ways that we’ve adjusted our own perspective, and the tools that we’re trying to give Henry to help him through.

Recognize the Triggers

For us, it was a huge deal to start understanding what exactly is going to set Henry off. It helps to know whether it’s hunger, or fear, or lack of sleep, or whatever the case may be. For us, it’s pretty clear that our little dude is most often set off by emotionally challenging moments, when his freedom is taken away or when he can’t do something himself. If a kid is triggered by something physical like hunger, it’s simple to just make sure that he’s always fed. But with the emotional triggers, we’ve found that you need some tools to teach the kid how to deal.

Give them Tools

This is what has been crucial for us while we’re dealing with toddler tantrums. We’ve started amassing a little “tool box” of things that we say or do when Henry’s having a tantrum. Firstly, we never ever reward the behavior. So whatever he’s having a tantrum to achieve definitely does not happen. Secondly, we realized that our little dude usually needs some time to cool off by himself when he’s losing it. So he sits in his room and we tell him to come out when he’s ready to be kind.
After he comes out, we ask him what went wrong and why he got so mad. Then we start talking about the tools. We go through the lists of things that are “okay” vs. “not okay” when you’re mad. Some of our “okay” things are going outside and kicking a ball, saying, “I’m mad!”, scribbling hard on a piece of paper, and we even let him go in his room and stomp his feet as hard as he can if he needs to do something physical. Things that are “not okay?” Hitting, kicking, hurting anybody or anything. Throwing things. Spitting. (Ew.) Basically anything destructive. When we talk about “okay” vs. “not okay,” the goal is that the next time, he thinks about his other options to express his feelings.
We also have a few mantras that we repeat a few times every time we’re dealing with toddler tantrums. One is “it’s okay to be mad/sad/frustrated.” Another is “a tantrum will not get you what you want.”  And another is “you’re not allowed to hurt someone else just because you’re hurting.” (I think about this one a lot, and sometimes wonder if the world would be drastically different if we taught this emphatically to all of our kids. Especially now, with such scary news coming at us all the time.) We repeat these with the hope that one day they’ll pop into his head as a guiding light without us having to say them.

Consistency is Key

The other thing we know without a doubt is that we, as parents and as a family, have to stick to our plan. If Henry sees, even one time, that a tantrum will get him what he wants, it’s game over. We start from square one. So it’s crucial for us to be consistent in the way we’re dealing with toddler tantrums. And none of our tools are magic bullets, but we definitely see incremental improvement. We can see him trying to use the tools, even though he doesn’t want to yet. He knows them, which for us is step one. And hopefully soon they’ll become more ingrained and help him navigate those big feelings.
If you have more help for dealing with toddler tantrums, leave a comment! Parents helping parents is a beautiful thing. 🙂 xoxo
P.S. Find my diaper bag here and my shoes here.

Flashes of Motherhood

Mother and children
Days used to be made up of big things. Events. Plane rides. Long lunches. Things that took a few hours, or a whole day. Things that all ran together in the way that they were wonderful but sort of non-specific. Things that we chose to do because we wanted to and we could, and we didn’t have any reason not to.
Days are made up of different things now. A mother’s day is littered with small things, filling every moment. Thousands of moments every day. Horrible and wonderful and scary and top-of-the-world-I-never-knew-I-would-feel-this-happy moments. You don’t just go to the grocery store. You teach your kid to velcro his own shoes on the way out the door and marvel that he actually did it. Then you sing a song to your other kid in the car and laugh when she tries to sing the same notes (and succeeds). You call your husband to tell him both of these things. You wrestle the bananas away while they’re sitting in the cart so they don’t bruise the fruit. You let the little one hand the clerk the credit card. You tell the big one to say please when he asks for a sticker.
I was helping Henry put together Valentines for his friends the other day and all of a sudden saw myself from the outside. A grownup, a mom, completely in charge of these two little ones. I can remember being little and just knowing for sure that my parents had all the answers and could fix anything. Is that how they feel about us? I came back to myself and the task at hand, helping his chubby fingers put little red heart stickers on the Valentines to seal them up. And immediately started thinking of all of these other little moments that have made up motherhood so far for me.
Slicing strawberries for a Valentine’s Day party at Henry’s school.
Holding four-month-old Maggie up all night for weeks on end because she couldn’t breathe lying down, working my way through every season of Friends. Knowing that I would do it forever if that’s what she needed.
Watching Henry watch his first Star Wars film at movie night in the backyard.
Feeling an overwhelming amount of pride when Henry said thank you to the librarian for the first time without being prompted.
Cutting gold leather to make a fresh bow for Maggie to wear at her first birthday party.
Matching tiny socks. Over and over.
Holding Maggie during her first ride on the Disneyland teacups, and being completely unsurprised by her calm observation.
Wrapping Henry in a blanket and driving him to the emergency room by myself in the middle of the night. Realizing I was the one in charge.
Maggie climbing into Henry’s lap while Ryan reads him a book.
Henry putting his favorite book on Maggie’s tummy during her first day at home, so that she could read it.
Holding our second baby for the first time, and Ryan telling me that she just knew her name was Maggie.
Henry at 9 months old in Mexico, falling asleep sitting up in his bike seat.
And it’s not the big things that make up motherhood. It’s not how many decorations you put up at the birthday party or how many playdates you schedule. It’s the impromptu grilled cheese sandwiches and the Paw Patrol bandaids on their first skinned knee and the twentieth game of hide and seek. That’s where you can find motherhood. In the millions of little flashes, every day. xoxo