Toddler tantrums. Is there anything quite as embarrassing as carrying your screaming toddler out of the grocery store? It’s no fun to deal with, and maybe you’re wondering if it’s normal to have to discipline a toddler this much?
While toddlers do need a lot of instruction and correction, here are 7 strategies to cut down on those toddler tantrums.
1. Check their diet
Balance blood sugar
Low blood sugar can cause irritability, and in toddlers, that can end up looking like a tantrum or meltdown. Think about the common times of day tantrums are happening. Is there a pattern? Is it usually shortly before meals? Does your toddler live on air?
Maybe simply eating more at meals, or adding a small snack, would help calm the toddler tantrums.
Mix of macronutrients
Is your toddler eating mainly refined carbs or sugar for meals and snacks? Healthy fats and protein can help keep blood sugar steady, and provide fuel for the body and brain – which can help keep him calm. Try adding more fat and protein to your toddler’s diet!
Common food issues
Most moms are aware of the effect food dyes and excess sugar can have on a toddler’s energy level, but did you know some foods trigger meltdowns in some kids?
Toddlers can’t usually tell you exactly how they’re feeling inside, so if they’re eating something that makes them feel bad, they’re probably not going to be telling you that.
Gluten and dairy usually get all the blame for digestive and behavioral issues, but corn triggers epic meltdowns in one of my kids. I hadn’t connected the dots between corn and his behavior until I read about this family’s experience and decided to try eliminating corn. Four days later, my son was a different child.
I don’t think corn is always bad, but food issues are worth exploring if you feel your child has an excessive amount of tantrums and meltdowns. It might make all the difference in the world!
2. Remove the temptation
If something is a continual struggle for your toddler, maybe it’s best to simply remove the temptation for a while. For example, if you’ve been working with him for weeks on not getting into the bathroom products under the sink and you’re just not making any progress, get a child lock for the bathroom door-handle, and don’t even address that issue for a while.
When he’s older, chances are good he’ll be able to not touch it with no problem. And in the mean time, you can work on obedience in other areas while you take a break from this one struggle. There are plenty of opportunities to practice not touching things that don’t make quite as much of a mess!
No more oats
When my oldest was 2.5 he kept getting into a 25 lb. bag of quick oats I stored in my closet (we had a small pantry, so I stored large bags in my closet!).
I disciplined for it every time, but he just kept digging in the oats and throwing them all over the carpet. How fun for a toddler, and how frustrating for mom!
So I finally thought, “well he can’t get into the oats if he’s never in my room” So I instituted a no kids in mom and dad’s room policy, and that was the end of our struggle with the bag of oats.
It was a simple solution, and now at 9 years old, he has no problem being around a bag of quick oats 😉
3. Shrink their environment
Toddlers are small, and their world is really, really big! Sometimes they simply get overwhelmed by the size, volume, and number of sensory experiences they’re encountering. Shrinking their environment down can help them calm down and more easily listen to you.
When I say shrink their environment, I mean both in size and in the number of things they’re surrounded by. A smaller space can be soothing to a toddler who is freaking out. Fewer toys can be easier to focus on and play with.
A safe place
This is one reason I use a pack n play for a time out for toddler tantrums at home. It’s not about a punishment for the tantrum, but about helping them calm down and regain self-control so they can come join the family again. It’s also safe and they can’t break anything!
Box up some toys
We keep a few small baskets of toys downstairs, and one large basket of toys upstairs in the boys’ room. I keep toys with small pieces put up in bins where the kids can’t access them. We only get out one at a time, and we put it all away before we choose another to play with.
This makes it easier for them to focus on and play with that one toy, since it’s not mixed up in a huge overwhelming mess of pieces. Lincoln logs, tinker toys, plastic animals, wooden blocks, etc. are all in separate bins.
Kids don’t need tons of toys surrounding them in order to entertain themselves. Less is more, and it might cut down on toddler tantrums!
4. Add more structure to your day
Humans thrive on routine, and toddlers are no exception!
But if the routine is boring and filled with hours of the exact same things, sometimes this leads to behavior struggles – like toddler tantrums. Adding some structure and activity to your day can help prevent those struggles.
Daily toddler activities
Here are some activities I plan in a toddler schedule (I fit them around bedtime, nap-time, and meals):
Table time (play doh, coloring, puzzles, etc.)
Outside time (Sticks, a few plastic yogurt containers, and a pile of dirt are all they need)
Independent play time (I walk you through how to teach your child to play alone in that post!)
Chore time with mom (helping me with laundry, dishes, or cooking)
Movie time (I usually put this in place of outside time if it’s raining)
Free play (They get to choose whatever they want to play with)
Tot school (simple learning activities and reading books together)
5. Be sure they’re sleeping enough to prevent toddler tantrums
It’s unreasonable and harsh to expect an overtired toddler to behave like a well rested one. Sleep affects behavior!
If you’re keeping your toddler out late at night and not enforcing nap/afternoon rest time, whose fault is it really when toddler tantrums are happening continually?
Check your schedule and be sure your toddler is getting an age-appropriate amount of sleep.
If you think your toddler isn’t getting enough sleep, try moving bedtime earlier, get some blackout curtains, use white noise (a cheap box fan works well!), and see what happens with your toddler’s behavior over the next few weeks.
You may be surprised at what a difference a little extra sleep makes!
6. Involve them in what you’re doing
Maybe your toddler is acting out because she just wants to be with you.
Yes, chores definitely take longer when you have a three year old “helping”. Yes, it’s inconvenient and sometimes annoying. Yes, it would be faster and easier and done better if you did it alone.
But if you slow down and have your toddler help you, it may just be exactly what he needs to listen better, calm down, be kind to his baby sister, and stop having so many fits.
What can they do?
Toddlers are surprisingly good at laundry, and can even get decent at helping rinse clean dishes. What about wiping the table and chairs with you after a meal? Mixing cookie dough? Washing vegetables and fruit?
I’m sure you spend lots of time with your toddler, but involving them in something important (what you’re working on) gives them a sense of purpose and connection that just playing together can’t offer.
Pick a time to do this when you’re not feeling super rushed – if you’re calm and relaxed, it will be more fun for you both.
7. Consider personality and work with it
One of my boys immediately calms down when I say something like, “I can see that you’re really frustrated about ________” Just feeling understood and heard is all he needs!
Another one of my kids isn’t going to calm down until he’s alone in his bed. Talking about it escalates the situation.
Knowing their differences and responding the best way for each individual child has helped greatly.
Just because someone else’s child just needs a hug to calm down doesn’t mean that’s how YOU need to respond to your child. Find what works for your child, and do that.
God gave him to you, and he will give you wisdom to parent him well if you ask for it.
Discipline is important, but it’s not always the answer
It’s hard when you’re dealing with toddler tantrums. It’s tempting to take it personally, or to allow this one issue to define your whole relationship with your child.
Toddlers need discipline. I’m all for discipline! It’s healthy and good to set boundaries and enforce them with your child!
But sometimes, discipline is not the answer. Sometimes, you just need to make some practical changes to see your child’s behavior improve.
Try these strategies for two weeks and see how toddler tantrums change in your house!
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