Lately, we have been hearing A LOT of this in our house in an answer to about everything. There is a sense of independence in the air 😀 You can encounter sudden outbursts, a meltdown out of nowhere, crankiness and ‘what i want is WHAT I WANT’ kind of a behavior, and all of this coming from generally a sooper sweet baby girl who was considered extremely well behaved and calm otherwise.
Being proactive about the child’s developmental timelines, it was not difficult for us to gather that the little one has finally entered the toddler tantrums stage, which as per the experts, come into existence somewhere between 1 to 4 years. But interestingly, many desi folks are not quite aware about the toddler tantrums and why they happen. In a desi household, people tend to label the little one as being ill mannered or judge the parents for ‘doing a wrong upbringing’.
Did you know that there is a VERY scientific and biological reason behind why your little toddler might be throwing that tantrum fit?
Tantrums are a very normal part of a child’s development.
The front part of the brain, above your toddler’s forehead, which is called ‘Prefrontal Cortex’ (PFC) is responsible for handling emotions and self control. PFC is not developed properly, not even till you reach your 20s, but for toddlers, it is way too under developed and immature. This is why you get to face all those emotional outbursts, and this is why toddlers do not understand your simple logic and fail to self-control. At the same time, toddlers’ motor and other physical skills develop at a normal pace, which is why throwing things here and there, or giving an instant reaction is easier than controlling their emotions.
So what causes those toddler tantrums and meltdowns?
- An under developed Prefrontal Cortex is the first reason why toddlers have those mood swings. They don’t have any self control and can lose it any where anytime.
- Along with the lack of self control and over flow of fluctuating emotions, the biggest contributor towards those tantrums is the lack of communication skills in the toddlers. In short, they want to learn more, do more, have more…..but can’t say all that. That lacking skill puts them in a frustrating condition and when they can not ask for or get what they want, they lose it. This whole phenomenon should not be too difficult to understand for adults as this is a normal human behavior. Despite having the skill to communicate, we as adults too feel super upset if we are misunderstood.
- Another interesting contributor towards toddler tantrums is the fact that they are feeling more and more independent, now that they are no more little babies. They are almost mastering all new skills. They can walk freely here and there, make use of their gross and motor skills, have a good understanding of the routine and their surroundings, are more socially active……and with all these newly found skills, you definitely shouldn’t be surprised seeing them exerting their independence, even if that goes against your will at times. They are all out there testing their limits with you.
- Any physical symptoms like hunger, fatigue tiredness, over stimulation, sleep, boredom can trigger a tantrum or a meltdown. Toddlers are more prone to be uncomfortable if one of these symptoms exist.
A toddler’s tantrum can either be manipulative or out of frustration.
There is so much your toddler wants to do but isn’t able to communicate to you, and out of that frustration of not being able to express themselves, emerges a tantrum or a meltdown. Don’t worry, this phase starts to better once your baby learns how to communicate with others about their needs. Generally, at such situations and with such type of tantrums it is best to remain empathic with your toddler. Be gentle and kind towards them as they are clearly frustrated and need your support the most at this tough time.
Another situation is when your toddler tries to exert their newly found independence over you by being stubborn about heir wants. What they want is WHAT THEY WANT! Don’t give in here, and try to discipline them ‘gently’ once they are out of the meltdown situation. Avoid being harsh and stay away from spanking.
The Survival – 10 Simple Tricks to handle Toddler Tantrums
So how could you possibly pull through this phase comprising probably of few years? What would you do in a situation where your little one completely refuses to give in to your instructions or directions on one of your visits to a shopping mall? How would you handle it when you want to speak to somebody about an issue and your toddler just loses it and wouldn’t let you talk till the time you have completely ended the conversation and drag them out of the place?
Personally speaking, we feel that everybody’s situation is completely different from others, and each mother knows their toddler and situation well enough for them to decide for themselves what to do. Remember we spoke on motherly instincts on one of our blog posts 5 Magical Phrases every new mom must be told, and we advised you to hold on to your instincts for the rest of your life. It works. You will know what to do when and where in regards to your toddler too.
Apart from that, we feel following a few of these things can definitely help you survive the toddler tantrums gracefully:
Cater to their basic needs:
Many desi moms (or probably moms in general too) are advised ‘to make their babies tuned to their lifestyles’. While there is no harm in synchronizing the routine a bit, we would highly recommend to keep a toddler’s needs in mind before making any plans whatsoever. Most of the times, if you look at the pattern of the tantrums, it is easy to determine the trigger for them. There are high chances that your baby could be hungry, tired, sleepy or overstimulated. You can be a little proactive and save those tears. Time your shopping or outdoor visits accordingly. Make sure the baby is well rested and well fed before you make some grand outdoor plans. Remember, they might not be able to communicate to you their restlessness, hunger, sleep etc and might create a big fuss.
Use of Sign Language or codes:
Speaking of communication, remember that is one of the most important reasons why toddlers have tantrums. They don’t know how to express their needs. They can understand, they can perform but they simply can not speak up to you about what they want.
How about you teach them signs about different words displaying their needs? Sign language is a very useful tool for babies which helps reduce frustration and develops a close bond between parents and babies. You can start using/ or teaching it from the very beginning.
A time came with our girl when during the meals, she would be on the high chair throwing food here and there and about everywhere. We got frustrated with all the mess and of course needless to say she was more frustrated being all tied up with no hunger for food, hence the tantrums and food being thrown away. Then one day, i accidentally asked her by rubbing my belly if her tummy was full?? The girl picked the sign and till date, despite that she still can not speak, rubs her belly to tell me that her tummy is full and that she doesn’t want to eat anymore. No more throwing food from high chair!!
(We promise a separate blog post on Sign language soon)
Keep your calm:
The little one does not know self-control, but you do. Babies and toddlers usually pick on the vibes that you give out. A panic when you are facing a tantrum will not lead any of you anywhere, and the fight will be HUGE and never ending. Maintain a calm composure and either ignore the tantrum if you think it’s manipulative or take your little one out of the situation quietly or hug them close showing support if you think its something which might be frustrating them. Once they have settled down, do let them know how they can speak to you in words or signs to let you know of their need. Let them know that tantrums are simply not acceptable.
We usually do it a lot at our place. Try to distract the little one with something they absolutely love, or would enjoy more than the reason for their tantrum. For instance, while being in the car if there is a random unexpected tantrum about being all buckled up on the car seat, we quickly divert the little one’s attention to different types of ‘trucks’ around as she is completely smitten by trucks. Within few seconds the focus is completely diverted. It is also very important to remember not to use the same tactics each time as the little ones will get used to and will no more settle with that trick. Be creative and spontaneous. We usually do a round of stuff. Another trick is to use their lovey or security toy in some way to distract them.
We personally do not like giving a mobile or turning on a TV to minimize a tantrum, or something you will not like to do otherwise in your normal routine. But then it is totally up to you to pick your battle.
5. Follow a routine:
When little ones know what is coming in a day and what is expected, there can be fewer tantrums. Follow a routine and stick to it instead of giving them unexpected surprises.
6. Communicate to them:
This has worked exceptionally well for us to prevent a tantrum. Speak up to your toddler about the sequence of events to follow. You can not simply impose your routine on them without any warning, just like the way we do not like to be pushed stuff on us. Our toddlers also feel good if they are kept in loop. Do not surprise them. Your communicating things to them will give them a few minutes to be mentally prepared about a change, give them enough transition time. Believe it or not and as funny as it sounds, toddlers understand a lot that you say and they do understand it.
At our place, we started talking to our little one from the very start, narrating incidents of the day. Now that we have a toddler at hand, we communicate that we will be going out to do XYZ, we will take along this and this, and we will dress up now and get the keys. The girl actually goes and fetch the car keys herself as she gets . The same can be applied in so many other ways, may that be a bath time, a meal time or a play time.
7. Give choices:
This will give them a little bit of control upon themselves, and choosing something themselves will make them a sense of free will. Remember, they want a taste of independence now, and giving them choices can make them feel good about it. While leaving the house, you can ask them which book or which toy they want to take along, give them options for what they want to eat instead of imposing your preference.
At an early stage, we started using the word ‘Favorite’ for everything the little one showed likeness for. By now she actually knows that something close to her heart can be chosen by her and that is her favorite item. This has given her an association with a certain thing of choice. Allow a little freedom, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
8. Set clear limits:
Its great to give them choices and make them feel a little free on their own, but at the same time, you do not want them to be left confused. Control comes from clearly defined limits, a clear “NO” to things which are NOT acceptable. And be consistent with them in a normal routine. Giving in makes the toddlers more confused about your stance and their control, and they lose it, thus throwing a tantrum. For instance, if you are asking them to choose between food items, offer ‘healthy’ choices only. Make it clear that a healthy meal comes first before they eat anything sweet, and be consistent on your set limits.
9. Acknowledge good behavior
Even if they did nothing special but refrained from a tantrum in a difficult situation, communicating to them that they did a good job will encourage them to do better next time. It will give them a clear signal that good behavior gets appreciation.
Out of sheer chance, we started using ‘motivational stickers’ at our place. Surprisingly, they worked like magic with our then 17 month old. Our toddler quickly learnt that a ‘good job sticker’ (as we call it at our place) is directly related to a good behavior. Other than that, we use ‘high-fives’ pretty often at our place. Every time something good is performed, there is an exchange of a high five between us with our toddler. Our girl feels a sense of achievement.
10. Give reassurance:
A major frustration meltdown deserves a big tight hug, yes that jaado ki jhappi sort. This is just how magical a reassuring hug can be. Being out of control is very scary to toddlers and their emotional state leaves them confused on its own, getting a little reassurance from your side can go a long way in regaining their confidence. Make them feel secure and in control.
Toddler tantrums are a very normal developmental process, and like anything else related to our kids, parents should remember that ‘This too shall pass’. This phase will pass on its own. Just try to enjoy the best out of every stage your baby goes through, but if it gets difficult at some time handling the tantrums, don’t feel shy to take a little break. Also if the tantrums get more violent or still persists after the age of 4, do seek a proper help from your child specialist.
Let us know what you think about toddler tantrums and the tactics you used to get pass that stage 🙂