The Secret to Handling Toddler Tantrums

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We’ve all been there. 

Your sweet little toddler suddenly throws themselves on the ground in a public place, crying and screaming like you’ve sentenced them to a lifetime of time-out with no cookies and no Daniel Tiger EVER AGAIN.

When, in reality, you made a completely, 100% reasonable request. Or it would have been reasonable if they weren’t a 2-year-old.

Toddlers are absolute experts at expressing themselves. They have no qualms about when, where, or how it’s done. They feel something, and the world will know it.

And who can blame them? They’re trying to figure us out. They’re trying to figure themselves out. They’re trying to figure out how they fit into this big new world. Heck, I’m not anywhere close to figuring it out, and I’m 32.

But, it can be downright embarrassing and – let’s be real – gets on your last nerve. Nobody enjoys dealing with public displays of negative emotion. Some of us can’t even deal with that in private.

So, what’s a mama to do??

Enter Janet Lansbury. Talk about a mom crush. Everything she speaks to on parenting resonates with me. I want her to read me a bedtime story every night, because her voice is like a soft, warm, weighted blanket.

I listen to her podcast, Unruffled, on repeat. Her books are holy in my home. 

One piece of advice from her podcast really hit home with me, and I’ve put it on repeat in my head when my son turns into a whining, crying, tantrum-throwing toddler. (The episode transcript is here.)

I’m paraphrasing, but essentially:

“Respond, but don’t react.”

In the episode, she quotes Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson’s book, No Drama Discipline. 

“The pause between reactive and responsive is the beginning of choice, intention, and skillfulness as a parent.”

Here’s how she explains the difference between responding and reacting:

“Is it normal to react? Yes, but as parents it will help us, and help our children, to work on responding instead of reacting — giving ourselves that moment to breathe, perceiving our child as capable of being in their uncomfortable feelings….
…the way to build this skill is to practice perceiving, and letting go of being the fixers, being the extinguishers of every uncomfortable emotion our child has. That’s not our job and it doesn’t help our children.
Sometimes I think of this for myself as kind of an unplugging inside. Instead of letting myself get touched off by everything children say or do, I unplug, so it gives me that bit of time to take it in, and to see what’s needed.”

The more we let our toddlers get a “reaction” or a “rise” out of us, the more uncomfortable they feel. They’re supposed to be able to look to us for answers.

The more “adrift” they feel, the more explosive their emotions can become. It’s our job to be their anchor in the stormy sea of life.

Even if that sea is the grocery store checkout line, and the storm is saying “no” to a candy bar.

If anything, listening and reading Janet’s advice has helped me feel calmer and more confident in setting boundaries with my son, and that’s half the parenting battle.

How do you keep your cool when your toddler gets hot??

1 COMMENT

  1. This is great! I let my daughter be mad. I just tell her that I’m sorry she’s angry and to let me know when she’s done. If we are in a restaurant or something like that, we will go outside or somewhere we won’t be as disturbing. But if we’re in Target, she can just be mad for a few.

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