Five top tips for coping with toddler tantrums 

Toddler tantrums are a big deal. Especially when you are living with them day in and day out. Toddlers are little people just discovering their independence and they need the time and space to learn how to communicate big feelings. The trouble is that the way they often express themselves (in screaming, crying, whining and grabbing) tends to bring out big feelings in parents too! Keep reading to get my five top tips for coping with toddler tantrums.


Being a parent is hard work

I have been working with young children and families for almost a decade. But it wasn’t until I had a child of my own that I truly realised how hard it is. Especially trying to avoid that tricky parenting trap of escalation!

What is escalation?

 Picture this – You are tired. You are cranky. There are dishes to do and you are trying to make a meal. Meanwhile your toddler is screaming because they want a snack. What do you do? If you get loud, your toddler will get louder. If you get upset, your toddler will get MORE upset. Things could just keep escalating until absolute disaster hits. So let’s avoid that escalation trap and instead use my five top tips for coping with toddler tantrums.

Male toddler wearing a blue tshirt and sitting at a table crying

Number 1. Check your cup 

The first of my five top tips for coping with toddler tantrums is to check your cup. (No, not your coffee cup. Although that probably helps too!) I’m referring to your metaphorical cup where those mental, physical and emotional inner resources reside. Let me explain with a quick exercise.

Please pause for a moment and ask yourself:

  1. What do I have the patience for right now?
  2. Have I reached the end of my tether?
  3. Do I need a break to think before I engage with my toddler?
  4. Am I more impatient today because my self-care is low? 

These simple questions can help you figure out what YOU need. When your inner resources are finally being refuelled, you will find it much easier to cope with your child’s emotions too.

But we all know that there are times when the tank is empty. Parenting is often about survival. So when it’s sink or swim think OXYGEN. You need to take a step back and just BREATHE.

Fill your cup with oxygen

Before you do any parenting at all, take a moment to think “my cup is empty and I need to fill it with oxygen.” You need to take a “Breathing Break”. And the best part of this, is that you can say it all out loud and give a really great example to your toddler of how to calm down when you feel overwhelmed.

Breathing Break

Take a deep breath and count to three, then breathe out as you count to five. The numbers aren’t too important, just make sure you breathe out for longer than you breathe in. You can simply focus on the feeling of your breath moving through your body. Do at least 3 of these big breaths before you engage with your toddler, it will make it easier, I promise!

Bonus Tip:

Sometimes you don’t need to do much at all. Your toddler may simply need you to be near them and offer a cuddle when they are ready to calm down. After a few deep breaths you will be more likely to recognise these situations.

Keep that cup topped up

Long term, you need to work on filling your cup more regularly. So that these ‘parenting on empty’ moments are less frequent. As parents, it’s far too easy to put ourselves at the bottom of the to-do list. But it doesn’t have to be a big, self-care pampering session that tops up your cup. Why not reward yourself after finishing a task by sitting down with a drink and resting properly for 15 minutes? Add a book to your food shop that you will find relaxing to read before bed. Lie down next to your baby and let them play with their toys while you rest for a little while. Not everything has to be a hundred miles an hour.

Number 2: Inside out 

Next on my list of five tops tips for coping with toddler tantrums is Inside Out. And by this I mean, get everything you and your toddler are feeling on the inside, out in the open by talking about it. Identify and name your emotions. All behaviour is communication and when your toddler is challenging you with BIG behaviours, it’s because they don’t know how to communicate their BIG feelings.

Start by naming and expressing your own emotions out loud. This is great role modelling. It helps your child to identify and cope with their own feelings too. You could say something like “I am feeling really angry right now. I am going to clap my hands and stamp my feet really hard to get my anger out.”

This might sound silly but it honestly works. And the more you offer coping mechanisms, the more you will see you toddler experiment with their own methods for coping with big emotions. These interactions will also let them know it’s okay to feel negative emotions and that you want to know how they are feeling.

Number 3: Set the limits 

Third on my list of five top tips for coping with toddler tantrums is ‘Set the Limits.’ Toddlers need limits. Your toddler is learning where the boundaries lie, what the rules are and who they can trust to keep them safe. That’s why primary caregivers (aka PARENTS) tend to face the brunt of their big behaviours. Because your toddler knows you love them unconditionally, they feel safe expressing their most difficult feelings and challenging behaviours when you are around.

When setting the limits, it is important to be consistent. Before you set a rule consider why you are setting it. Try to add a reason for every limit you set. This can be helpful to speak out loud as a reminder for yourself and as an explanation to your child. For example, “No we don’t hit. I can’t let you hit me because I have to keep myself safe.”

In another situation, like when your toddler is demanding a snack, the limits you set might be flexible. Your answer may depend on the time of day and how much your toddler has already eaten. So you may want to explain a bit more. For example, “No, you can’t have a snack right now. I am making dinner and you won’t have room in your tummy for this lovely dinner if you fill up on snacks.” 

Number 4: 1-2-3 Gentle Hands 

The next two suggestions on my list of five top tips for coping with toddler tantrums, actually come from a great book by Simone Davies. I use this technique all the time with my toddler and we are actually at a point where I very rarely need to complete the whole thing.

Number four on my list is called 1-2-3 Gentle Hands and it is for situations when you need to intervene physically. It’s a great way of giving your child a warning and of reminding yourself that any physical intervention should be gentle and done only when necessary.

So when your child next has a tantrum, you can warn them what is going to happen, count to three and then intervene.

For example:

“I can’t let you stay here by yourself. I need you to get in the car seat now. So I am going to count to 3 and if you don’t get into the car seat before I get to 3, then I will pick you up with my gentle hands and put you into the seat. Okay 1 – 2 – 3. I am picking you up with my gentle hands now and putting you into the seat.”

Number 5: Sports casting

This brings me neatly onto my final top tip for coping with toddler tantrums, Sports Casting. Again this idea is from Simone Davies book and helpful for those times when you need to physically intervene to cope with toddler tantrums. Sports Casting is just what it says on the tin. Just like the commentators at a football game, you are going to describe what is happening as it happens. So the next time your child refuses to get dressed when you are late for a hospital appointment or they are lying down near a busy road – Sports Cast!

For example:

“Okay this isn’t safe so I am going to pick you up now and carry you over to a quiet spot so we can talk. I know you are angry and don’t want to be held right now, but I need to keep you safe. I’ve got you and we are just crossing the road to this grassy area. I will put you down now so we can talk.”

Example 2:

“I understand you are angry and don’t want to get dressed. But I need to get us somewhere important very quickly. So I am going to put your clothes on to keep you warm when we go outside. I am putting your top over your head. Now I am helping your arms go through the sleeves. Hooray that’s one arm! Now two. Good job now we can get pants and trousers on.”

I think the really nice thing about these final two tips for coping with toddler tantrums, is that they accept there are really difficult situations for parents where you have to override your toddler’s independence. It’s not fun for anyone, but these tips help you to treat your toddler with respect and give them all the information. They will also help you to keep calm and remember to take your child’s perspective into account at all times. Therefore leading to more communication, less stress and a calmer home.

Bonus Tip:

Another super quick bonus tip is to aid communication by using visuals to support both you and your toddler. Keep a flashcard keyring or lanyard on hand as a reminder of your coping mechanisms and what you need to do in those tricky situations. If you aren’t sure where to start with visuals, grab my FREE Daily Visuals bundle now. And remember to email me with any questions!

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