Gentle parenting strategies for coping with toddler tantrums
You may have noticed at around 18 months, your toddler developed some BIG behaviours. Toddlers crave independence in their little lives but they still need a lot of help! This leads to confusing emotions. Emotions they don’t yet understand, can’t cope with and don’t know how to verbalise. Phew! Basically these big emotions are behind those big behaviours and toddler tantrums, or as I prefer to think of them – meltdowns! If you are going through this phase right now then keep reading to learn my tried and tested gentle parenting strategies for coping with toddler tantrums.
What are toddler tantrums?
Before we get started I want to explain what toddler tantrums are and why I prefer the term ‘meltdowns’. The word ‘tantrum’ tends to have negative connotations. It is often used alongside the idea that a toddler ‘knows what they are doing’ and that the toddler is ‘doing it on purpose’ to ‘get what they want’. Other explanations often thrown around include ‘attention seeking’ and ‘spoiled’.
I’d like you to take a minute and consider your toddler. Ask yourself:
- What are their needs and wants?
- How do they ensure these needs and wants are met?
- What tools do they have to communicate their needs and wants?
- Are they able to get everything they need by themselves?
- And finally, how do you know what your child needs at any given moment?
The answers to these questions would be a whole blog post (heck a whole training course!) entirely in its own right, but I want to highlight them now just to get you thinking. The point is, toddlers need help to communicate what they need and what they are feeling. And when they can’t do either of these things, meltdowns tend to happen! If you are really struggling with meltdowns right now, download my FREE Toddler Behaviour Checker here.
Mind your Language
The other point to think about before we get stuck into the strategies, is that the words you use are important. Consider the type of language you use to describe your child (even if it’s only in your own thoughts). The language we are using has a big impact on our perspective of people and situations.
So labelling your child’s behaviour as a tantrum, makes it likely that you will see all of those negative connotations. A naughty child whose behaviour is unnecessary, meaningless, and irritating. But when instead you label these big behaviours as a ‘meltdown’, hopefully you will start to see a child in need of support. A wise person once said that “all behaviour is communication” and I think that is the perfect place to start.
Number 1: Communication
The most important gentle parenting strategy for coping with toddler tantrums is communication. Think about how it might feel to be in your toddler’s shoes. It would be really hard to keep calm if you couldn’t get what you wanted by yourself and no one around you seemed to understand what you were asking for. So let’s address this issue first by teaching our toddlers to ask for help.
Teach your child to ask for help
How does your toddler ask for help? If you aren’t sure, then why not come up with a simple method and start teaching them through fun activities. I used baby signing with my son, so we learnt the sign for ‘help’ through songs and stories and simply modelling the sign whenever we could.
You can learn basic British Sign Language signs on the Makaton website. But we loved our Tiny Talk classes. Other options might be using a visual card that they can hand over, practicing saying the word help, or placing their hand on your arm.
I am huge advocate for adding signing to your communication toolbox as a family. You might not know that I have a masters in Augmentative and Alternative Communication. And it has definitely become a passion of mine! On top of that, my experience as a family worker and as a mother have taught me how important it is to aid learning by providing several different ways of processing the information.
Visual cues help take the pressure off young children and give them extra support to help process spoken instructions. It’s not just adults who can use the signs. Your toddler can start to use them to aid interactions with their peers too. And contrary to popular belief, signing makes it MORE likely your child will speak and learn to use a wide vocabulary!
So don’t stop at learning the sign for help. Why not teach other essential words that your toddler might find difficult to say? For example, the signs for ‘stop’ ‘toilet’ ‘snack’ and ‘drink’ are super useful!
Explain what is happening
Another big communication tip is to explain what is happening. That might seem obvious, but as modern parents we all have busy lifestyles and it is far too easy to rush our babies and toddlers from activity to shop to home and back again. But let’s think about it from their perspective.
It must be really hard having everything decided for you and never having any control over your life. Help your toddler to feel more involved by preparing them for what is happening next. Explain what your plan is for the next few hours, describe what is happening as you get them in the car or head into the supermarket. Plan activities to keep things fun and involve them in your errands. The more you prepare your toddler and give them independent moments throughout the day, the less they will feel overwhelmed and ready to burst from anger and frustration.
One way to prepare your toddler, is by having routines. Don’t panic – a routine is not a schedule. You don’t have to suddenly know what is happening every second of the day. But if you can, find places in your day where the same things can happen in the same order.
For instance, when we get up my son goes to the toilet, gets washed and dressed and then he can come downstairs for breakfast. After nursery pick up, we have a snack and drink then go to the toilet before the next activity. And at bedtime, we do toilet, then bath, then pyjamas and finally a bedtime story before we put his Gro Clock to sleep.
These small predictable moments actually provide your toddler with a huge amount of reassurance. They help them to feel safe and know their lives are reliable and predictable. When life is chaotic and nothing seems to be happening in any kind of order, it can feel very unsafe to young children who aren’t able to speculate or rationalise about the events in their lives.
Number 2. Role Modelling
Next on my list of gentle parenting strategies for coping with toddler tantrums is Role Modelling. You have probably already realised that children tend to copy the adults around them. A lot of people warn you of this like it’s something to be afraid of. But it’s actually a brilliant skill! And one we can put to work when teaching our toddlers new things.
So how do you cope with your big emotions? As a person in your own right, you will also feel angry, upset and super excited from time to time. And let’s be honest, road rage can bring out the ‘She-Hulk’ in all of us. But if we want to teach our toddlers how to cope with big emotions, then we need to start role modelling the behaviour we would like to see.
Start by talking out loud and explain what’s going on. Describe how you are feeling and then what you are doing to keep yourself calm.
“I am so angry because nothing is going right today! I need to take a break and have some quiet time. I’m just going to take some deep breaths first to help me calm down. (Breathing) In and Ouuuuuut.”
Number 3: Sports casting
Number 3 on my list of gentle parenting strategies for coping with toddler tantrums actually comes from Simone Davies’ brilliant book The Montessori Toddler. If you fancy a read, she really is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to raising little kids. One of her strategies that I use all the time, is called Sports Casting.
During a football game there is always a commentator or ‘Sports Caster’ describing what is happening while it is happening. That is now you! In the game of life, it’s your job to keep communicating with your child. 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!
“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.”
“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.”
Parenting is hard
I think the really nice thing about this gentle parenting strategy for coping with toddler tantrums, is that it accepts 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.
Number 4: 123 Gentle Hands
The fourth gentle parenting strategy for coping with toddler tantrums again comes from the book by Simone Davies. I actually use this technique all the time with my toddler and we are 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’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, then count to three and then intervene.
“I can’t let you stay here by yourself. I need you to get in the car seat now. 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 four then number three
As you can see in the example above, you can use 1-2-3 Gentle Hands and then carry on the great role modelling with some Sports Casting too. It’s all about communication so just keep talking out loud and using those gentle parenting strategies.
Number 5. Offering Comfort
Number 5 on the list of gentle parenting strategies for coping with toddler tantrums is Offering Comfort. Some parents may be surprised to hear that you can do this even when the answer is no. Setting a limit can be hard for parents, so it’s no surprise that toddlers can find it even harder to cope with!
If your toddler is having a huge meltdown, sometimes the best thing to do is stand quietly nearby. Reassure them that when they calm down you will be there for a cuddle if they need it. This tells your toddler that their emotions are valid and you love them unconditionally. You can work on teaching them alternative behaviours to cope with those emotions at another time. Learning a new skill is tricky, and it’s not always best to do it when your toddler is in the middle of a meltdown.
Number 6. Blippi Breathing
When your child is feeling calm, here is a great way to teach them a new coping mechanism! Number 6 on my list of gentle parenting strategies for coping with toddler tantrums is ‘Blippi Breathing’. My son was obsessed with the TV character Blippi for a good 6 months during his second year. And we found this great episode where Blippi has fun exploring emotions and learning to breathe deeply to stay calm. Teach your toddler deep breathing with his fab YouTube video and make it into a fun game. Later when your child is having a meltdown, you can pull out an extra technique from your parenting toolkit.
Number 7 . Blow the candle out
Number 7 on my list of gentle parenting strategies for coping with toddler tantrums is another calming technique called ‘Blow the Candle Out.’ You can either pretend your hand is a candle with a flame to blow out or, if this is unfamiliar to your family, just ask your child to blow your hand away instead.
To stay calm we need to make our out-breaths longer than our in-breaths. Practicing blowing can be an easier concept to grasp for some kids than practicing deep breathing. It’s really helpful to practice as a game like this or even when eating hot food, you can ask your child to blow on it first to cool it down. Then the next time your child has a meltdown you can ask them to do some big blowing.
Number 8 Keep Calm Prompt Cards
Eighth on my list of gentle parenting strategies for coping with toddler tantrums is my ‘Keep Calm Prompt Cards’. I created these to help my toddler think about how to keep calm in different situations. You can download my Keep Calm Prompt Cards for FREE. I like to include them in activities around the house so that they are in context.
You could also do an emotions activity tray to explore the cards or have them nearby when reading a story. Simply ask your child how the character might have stayed calm in that situation. Teaching your toddler techniques like this helps to prevent problems before they start. We need to communicate as much as possible and provide alternatives to the behaviours we find challenging. Give it a go and you may be surprised how much your toddler loves acting the cards out!
Number 9. Emotions Flashcards
Number 9 on my list of gentle parenting strategies for coping with toddler tantrums are Emotions Flashcards. Again I have made these especially for you, so grab a FREE copy of the flashcards now. I love flashcards for playing matching, sorting, labelling, and search and rescue games. These flashcards include real faces of children expressing different emotions. They are a fab resource for helping your toddler recognise facial expressions and start to label emotions. You could even use them alongside a mirror to practice the faces yourselves. Then your toddler can recognise the face and how it feels when he is making it himself.
Number 10. Visual Aids
Finally, the last gentle parenting strategy for coping with toddler tantrums is Visual Aids. Hopefully by now you have realised just how important communication is when coping with toddler tantrums. Visual aids are another great tool for helping your child understand what is happening and what is expected of them.
I love to use a visual timetable for our morning routine and bedtime routine. This is just a laminated sign hung up on the bedroom door with some photos attached by Velcro dots. My son can check what comes now, next and then. This helps us calm things down when trying to do essential tasks like brushing teeth, going to the toilet and getting a bath. It can be nice to make the final task something fun, like the bedtime story, to help give your child an incentive to see the other tasks through.
But it doesn’t just need to be used at these times. You can use a ‘Now’ and ‘Next’ visual timetable at any point in your day. Some children like more information and some less, so start off with two or three photos and see how you go. You can grab my Daily Visuals Bundle for FREE here.
Which gentle parenting strategies will you try?
So there we have it. Ten gentle parenting strategies for coping with toddler tantrums. Which ones will you try? I would love to know how you get on! Tag me @craftytoddlercompany on Facebook and Instagram. And send me any questions you have by email and I will reply to you ASAP! Remember, if you are really struggling with your toddler’s behaviour you can download my FREE Toddler Behaviour Checker here.