It can be very frustrating and tricky for parents when your toddler has a tantrum or a meltdown, especially in public. On the surface you might see screaming, throwing, whining, hitting or other aggressive behaviour. What you may not see below the surface are all the needs and feelings that your toddler is trying to process or communicate.
Toddlers often feel big emotions that they are not yet able to understand or communicate with others around them. This is because their brain has not yet fully developed, so they find it hard to regulate their feelings and can become overwhelmed. This can trigger them to enter an automatic stress response, which displays as a tantrum.
Often there is always a reason behind a toddler’s behaviour that may not be obvious to begin with. Understanding what has led to your child behaving in a challenging way is crucial to trying to support them. If you start recognising the signs that an outburst may be brewing, you can take steps to distract your child, or to ensure their unspoken need is met.
Here are our Top 10 Tips to support your toddler’s behaviour:
- Plan Ahead – make sure your child’s physical needs are met, especially if you are planning a trip out. This includes ensuring that your child has a nap appropriate for their age, so they don’t become overtired. That they are well-fed, and you have snacks on hand. Ensure that they are provided with enough stimulation to keep them interested but not overwhelmed.
- Routines – children thrive when they have a predictable structure to follow. It helps them feel safe, develop skills, and build healthy habits. They also guide them on expectations and helps them feel successful in meeting those expectations. Routines help family life run more smoothly, and they help parents feel organised, manage stress, and find time for enjoyable activities.
- Boundaries – it’s a good idea to have some boundaries in place and display them as a visual reminder. Be sure to include realistic and age-appropriate expectations of your child’s behaviour. Give calm, clear instructions to help your child understand what the expected behaviour is. Rather than saying ‘stop being naughty’, ‘Don’t do that’ Say what you would like them to do, rather than what you don’t. For example “don’t climb and jump on the sofa” instead try “sit down please”.
- Expectations – parents can often have unrealistic expectations of their child that are beyond their capabilities or developmental levels. Their unwanted behaviour can be in response to this. Children need help and guidance from parents to stop them from getting overwhelmed and frustrated. When children learn new skills, they also build independence, confidence, and self-esteem. So, helping children learn new skills can be an important part of supporting overall development, too.
- Positive Attention – positive attention is showing delight in your child and warmth in your relationship. It helps your child feel secure and loved, which is important for your child’s overall development and learning. When you give attention for good behaviour, it shows your child that behaving in a way will get positive interest. Your attention is a big reward for your child. If your child behaves in a particular way and gets your attention, they’re likely to behave that way again. When you start paying attention to good behaviour, you might find you start to feel more positive, too. That’s because you’re more focused on your child’s good behaviour rather than on their challenging behaviour
- Praise – when your child is behaving well, it is really important to give your child some positive feedback. This could be a high five, a hug or a simple comment like ‘Great building’. This should be done immediately and will help boost your child’s confidence and self-esteem. Continue to praise at every opportunity when you see good, wanted behaviour. Praising your child helps you, the parent, to focus on the positives, however small they may be that day. It also gives your child something to strive for.
- Activity Changes – activity changes like tidy up time, or leaving the park can be hard, especially if your child is happy with what they’re doing and doesn’t want to stop. Challenging behaviour like tantrums can happen in these situations. Children can accept change better when they know it’s coming. Give your child some warning about activity changes that are coming up. Visual aids, like sand times, can help with these tough transitions. Try making activity change as fun and exciting as possible.
- Distractions – using distractions is a simple strategy that’s good for situations when behaviour might be becoming a problem. For example, if your child is getting bored or has been sitting too long, or if they are having difficulty waiting their turn with others. Try pointing out something of interesting, a simple game, interactive songs can work well. If you sense that your child is becoming restless and needs a distraction, why not encourage your child to come up with her own ideas? This can be great for their creativity and problem-solving skills.
- ‘Time In’ to cool down – when children are in ‘meltdown’ or in a middle of a tantrum, they need support to bring themselves down, regulate their breathing and rationale. Until the anger has subsided, your child cannot learn about why their behaviour was unacceptable. Time-in is when you stay close to your child and offer comfort and reassurance while they’re struggling with their emotions. It also involves letting your child know that you understand how they’re feeling. Supporting your child like this can help your child calm down from ‘big’ emotions and learn how to express these emotions better next time.
- Be a Role Model– use your own behaviour to guide your child. Your child watches you to get clues on how to behave, and what you do is often much more important than what you say. For example, if you raise your voice, your child will think that this is an acceptable way to behave and copy this behaviour. You truly do have to practice what you preach. Lead by example, you are their role models, and they are learning how to act in the world by how you behave.