Tantrum City

Tantrums. Every kid has them. Little Bear has been throwing some real good ones lately. My partner and I have been both feeling frustrated. I won’t speak for Rebecca, but I’ve been feeling downright angry when Little Bear pitches a tantrum. I want to give her space to work through emotions and feelings, but sometimes I need her to put her boots on. Now. 


Little Bear and wall collage!

Lately, what I’m trying to work on is not reinforcing that pitching a tantrum works, which is harder than it sounds. A recent example: Little Bear pitched a tantrum over not getting to walk up the stairs one night before bed. I had been repeatedly saying we were going to go upstairs and use the potty and get ready for bed. I finally just picked her up and carried her, and she sobbed and cried about “My go upstairs! My walk upstairs!” So I took her downstairs and let her walk up herself and we carried on with the night. This is perhaps not a super dramatic example, but I had been saying it was time to go upstairs and trying to corral her for a while before picking her up. I reinforced that whining and crying would get her something she wanted (and let her delay bedtime, which is already a long process in our house).

One technique that we’ve been using is saying something like “I’m going to count back from five, and when I get to one I’m going to help you put your boots on.” Then I count back from five and do whatever it was I said, even if she continues to tantrum. To be honest, one of the reasons I’ve been liking this is that it gives me a second to breath and think about what I’m going to do instead of reacting in the moment and yelling or letting the tantrum work. I also like it because it gives Little Bear really clear communication about what we’re going to do and when. She gets warning instead of just getting picked up out of what might feel like nowhere. Now, most of the time she’ll keep whining up until I get to two or one and then she stops and does whatever I was asking her to do. 

How do you deal with tantrums? What are your favorite strategies for redirecting tantrums? How do you keep your cool and not throw a tantrum right back?

5 thoughts on “Tantrum City

  1. The best strategy I know is to give 2 options before the power struggle that causes the tantrum. “Put your boots on now, or in 5 minutes?” Or even “you want to put your boots on or want me to?”

    • Great idea, I’ve used this one before when I think something will be a struggle. I still sometimes don’t always anticipate what will be a power struggle as well as I maybe could. 🙂

  2. I know this is a relatively old post, but I love it. Our just-turned-two toddler is quite spirited and opinionated – go her! But my oh my, it can be challenging to parent a toddler with the gift of a strong spirit, especially when our goal is to foster the strength of that spirit. We’re constantly reading up on how to communicate effectively and build a healthy relationship with our kids while also, you know, getting shit done. Which can be hard to do with babies & little kids.

    Similar to what you mentioned, we found that counting down works best for our toddler. For example, it’ll be time to come inside, while of course she would prefer to keep playing outside. So we’ve started the outside-to-inside transition with a 5 minute heads up that there’s 5 more minutes of outside play time until we go inside for xyz, then a 1 minute heads up, and then we let her know that outside time is all done for now, it’s time to go inside and do xyz, that she can come inside walking all by herself or I can help her come inside. Something like, “You can walk inside yourself, or I can help you come inside. It’s time to go inside now. I will help you in 5……4…….3…….2…” and usually by the time I get to 2, she’s emphatically saying, “I want to walk myself!” and running towards the door. But when she doesn’t, then I remind her that it’s time to go inside, and that I am helping her, and I scoop her up and go. If she then communicates that she wants to do it herself, we’re okay with that. I’ll tell her sure, but that she needs to hold my hand (if I think she really just wants to try to run off & go back to outside playing) or just say, “Yes, you can walk yourself inside,” if it seems like she’s going to do that. And sometimes I’ll carry her in, and she’ll freak out only once we’re inside that she wanted to do it by herself. In those situations, I just hold her, let her be upset, and let her know that I am hearing what she is saying, that her feelings are okay to have.

    The tantrums that break me are the bedtime/middle of the night tantrums. I can handle anything with grace during the day, but when it’s night and toddler wails about wanting to “Go in live room! Read books in live room!” or claims “I has poop in my diaper, you change Wowan’s diaper in bathroom!” (when there’s definitely no poop) ..that is when I just want that magic wand to wave over her to make her go. to. sleep. NOW.

    • That is pretty much the same technique we use with Little Bear. It’s so reassuring to hear that other parents use that and it works.
      Bedtime tantrums are the worst! The tantrums probably aren’t worse, I’m just done and ready to read a grown up book or snuggle on the couch with my partner.

      • Yes, that is so totally it. By that point in the night in our home, we’ve used up all of our parental zen and just need to recharge.

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