Parenting Philosophies- Toddlers and Tantrums

9 Jun

Toddlers and preschoolers—what a delight they can be! It is exciting to watch as they discover and learn, begin to communicate more clearly, and show how capable they are. Delightful, wondrous…and incredibly frustrating.

Photobucket Ever feel ready to scream? Ever scream?! Isn’t it amazing how much power these little guys have over our emotions—intense love, delight and wonder; intense anger, frustration, and anxiety. Most of us experience really challenging times somewhere in the toddler and preschooler years–I found my eldest to be a joy until she turned 3. I remember it well—her baby sister had been born and preschool had begun…and our cat (!!) started to suffer the consequences. My daughter’s behavior toward our cat—and toward me—totally caught me off guard, leaving me in tears as I begged the preschool teachers for help. When would my previously joyful child be back?

Children tantrum because it is their job. What are they “saying” when they act out and eventually lose it? That they are frustrated, scared, angry—and they do not have the skills yet to express these big feelings in ways we consider appropriate. What pushes them to this extreme? Often it is a lack of independence or control over their lives. What do they need more of at this age? Opportunities to show how capable, competent, and in control they can be. Take a moment and think about how you offer your children ways to demonstrate their capable, independent selves.  Now, in what ways can you increase these opportunities? When do you feel the best about how they demonstrate their growing independence? These are important questions to think about.

Tantrums are going to happen. Lessening their frequency and duration is entirely possible. And it is all about you, not your child. Think about a time your child freaked out and you actually felt okay about it—you felt calm and confident and did not react. When my girls were little it was easiest for me when I knew the limit I imposed was absolute—“The street is for cars. You may play in the yard.” “Books are for reading; if you need to bite something, I can get you a chew toy.” When my daughters chose to try to play in the street or chew on a book, it was easy for me to stop them—and easy for them to get really mad at me. I felt fine at these times as they threw their fit because of the clarity I had over the situation. I felt calm and I stayed consistent in how I responded.

And this is the key—being calm and consistent. Calm in your approach (no matter how you’re really feeling), and consistent with your response to their choices. In doing so, you become a positive influence for your children, they can count on you to not lose it, and they know that what you say is what you mean. They trust you.

Let’s start with being calm—aside from taking care of your self, getting the sleep and time you need in order to be your best as a parent, what can you do? I have found the most effective tool is to pause. Pause before you react to the moment. Pause and take a second to think, “What do I want most out of this situation? How do I want to act in order to achieve it?” Pause, and then act based on what you want the most, rather than react to the emotions or circumstance of the moment. Everyone finds different ways to pause—deep breaths, closing eyes, walking away are just a few. Some parents have found positioning themselves next to their child creates a pause. By taking this moment it can be surprising how differently experiences can turn out. Find a way to pause the next time your child loses control—or does anything that leaves you feeling reactive—and notice what is different as a result.

Consistency is the other key ingredient. In honor of your child becoming an independent soul, always give them choices, and consistently honor their choice. For instance, if it’s time to load up in the car, they can choose between climbing in all by them selves, or be lifted in. If it’s time to clean up toys, they can choose to pick up the balls or the blocks. Usually in these moments children do well, for they’ve been given two or three doable choices. When things deteriorate is when they choose to not do what has been asked. And, yes, that is a valid choice—to ignore you. Being consistent now means to accept that choice as valid, and follow through with whatever consequence is the result—blocks and balls put away and are unavailable the rest of the day; being loaded into the car by the parent; being removed from a fun experience—whatever you deem as an appropriate response to their choice.

Consistency does not include cajoling, begging, demanding—it is about offering choices, letting your child choose, and being ready to respond appropriately to their choice—the first time. And this is important—asking your child to do something over and over leaves you feeling frustrated and angry as they continue to choose to ignore you. But how do they know to respond? For all they know, you’d keep asking all night long. When you respond the first time you become a credible influence—someone they can count on. And as they grow to trust your consistency, their need to react inappropriately lessens—they have a sense of control over them selves via the calm and consistent approach you provide.

What can you do today to pause and be calm and consistent with your child? What works best for you to pause? How does it feel to not scream?

Alice Hanscam, is a PCI Certified Parent Coach®, Certified ScreamFree Trainer, and owner of Denali Parent Coaching, LLC. Contact her at 907-868-6933,, or visit her at


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