Toddler tantrums: Practical ways of surviving the emotional outbursts

Remember when I said I don’t know how I will pinch our little patootie’s cheeks because she was so so so so sweeeeet?? I lied. I wasn’t yet a mother of a 16 month old. Well the toddler moments are fully with me. With all their terribleness. I haven’t pinched her (yet) but lately I have been having this irresistible urge to literally slap the eyelashes off her face. Okay. I exaggerate. A little. I don’t believe its humane to discipline a child (or anyone else in that matter) by smacking them anywhere on the face.  However, I have to admit on several occasions I’ve found myself smacking her diapered tushy out of sheer frustration and exasperation. 

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Having a toddler will humble you.

I have witnessed scenes that have appalled me: temper tantrums and acts of aggression that I silently had sworn no child of mine would ever do!

Well, guess what? My child does.

I often wondered where she got all this from because I don’t consider myself -or her father, her grandparents or anyone else that I know in her lineage – this aggressive at all. So many times when she lashes out, I have been tempted to question if she’s actually even mine (despite the fact that we are almost twins) because our personalities could never be further apart from each other. I thought she was being “extra” until I found out ALL children, even the most mild-mannered and cooperative, act irrationally on occasion.

Growing up, I had always looked at parents with kids throwing tantrums in malls with a sort of self righteous indignation. A judgmental eye.. Like how could a parent let a kid be so… “SPOILT”! Now that I’m wearing the proverbial shoe? I now know just how much it pinches.

You cannot beat a 16 month old into manners or submission. They are not dogs. You cannot tie them up on a leash. You can only try to take control of the situation and firmly show them how to handle their emotions.

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I have had to humble myself to the acceptance that I cannot control my child’s behavior every moment of every day. At 16 months, a toddler still acts on nearly every impulse, and I know it will take years of guidance from myself before she has enough self-control to behave appropriately in every — or almost every — situation.

So how do you deal with the tantrums? The destruction? The nights when she just won’t sleep? I recently found my very expensive conditioner slathered all over my bed. My duvet is white :-(. I tried to lightly spank her (with two fingers) on her arm and to take it away so she could stop the mess. She didn’t even cry. Neither did she stop. THIS. GIRL. HAS. NERVE. She instead just threw it at me and continued slathering whatever she had on the bed and all over her hair.. 😦 My word! I didn’t know such a tiny person can be so defiant and assertive. I could swear, the black African woman in me wanted to hit her so hard but I had to remind myself she is only 16 months and in her head, she’s just trying to play and learn. I’ve had to adjust my emotions so much, including keeping things she could destroy or things that could hurt her, away from her.

It gets worse if I stop her from playing with a puddle of mud in the outdoors or stop her from playing with the TV controls. She will throw her toys at me, throw punches and at times even scratch me. Then she’s got some set of lungs on her.. which she loves to experiment with on just how loud her voice can get. I have learnt screaming at her to stop doesn’t work. It becomes a screaming match.. and boy can she scream! Some other day she threw a full-blown screaming fit in the middle of the Concours d’elegance event, that made me want to hide behind one of the old cars on display.. All because she wanted some other child’s soda and I don’t allow her to drink soda. Of course I got enough side eyes from patrons.. Who probably assumed I had been starving my child for days or I had pinched her. SMH. For many moms, the most difficult part of coping with a toddler who loves to scream is ignoring other people’s dirty looks especially when you’re letting them cry it out. I always remind myself that everyone has been there and I try not to take it personally. Its also reassuring to know that other parents feel my pain.

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ZERO. CHILLS. Her reaction when I caught her literally eating my lipstick and writing on the floor with it :-/

So how have I been dealing?

First of all I had to understand that this negative behavior and impulses are healthy and normal. Otherwise I was getting frustrated and taking it all out on her. I had to understand that it is human to have feelings of aggression and even anger, but the difference between my toddler and myself is that I have learned when to pull my punches — at least most of the time. She hasn’t. All these emotions are new to her and she doesn’t know better on how to react yet.

Secondly I have had to learn patience. Especially when I have had a long day or I’m a little under the weather. The most useful response when my child is having a tantrum fit is to take her out of the situation (even if it means walking out of an insightful sermon in church or leaving a trolley full of grocery shopping in the supermarket) and sitting with her until she finishes crying. Staying calm and offering lots of hugs and kisses helps. Also I never leave the house without her comforter. For her its this blankie that she uses to put herself to sleep or to pacify herself every time she’s worked up. It always works magic. Every time you go out it helps a lot if you carry whatever your child associates with comfort to help you through these moments. Remember that your child is still learning how to communicate and will eventually outgrow this behavior.

Lastly I am the boss of her. If your child hits, bites, throws objects, or lashes out in other inappropriate ways, its your job to take control for her, and to help her develop the self-discipline she needs to express her emotions in safer ways. I know it is easier said than done. But you’ve got to try. I do this by stopping her from throwing objects or hitting things and explaining to her why what she’s doing is wrong. I at times give her time out for two minutes for her to cry it out and calm down when its a full-blown meltdown. Its not easy to hear your precious child crying in the next room but I have found after a minute we both are ready to deal with the emotions more calmly without the hitting or throwing of objects.

Consistency is also key: Consistently assert and reinforce positive reactions whenever there is good behaviour and discipline for negative actions. This has been the most s difficult thing for me. Particularly during the weekdays when she is with her caregivers. So if your child is in the hands of other caregivers try to explain to them what to do during tantrums and make sure its enforced consistently so that the child knows how to react across the board.

Also try running errands on your child’s schedule which minimizes the incidences. Like all toddlers my girl loves being busy doing something. The more bored she is, the more likely she will be destructive and the more the tantrums. So I always try to have activities that keep her little mind busy.

Learn your baby’s cues: Is she screaming because her diaper is wet or she’s past her nap time or hungry? At times I have thought she was throwing a tantrum only to find she is simply screaming for food 😦  Toddlers do not yet know how to communicate so I have had to learn the difference between subliminal communication and tantrum fits. Acknowledge her feelings. If your toddler’s screaming because she wants your attention, ask yourself whether she’s genuinely uncomfortable or overwhelmed.

Is my baby perfect now? No. She is far from it. She has pushed me to the point of tears severally… and exhaustion I didn’t know was humanly possible. However we are both learning. And I have the best rewards so many times during the day to remind me that this stage won’t last forever. No matter how scary her tantrum is, I have to remind myself that I am the grown up. The first few times were scary. As a first time mum, I never knew how to react or deal. Of course I expected many things from having a child but I wasn’t ready for this. What I love the most is that each day is a learning experience and this is what makes parenting all the more beautiful and worthwhile.

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Keep calm. Stay humble and patient parents of toddlers. In it together!!

Please do not hesitate to share the ways with which you are coping with the tantrums 🙂

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