As we inch closer to 2, N has definitely started acting out in full toddler form, biting me or her toys when she gets upset, throwing herself on the floor, refusals to comply, etc. The usual stuff. It’s so hard to stay calm sometimes even though I’m repeating to myself that she doesn’t understand yet, she’s only 1. What we as moms and dads need to constantly keep reminding ourselves (especially when everything spirals out of control) is that they can’t express themselves yet. Language is still developing and they can’t say exactly what they want, even though they know exactly what they want/need. I tell myself probably daily to put myself in her shoes and imagine how incredibly frustrating it must be to understand the world around you (to some extent at least) but not be able to fully engage in it. Hence the full on meltdowns for reasons often unbeknownst to me. I have been trying out some different preventative techniques in the last months so that her and I can avoid getting to the tantrum point to start with. I want to share these strategies with you mamas of 1-2 year olds out there (I’ve heard 3 and 4 year olds can be just as challenging, but that is a whole different ball game!). They have worked wonders for us, so I hope they can help you, too!
1. Use a timer for transitions. Transitioning is really difficult at this age. Even if they are starving or exhausted, they want to keep playing because their busy little brains get so focused on whatever it is they are working on. So much so, that moving to something else can be cause for a screaming fit, especially when that ‘something else’ is not as fun like a diaper change or going home. My solution is to use the timer on my phone, and when it is near the time to stop x, I tell her that in 5 minutes when my phone beeps we are going to do y. For us this is most useful when it’s time to stop playing and go get a bath before bed. So I start talking about how we will go get a bath soon and then her and I will set the timer and talk about what we will do when it is over. When it beeps (or even before sometimes) she will stop what she’s doing and we go to the bath, no drama. The other important aspect of this is that I have to stop her and make eye-conact when this happens so I know she comprehended what I said. Which leads me to my next point…
2. Make eye contact to discuss what is going to happen. She is only half-listening to me when she is immersed in her blocks or crayons, so I have found that if I get on her level and have her look at me to talk to for a minute, then she really comprehends the fact that yes, in 5 minutes when the timer goes off it will be time to put these away and go to the bathroom (to stick with my earlier example). I also repeat it a few times with her and have her answer “what are we going to do when the phone beeps?” so I know that she knows. When I do this her compliance is not an issue when the time comes to transition to the next activity.
3. Explain your agenda in a short, 3-step plan. We picked this habit up from our Kindermusik class, which is the best! It is simple: make a plan that you can simplify into 3ish words and then repeat it 3 times before you do those 3 things. I’ll use bedtime as my example again, because as I’m sure you know, tired toddlers at the end of the day can be the toughest to deal with. So for bedtime after bath we read some books and then she brushes her teeth before getting in bed. When it is time for one more book, the way I explain it to her is in three simple words: 1. Read, 2. brush teeth, 3. Bed. We say it at least 3 times, slowly, using my fingers to count the steps, so she has a chance to understand what is going to happen next (“Okay let’s Read, Brush, then Bed”). I often do this through the day as well so she knows what we are going to do (“Let’s put on our shoes, get in the car, drive to the park”). It seriously helps so much! P.s. Did I mention we love music class?!
4. Offer 2 options to “pick” from. I often let Nesrine have some autonomy in the decision process, but asking a 1 year-old to pick from too many options can be overwhelming for them. So, make it simple. Instead of “What do you want to play?” ask “do you want to play blocks or cooking?” You will get much better results from this tried-and-true method. However, non-negotiables don’t get options or even asked. Those are in statement form, used with the above techniques 😉
5. Read the Daniel Tiger Mad book/song. She loves this book currently, and I think it is partly because it has given some meaning and understanding to feelings she has sometimes. It has a nice song that we sing and helps if she gets upset about something (or at the very least distracts her from the fact that she’s mad). Then we try to talk through as best we can what upset her and find the solution. Again, with a 1 year old this process is very rudimentary, and I am filling in a lot of the gaps, but validating her feelings and working through dealing with them together is the first step at growing these skills as she develops.
Let me say something important here about all of these strategies: they do not always work. Don’t forget we are dealing with tiny humans who are learning how to navigate and process feelings and emotions. There are times Nesrine still looses it over something, even if I have done what usually works for her. She is a toddler, after all. It is going to happen, and probably at the most inconvenient or embarrassing times possible 😉
With that said, using these methods has really led to much happier and relaxed days with less frustration, leaving time to enjoy our day-to-day life!
What tips do you have for dealing with/preventing tantrums? Share your comments below, mamas!