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7 Secrets to Helping Your Toddler Calm Down WITHOUT Yelling, Bribing, or Offering Sweets

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You are in the store, or getting ready for bed, or asking your child to share and they lose their ever-loving minds. What do you do? Do you scream back at them? Do you run away and act like she is someone else’s child? Do you wait to punish him when “dad gets home”? Maybe! But I’m here to tell you there is a better way (or rather a couple of better ways) to deal with your mess of a child! I’ll be honest, there isn’t one strategy that is going to work every time, but you can see what works for YOUR CHILD. And it may be different on a different day. You have to figure it out. But below is a list of 7 ways you can help your child when they are having a tantrum. Try them out and hope for the best!

Okay, now with that out of the way, I’m super excited to share the top 7 secrets I discovered on my OWN path to achieving success when it comes to the classic toddler meltdown. Let’s start with #1”

Secret #1: Give them back some of the control by offering two choices.

Little ones are bombarded all day with being told what to do, and that can be hard sometimes. (I know I can get a little sassy if someone keeps ordering me around all day, so it’s not too surprising that our little ones don’t want to do it all the time either!)

A simple way to help avoid tantrums or to help your child regain composure is to give them some control back by giving them choices where you can afford it. Believe me, you don’t have to let them dictate the whole day, just find small things you can let them decide on to help them feel like they’ve got a say! You are still in charge, but you get to help your little ones THINK they are!

If they don’t want to eat right now, you can say, “It’s time to eat. Do you want your blue plate or the yellow one?” The idea is that they are getting some control of the situation, so they are winning because they get to decide something, but they are still doing what you need them to do! So that’s a big win for you, too mama!

So think about your hardest part of the day and come up with a few ways you can change your routine to offer your little one choices!

Secret #2: It’s not too early to start using breathing to calm them down.

If your child is old enough to follow simple directions and imitate a few simple sounds/words, they are old enough to learn breathing strategies to calm down! Honestly, I read this in Parents magazine and it was geared toward older kids, but I tried it with my 1 ½ year old. I was rather surprised when it worked like magic!

It truly can take your little sweetie from threat level 100 down to 0! It sounds too good to be true, but you have to trust me and try it out!

The key is to model it first so your child can see you do it! I take a big breath in through my nose and then do an exaggerated exhale so they can see my rounded lips pushing out the air. Then, we count however many breaths she wants to do together. By the end of the breathing exercise, she (usually) is calmed down enough that we can talk things over, without the tears flowing.

For this to really work, you need to teach your child calm breathing when they AREN’T freaking out! So take some time to do that today!

Secret #3: IGNORE IT!!

This is probably the advice you hear most often when asked how to deal with a tantrum, and rightly so. Your toddler wants attention from you! On a good day they will get attention from you by playing, reading, being silly together. On a bad day, they might lose it and commence kicking, screaming, and flailing! As long as your child is safe, try ignoring them.

Turn your eyes away from them and see what happens. Sometimes they stop rather quickly because they can’t believe you aren’t giving them the time of day (that’s ideal, but not always what happens, unfortunately!). Give it a little time and go do something else so they realize acting out is not the right way to get your attention. I sometimes even tell my kids “I will talk with you when you are done crying”. That way, they know exactly what is expected out of them.

They know I WILL listen to them, but first, they have to get themselves calmed down. (And honestly, if they can figure out how to calm themselves down, what a great skill to have throughout life!) Once they do calm down, make sure you tell them you are happy with how they are talking to you without crying and that they did it in a nice way.

Secret #4 Redirect their attention to something else.

This is a really great strategy if you can see the breakdown about to happen! If your child is about to blow their top off, try distracting them, or redirecting their attention elsewhere. I do this ALL THE TIME! I do it with my kids and I did it with my clients too! It’s just so simple IF you can see the storm brewing!

An example: your child notices that a friend is playing with one of their favorite toys and starts telling you about how they don’t like that. Instead of letting them fixate on that toy, offer up one of their other favorites! Say, “Oh it looks like Jax is playing with your truck, but I found another cool car you can play with right over here.” Distract them with something they want! Honestly, it works well with kids and adults! If they can’t have what they want, give them something they can have!

Secret #5 Affirm their feelings.

Sometimes being a baby/toddler is HARD! You want more cookies, but mom says no! You want to play outside in the snow for three hours, but mom says no. You want to climb, by yourself to the top shelf in the kitchen, but mom says no!!!

Why?? Well, that’s the problem, kids don’t know that there are negative consequences to all those things. They don’t know that too many cookies lead to a tummy ache, too much time in the snow could give you frostbite, and that climbing to the top shelf might result in a big fall.

They do know that you said no, and that can be upsetting! So sometimes, you have to help them name their feelings and talk it over. You can say, “Gosh, you sound really mad!” And sometimes they just need to hear that you get it! This is an especially useful strategy when their feelings are fairly rational.

If you were planning to go to the zoo, but little brother is feeling sick and now you can’t, that’s a big deal! You can help your child navigate that by agreeing with them and saying, “Wow, that is such a bummer! I really wish we could go to the zoo! I am sorry we can’t today.” And sometimes just giving them that affirmation will help them to calm down.

Secret #6 Assess what their biggest needs are.

Sometimes toddlers are just hungry or tired. And you have to help them get that basic need met! Give them food or a place to rest. Help them to get out of the funk by giving them what they need most.

If you know your child is hungry and/or tired try to go a little easy on them, knowing that they are more likely to get upset. Because that’s what we do too, right? Ever heard of hangry?!? It happens in adults and kids alike! The difference is our hangry doesn’t usually result in kicking and screaming (but on a bad day, it might involve exactly that!). We joke that our little one is a different human after she’s had a few crackers!

Secret #7 Give them a new behavior that is acceptable.

If your child’s temper tantrum includes throwing things or kicking/hitting you need to give them a new behavior that they can do when they are upset. The fancy term is a “replacement behavior”.

If you don’t like how they are expressing their anger, give them a way they can! One of my favorite replacement behaviors is grumpy stomps. You can tell your child, “It is not okay to kick, but I know you are mad, so try some grumpy stomps.” Then you can demonstrate by making a mad face and dramatically stomping around. Because honestly, stomping is a lot less severe than kicking and it can be just as satisfying to get some physical anger out!

Finally…

Kids will be kids, toddlers will be toddlers and that’s just the way it is! But if your child starts to throw a temper tantrum or have a complete meltdown, there are things you can do to help them get through it! Sometimes it will be enough to just say out loud what they are feeling, and sometimes you’ll need to take more action (or none at all…ignore it!). The key is trying out these 7 different strategies and see what works for you and your child.

Good luck and may the odds be ever in your favor!