Thursday, April 15, 2010

Intolerable Toddler Tantrums

You may recall a fairly recent post detailing my troubles with my son becoming a "hitter." This must be the age where everything starts coming together: realization of physical abilities, paired with improving communication, and topped off with explosive emotions. Nothing feels better that Josh throwing his arms around me to get a hug. With this "big" love also come other "big" emotions.

Naturally, being the paranoid mother that I am, I start wondering- is this normal? Are all 16 month old babies this emotional? Before I jumped to any conclusions and put a call into the doctor (which I was only moments away from doing), I hopped on the Internet, researched and chatted with other moms who've had similar experiences. Yes, this emotional stage is very normal. Just like my 'mommy instincts' told me, it's just a lot coming together all at once. After reading countless articles and all kinds of advice, I finally found techniques that work!

1. The Warning Signs
The first thing I try to do to avoid the tantrum is to identify the triggers and the warning signs. These, I'm sure, vary from child to child. My son's tantrums either result from him not getting his way or out of frustration. The moment his tantrum starts to brew, he usually waives his arm(s) in a hitting motion. This happens before he hits me, screams, or starts his fit. This is the first warning sign.

2. Using the Right Language and Set the Boundaries
After the arm(s) flail and I see him coming my way in an attempt to unload his anger and frustration on me, I tell him that I understand that he's upset. "No," just doesn't cut it. I believe he needs to know why I don't want him to have these outbursts. Telling him "no" or to just "calm down" won't help him communicate his emotions, therefore, he feels he can't stop.

When choosing your language, remember that this kiddo is just coming to grips with the fact that he's an entirely separate person from you. After I let him know that I'm aware of why he's upset, I tell him how his behavior is making me feel. For instance, when Josh threw his au gratin potatoes at me the other day, I responded with, "you're not allowed to throw your food." He instantly stopped. Of course this lasted a split second before he was winding up for round two. "It makes me angry when you throw your food." That was the end of that.

3. Encourage Verbal Communication
You've stopped the tantrum. This, in itself, gives you quite a feeling of accomplishment. Don't stop yet! This tantrum may be over, but the overall goal should be to help your learn to effectively communicate his emotions. Or maybe the tantrum isn't quite over but you've settled your kiddo down enough to listen to you. This is when I tell my boy to use his words. I'm completely aware of the fact that he can't just come right out and tell me how irritated he feels when he can't take the toy home from the sitter's house, but I help him along. I want him to be able to identify his feelings and communicate them to me.

This may seem like a lot of fluff just to get through a tantrum - especially when you're at your wits end after a long work day and all the child wants to do is scream and hit you. I've found that after just a short while of using these techniques, the tantrums have tremendously shortened in length and severity. Further more, perhaps this is just coincidental, Josh has been saying more words and using language more to communicate.

I'd love to hear any feedback, stories, and other tips you may have to offer fellow readers!