Dealing with toddler tantrums


I see people talk about how three’s are worse than two’s. And then I wonder how I’ll survive the age of three. I rationalize with myself by convincing myself that Maximus started his three’s early. He’s got a couple more weeks of age two, but the unreasonableness has been going on for a while now. His moods seem to come in phases and I don’t even notice them start. But, I know we’re in the thick of something. He can turn into a mess of tantrum in a hot second. Example above, happy as can be helping feed his brother. Later, he got mad because I told him those green overalls weren’t his. Some other examples…

  • Bedtime: The.Worst.Idea.Ever. He is not a fan. It may be the fact that it’s still light out. Or that he’s just not tired. But, it looks like it’s because he wants to watch five Mickey Mouse’s (five-minute cartoons), read one book, hear one story, get one song, have ice and water in his water bottle, have his door open halfway, and have the hallway light on. Of course that’s after he doesn’t want to put his pajamas on or go potty. And brushing his teeth is only 25% successful. Something has to give and I think it’s us. If you need us, we’ll be squashing toddler dreams one bedtime at a time.
  • Morning: waking him up. Depending on when he finally fell asleep, he’s probably still tired and doesn’t want to get up at 7 am. Once you convince him to get up, there’s probably a good chance that you won’t be able to get him to sit on the potty. You can always get him to pick out a clean pair of underwear, but you can’t always get him to put them on. And almost every day you pick out the wrong outfit and he won’t wear it. But, he also won’t pick out one he will wear. So you leave him crying on his bedroom floor, with or without underwear on.
  • Nap time: making him take one. He doesn’t have time for them anymore. On the rare occasion that he doesn’t cry when you put him in his room, he’ll usually cry when you leave the room. Then he plays the drums and pulls out all his toys. About 45 minutes later he’ll walk out into the living room with a blanket over his head. He then tells us that he closed his eyes and already took a nap. Of course, he cries when you put him back in his room.
  • Every other minute: telling him he can’t do something. Not making the food he wanted. Telling him to go to the bathroom since he’s been doing the potty dance for fifteen minutes. Making him come inside. Not letting him eat as a snack. Not letting him eat food in the car on the way to daycare. Making him put shoes on instead of sandals. Not having his red shorts clean. Not giving him a popsicle because he didn’t keep his underwear dry. (That’s another post!)

Don’t get me wrong, for almost every tantrum there is something really cool that he does, but man is this age giving us all white hair! No, really. We may need to change the hair budget and include coloring.

Three’s may be worse than two’s, but I’m not going to assign an age to his attitude. I’m going to say this phase is trying on us all, but we’re doing the best we can. Here’s what we’re doing to try to make it through the tantrums…

  • Bedtime: set clear expectations. Clear being the main goal here. We repeat ourselves every few minutes. Ok, Maximus, you can watch five Mickey Mouse’s instead of reading a book or having a story. Ok? No book or story. After we watch Mickey Mouse we will go to bed. And, mommy doesn’t want you to get sad and cry. This has a 50% success rate. Then, when we’re finally done watch it I explain it again. And I give options, do you want to walk to your room and go to bed or do you want me to carry you? Piggyback rides make it fun and cool. On the way in there I remind him again that we’re going to go in there and go to bed. Once in there I tell him we watched Mickey Mouse so we’re only going to sing a song and then go to sleep. It’s sort of working.
  • Morning: we have no idea! This feels so much like the card you draw for the day. We’ve tried waking him earlier, he gets out of bed and shuts the door. Multiple times. Or turns off his light and shuts the door. He kicks and screams and rolls around. We’ve tried forcing clothes onto him and he cries for a long time. We’ve tried giving him incentives for being good and that backfires when he can’t control the reward. We try to talk calmly and leave him to do things on his own. Ok, mommy is going to finish getting ready. You get dressed. That sometimes works and when it does he is so proud of himself for getting dressed, which he can do on his own. He just chooses not to. Or he gets angry because he accidentally puts something on backwards or can’t button his shorts.
  • Nap time: we let him cry it out. He’s pretty good about staying in his room, so we let him cry for a little bit and then he plays. Unlike at bedtime, he doesn’t cry for very long. We tell him to play quietly if Quinten is in his room sleeping, too. If he comes out of his room then we just put him back in. We know he needs to take a nap so we leave him in there and hope he’ll take a short one. He usually does unless one of us is in the front yard, then he watches us from his window.
  • Every other minute: time outs. It seems like he spends a lot of time sitting on the floor in the living room or in his room. He’s usually kicking and screaming during time out. We put him in time out and tell him he needs to sit there because he did x. Sometimes we set a timer for two minutes (his age). After his time out is done, we sit down and talk to him about what he did wrong. Sometimes he’s still mad and doesn’t want to get up. He always has to say he’s sorry for doing it and give us a hug. We know he’s listening because he’ll talk about it later. We try to instill good behavior all the time. Right now we’re working on always asking for something nicely. Mommy, can I please have a glass of water. Daddy, I don’t like vegetables. To avoid meltdowns, we try to keep him busy and give him jobs to do. We understand that he gets upset because he thinks he’s a big boy. So, we try to have him help do things like make supper or help dust or pick up toys.

I don’t think he’s much different from any other toddler, but he sure does have a lot of passion and emotion. He can get very sad and very mad and he uses screaming and kicking to show how he feels. We try to get him to talk about it instead of throwing a fit, but that’s not very consistent. The days may feel long, but I know these years will be short. We’re doing the best we can to make it through each day with calm voices and nice words. And then we sit on the patio and soak in the quiet after the house is finally asleep.

What’s your favorite way to get past a tantrum?

4 thoughts on “Dealing with toddler tantrums

  1. Fiona's Mom

    Good luck, mama! It’s funny that you posted this today – as Laura and I were comparing tantrum notes from the weekend this morning. There seems to be an epidemic.

    Fiona chants “Turn on the listening ears. Use my words and not my tears.” Some days it helps. Some days it’s said in a wail.

    1. Oh, Fiona! We try, “Mommy can’t understand you when you whine.” It rarely works at this point. He has something to prove and throwing a fit is the only way he can make his opinion known. Or so he thinks. 🙂

  2. […] Thank you to everyone who commented, talked to me in person, emailed me, Facebooked me, or sent me messages! You all have great suggestions for dealing with toddler tantrums. […]

  3. […] while back, I complained about the toddler tantrums at my house. I got a lot of great ideas and suggestions from friends. I also got sympathy, which […]

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