Three Surprising Ways to Avoid Toddler Temper Tantrums

giraffe_simpleLike the rest of us, kids do best when they’re happy. Over the long haul, the more happy experiences they have, the more secure and emotionally healthy they will be.

That’s why avoiding power struggles and winning cooperation and navigating temper tantrums with a smile are such important parts of the Emparenting! philosophy.

Jeremy, my toddler, is an absolute joy – and one of the most stubborn kids I’ve ever had the pleasure of arguing with. Extremely independent, Jeremy knows exactly what he wants, and is willing to fight to get it.  None of my usual tricks – counting to three, pretending to walk away, getting down on my knees and begging – make the slightest impression on him.  So I’ve had to get really creative.

Here are some of the techniques I’ve had the most success with:

1. Enlisting the Help of Imaginary Animals

Whether it’s giraffes outside the pizza parlor in the mall or elephants sleeping on our porch, imaginary animals play a major role in our lives right now. Before bedtime, we’ve been known to walk around the house and say goodnight to the monkeys, and when trying to leave the toy store, we’ve enlisted Jeremy’s help in carrying the baby rhino to the car.  We’ve also let him take home the teeniest monkeys you’ve ever seen.

Jeremy, far from being confused by all this, plays right along and enjoys it immensely.  He cups his hands together to carry the monkeys, leads the rhinos on a leash, and pretends to feed the hungry pizza-seeking giraffes.  He knows it’s pretend (or at least, we hope he does…) but at that age imagination is king, and he loves every minute of it.  To be perfectly honest, so do we.

2.  Getting into Character

One of Jeremy’s favorite books is the classic “Caps for Sale” by Esphyr Slobodkina.  We read it practically every night before bed, and he pretty much knows it by heart.

One afternoon, I was having particular difficulty getting him out of the car.  He was working himself up into a full-blown temper tantrum, and I was starting to get really frustrated.  Then I thought “Emparenting”, and remembered to be creative, rather than controlling. And that’s when I had my moment of genius.

“Jeremy!” I said suddenly.  “Can you walk to the house while balancing all the caps on your head?”  He looked up, finally interested in what I was saying.

I grinned and pretended to pile the caps on my head, mimicking the book. “First my own cap, then the gray caps, then the brown caps, then the blue caps, and on the very top – “

“The red caps!” Jeremy exclaimed excitedly.  He jumped up,  climbed out of his seat, and started walking carefully towards the house, careful to balance the caps on his head.  On the way, he even pretended to stumble and drop them, giggling gleefully.

And so it was that we made it inside, and happily at that.

3.  Ready or not, here I come!

My husband, Ohr, who’s admittedly in much better shape than I am, often uses the old “I’m gonna get you” routine to help Jeremy transition out of daycare. Jeremy loves his daycare provider (she really is amazing, although what’s truly amazing is how badly we want them to love their babysitters, until the jealousy kicks in) and is often reluctant to go home.  Rather than trying to convince him or force him into the car, Ohr usually prefers to stick around a few minutes, let Jeremy get used to the idea of leaving, and then suddenly break out with a joking “I’m gonna get you! You better run!” Inevitably, Jeremy squeals with delight and begins running around, at which point Ohr scoops him up and carries him, giggling, to the car.

Finding a cheerful way of handling transition difficulties with a Terrible Toddler can take a bit of work, and does require a bit more concentration and deliberate creativity than the traditional demand for obedience.  However, in the long run, it makes for a much smoother ride and leaves everybody feeling much better. Obviously, it doesn’t work all the time, and kids do have to learn that sometimes one has to cooperate even when they’re not having fun.  But as a general rule, gaining cooperation through humor and imaginative play makes a much more positive contribution to your child’s development (and to your sanity) than all the yelling and time-outs in the world.



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