Every mom of a toddler knows that meltdowns happen. When our little people come face to face with their big feelings, let’s just say everyone has a hard time. I have a few new tricks and tips for you that will reduce these little “incidents.”
You may have heard from Daniel Tiger to say, “Choose one more thing and then it’s time to go.” My idea is way better. Have your kid repeat, “Last one!” back to you. When the child says it aloud, there’s this magic contract that she creates that helps her accept the impending transition. You can also use more specific phrasing for an older child like “This is my last cookie,” or “This will be our last story.”
Your Turn, Mommy’s Turn
Try this one when dressing and washing become torturous. Have your toddler go first, while you slowly and clearly show them how to wipe their nose or whatever it is they need to do. You are not touching them, you are demonstrating, and explaining with words, step by tiny step. You’re trying to get them to do it perfectly. But they won’t, and that’s totally okay because next is Your Turn. Clearly and calmly say, “Now it’s Mommy’s turn. I am going to wipe your cheek. Now I’m going to wipe your other cheek.” Narrate before you act, even if you feel reluctant. Trust that a toddler meltdown is less likely when they know what’s coming, even if they don’t like it. Surprises are bad. Get the job done as quickly as you can, but not in a frantic way. Stay calm and efficient. My next tip will help with this.
When you need to do things like brush your kid’s teeth or put on their shoes, and they struggle, you get more frustrated and everything spirals down from there. Independence is great, but we all know there are moments that you need to do it and you need to do it now. It’s really important to use swift, controlled movements. Sitting your child on your lap so that you are behind them is a life changer. It works so well not only because they can’t run away or kick you, but also because you’re putting them in the position that you are familiar with when you tie your own shoes or brush your own teeth. You’re not trying to do everything backwards, so you can get it done quickly and confidently.
Fill Up the Attention Tank
Try this one when you need to wash the freaking dishes but your toddler keeps falling apart. Arrange your day so that your focused attention alternates with times you need to do something and you need your little one to be occupied. Kids can play alone fine, but they can’t do it for too long. They have little one-on-one tanks that need to be filled. Read stories or do a puzzle together for 20 to 30 minutes right before you bust out the mop or take a conference call. You can do this spontaneously but it will be exponentially more effective if you schedule it into your daily rhythm.
Use a Distracting Choice
Choices are good, but once you’ve set a limit, you do not want to use choice to bend it. Kids realize quickly if you don’t mean what you say. However, you can use choices in a different way. Here’s an example: If you were to say, “We are going to the bus stop now,” and that resulted in defiance, you might follow up with, “Would you like to sit on the window seat or along the aisle?” The choice empowers and distracts, while keeps you moving where you need to go; it assumes you’re getting a bus regardless, but you don’t need to get into an argument about it.
I’m talking to you, Mom. Grabbing is not respectful and that’s true whether you’re a child or an adult. Whenever safety allows (and that’s probably more often than you think), open your hand and say firmly, “Give it to Mommy.” Start this as early as your child can grasp small objects. Force yourself to wait a few seconds, with continued eye contact and open hand. You may have to say it twice. Later move to “Put the book back on the shelf,” type phrasing. This will pay off. Grabbing is a major tantrum trigger and opens the door to all kinds of power struggles. Learning to show respect to small people in general, is key to preventing meltdowns. And, it’s honestly just effective modeling. Even if you ultimately need to take the object, the preliminary act of opening your hand will decrease the possibility of a freakout.
You may not be able to completely eradicate tantrums. However, mastering both preventative action and confident reaction will prevent many otherwise difficult episodes!