I talk a lot about tantrums, mostly because they are the center of toddler-hood, but also because they cause a lot of unwanted stress.

So here are two things to never do during a tantrum:

1) Give in.

2) Get mad.

Most likely in your journey as a parent, you are going to do both, but you should do differently starting tomorrow and here is why:

1) Don’t give in.  You child is looking to see where the wall is.  Where the limit is.  As soon as you give in, he has to keep looking.   This is very hard on children and very hard on parents.

For example, your toddler wants the crusts off his sandwich.  In the midst of cutting off the crusts, you cut the sandwich in half which is what he usually likes.  You give him the sandwich.

Toddler: “NOOO!!” Tears start streaming, face turns red.  “Put the sandwich back together!!!!”

You (not giving in): “I’m sorry, I thought that was how you liked it.”

Toddler (potentially throwing the sandwich, hopefully not): “NOOooo!! Put it back together!!”

At this point, you could give in and make him another sandwich.  It would diffuse this situation, but it would only create future situations where your child has to learn what the limit it.  DO NOT GIVE IN. Do not make another sandwich.   Your child can either eat the sandwich you made or not eat the lunch.  

I realize that you want to make another sandwich.  You don’t want the tantrum and the new sandwich will calm everything down.  But if you do give in, then your child has to test the limits again later and will have to see if it is OK to tantrum about something else. 

Don’t give in!

You (still not giving in): “So sorry, but sandwiches don’t go back together.  Do you want to eat or are you all done?”

2) Don’t get mad.  Again, your child is looking to you to see what is ok and what is not ok.  Is it ok to start screaming about sandwiches?  If you start screaming too, then the answer is “Yes.”  If you remain calm then the answer is “No.”

Toddler: “NOOO!!” Tears start streaming, face turns red.  “Put the sandwich back together!!!!”

You (remaining calm): “So sorry about the sandwich, do you want to eat it or are you all done?”

You are going to want to say, “What?!? Are you effing ridiculous? You always want me to cut it up and now you want me to put it back together?!?!?”

Toddler: “No no no no no. put it back. put it back. put it back. put it back.  put it back TOGETHERRRRRRRR!” 

You (remaining calm):  “Are you all done then?”  

You are going to want to say, “If I hear one more word out of you, you are going straight to time out!!”

But if you escalate the situation, two things happen, 1) your child doesn’t learn any skills to calm down and 2) that he can get a lot of attention out of one sandwich and that if he escalates more, then you will as well.  Empathy and calmness will shut the tantrum down (not immediately, but much more quickly).

What to do instead?

Just shut down the whole tantrum by saying “I’m sorry, but no”.

So, instead of giving in, hold strong and say, “I’m sorry, but no”.

And instead of getting mad, say, “I’m sorry, but no”.

I’m sorry, but no.