As a dad, one of the most frustrating and challenging aspects of parenting is dealing with toddler tantrums. Whether it’s a full-blown meltdown at the grocery store or a more subtle display of frustration at home, it can be tough to know how to handle these moments in a way that is both effective and calming for both you and your child.
The first thing to understand about toddler tantrums is that they are a normal and natural part of child development. Children at this age are still learning how to communicate their needs and emotions effectively, and tantrums are often a way for them to express frustration or disappointment when they don’t get their way. It’s important to remember that your child is not purposely trying to cause problems or be difficult – they are simply learning how to navigate their emotions and the world around them.
Since children are learning, then it’s vitally important that you as a dad model and teach children the right way to manage their difficult emotions. That begins with controlling your emotions and actions. This is the hardest, but most important step in dealing with toddlers.
So, how can you as a dad effectively deal with toddler tantrums? Here are seven tips to keep in mind:
1. Stay calm and patient
It can be tempting to get frustrated or angry when your child is having a tantrum, but it’s important to remember that your child is not trying to push your buttons – they are just having a tough time managing their emotions. Take a few deep breaths, walk away for a few moments, name your own feelings (“I feel very frustrated right now,” etc), count to ten, remind yourself this is normal and it’s not an emergency. Sometimes letting your child tantrum while you calmly observe and remind them you’re there and everything is going to be ok is enough (provided they aren’t physically harming anyone or anything. If they are, keep reading). Remember in those moments, you must do whatever is needed to remain patient as your child gets their feelings out. If you find yourself getting so upset that you resort to yelling, then read How To Stop Yelling At Your Kids.
2. Validate your child’s feelings
Even if you don’t understand why your child is upset, it’s important to acknowledge their emotions and let them know that it’s okay to feel the way they do. Saying something like “I can see that you are feeling really upset right now” can go a long way in helping your child feel heard and understood. If you know what may have triggered the tantrum (see #4), then you can also name the feeling for your toddler like this, “you’re really mad you didn’t get the toy,” or “you feel sad we can’t stay longer at the playground.”
3. Offer comfort and support
When your child is having a tantrum, it’s important to offer them comfort and support. This could mean holding them, giving them a hug, or simply being there for them as they work through their emotions. Empathizing is an important part of offering support. Empathy sounds like this, “I know it’s hard to share. You really wanted to play with that toy all day, didn’t you?” or “You really love the playground. It’s hard to stop playing when you’re having so much fun.” When your child feels like you understand them and know what they are feeling they are more likely to respond well. Note, empathy is not agreeing with their behaviour or even their perspective. It’s gently accepting their feelings as they are with no judgement.
4. Try to identify the cause of the tantrum
Sometimes tantrums are caused by a specific trigger – for example, your child might be upset because they are tired or hungry. If you can identify the cause of the tantrum, it can be easier to address the issue and prevent future tantrums from occurring. Paying attention to your child and learning what situations may create hard feelings will help in this process.
5. Set clear limits and healthy boundaries
Toddlers are still learning about rules and boundaries, and it’s important to set clear limits to help them understand what is and is not acceptable behavior. If your child is having a tantrum because they want something that they can’t have, it’s important to respectfully remind them of the limit/rule while still empathizing. Setting limits and healthy boundaries does not mean being harsh, impatient or cold – it means limits with empathy, compassion and respect. It can sound like, “I know you wanted that toy, but it’s not yours. I’m sorry, but you can’t have it right now. Look what I found, isn’t this your favorite toy?” In this example, the limit is set respectfully and an alternate toy offered.
6. Use positive reinforcement
When your child responds to you after applying the five previous tips, or you catch them starting to manage their emotions and communicate their needs effectively, be sure to praise them and offer positive reinforcement. This can help to encourage good behavior and teach your child healthy coping strategies for managing their emotions. The more you positively reinforce the good behaviour you want to see, and stay calm and do not react to the behaviour you don’t want to see, the more your child will respond to you. If you’re not sure about how to give positive reinforcement, then you can check out my article 21 Positive Phrases Dads Should Say to Their Kids.
7. Seek help if needed
If you are struggling to cope with your child’s tantrums or feel overwhelmed as a parent, it’s important to seek help. This could mean talking to your child’s doctor, a mental health professional or joining a support group for parents. Children need their dads, so the most important step you can take is to invest in your own personal wellbeing first.
Dealing with toddler tantrums can be tough, but with patience, understanding, and a little bit of know-how, you can effectively navigate these challenging moments and help your child learn healthy ways to cope with their emotions. Remember to stay calm, validate your child’s feelings, offer comfort and support, set clear boundaries and limits, use positive reinforcement, and seek help if needed. With these strategies in mind, you can effectively manage toddler tantrums and help your child grow and thrive.
About The Author – Drew Soleyn
I’m the Director of Dad Central Ontario, Founder of Connected Dads, and a Career Coach at the Queen's Smith School of Business. As an ICF and Maxwell Leadership certified Coach, Trainer & Speaker, I help struggling dads show up at their best for the people who matter most.