The first time my sweet daughter thrown a real, loud and oh-so-strong toddler meltdown, I was in disbelieve. Second, third and fourth I was as speechless and shocked as for the very first time. I remember, that as I was looking at her screaming and crying on the floor, I was actually thinking that something must be wrong with her nervous system. Or that’s she’s sick. And that can’t be really happening.
And then, after these first couple of times, I was just angry. Why didn’t she talk to me, I was thinking, why does she have to scream like this? I had no idea at all how to handle toddler meltdowns. I had no idea what to do. I was just angry, anxious and I felt like a terrible mother for not knowing what to do and for actually getting very emotional too.
Fast forward two years, and here I am, a veteran in toddler meltdowns. My first-born is still capable of having a meltdown every once in a while, but at four it’s much different then at two. She screams a bit less, and usually repeats the same phrase over and over, like a broken record. It’s my younger daughter who’s in a full swing of a terrible two meltdowns now. Every day for that matter, she’ll be either dramatically loosing her breath while preparing for a big, loud cry. And every day, once or twice, she’ll be laying on the floor, screaming, or clinging to my feet while crying.
But I don’t get angry anymore. Their crying and screaming doesn’t affect me as it did. And a lot of times I just feel like laughing to be honest! their dramatic meltdowns look more like a joke to me, then a serious thing. And I feel a bit bad for them too now, thinking how difficult it must be to be them.
So the big question is: how to handle toddler meltdowns?
But actually, an even bigger one is: what is more important, stopping the screaming and the crying right here right now, or teaching your kid a lesson about dealing with their emotions?
I know that for me stopping the noise was the priority number one, but in the end the tactics I would use, didn’t really help my child calming down. Time out, would only make my daughter more hysteric, and raising my own voice would just make it all louder, and more out of control.
Because in the end, the meltdowns are a sign of a baby who’s learning to cope with life deceptions. And it’s just a phase, it’ll pass, and the terrible toddler will grow and learn how to feel and express their feelings.
So here are some of the tactics that I use to handle toddler meltdowns:
1. Stay calm and speak with a calm voice.
As long as you’re calm, there’s at least one person who’s acting reasonable. And as much as your child’s anger can affect how you feel (probably pretty bad), your calm can affect how they’ll feel (hopefully better). So stay calm, don’t raise your voice!
2. Don’t try to reason, ask many questions or explain too much. They don’t listen.
If your child is throwing an epic meltdown, explaining him why its unreasonable, and asking detailed questions won’t help, just might make him feel more confused. While a toddler is in a middle of a very emotional reaction to something that didn’t go as it should ( like a wrong color of a cup) he simply can’t reason. The emotions are overwhelming your toddler so much, that he needs to calm down before talking.
3. Time in and time out.
From my experience, the best way to calm a toddler in a middle of a meltdown is by giving him time in: cuddling, saying that I understand that she’s upset, that it’s ok to feel angry, and that it will pass. A cuddle, a kiss and a consequent calm reaction, can really do wonders.
However, as they get older, and their vocabulary gets sufficient to express their feelings even during a meltdown, sometimes time out will work too: if a child is less in a middle of an emotional tantrum, and more in a stubborn phase of anger, then leaving them alone to calm might be the best. I usually say: when you’ll be ready to talk, come back, I’ll be waiting for you. But as long as you scream please stay in your room.
4. Don’t give in.
If the meltdown started over the wrong color of a cup, or a wrong spoon, or you doing something they wanted to do, don’t give in. Ask them to express their wishes next time and promise that you’ll listen, but don’t change things only to make them feel better. Because what they’ll learn is that by screaming and crying they can have what they want. Be gentle and understanding instead, give them a kiss, but please, don’t change that cup or you’ll have to deal with a spoiled toddler!
5.Talk it over after the meltdown.
Once your sweet baby is back, and the tears have dried, talk it over. Remind them that they need to use their words when they are angry, and that “we don’t hit and throw things in our home”. And remind them that you always love them!
6. Be prepared for the early signs of meltdown.
Remember that a tired, hungry toddler is very prone to meltdowns. Keep them fueled by healthy snacks, and don’t complicate your life with sweets: giving sugary snacks will give your sweet baby a boost of energy, only to crush in a meltdown a little while after! So keep the cookies and chocolate for your sweet-craving moments, and give them more fruits, cheese or low in sugar crackers instead.
I know that raising a toddler isn’t easy, but the meltdowns are just a phase of a child learning to deal with the difficult world surrounding it. And one day you’ll wake up, and your toddler will be all grown up. So go ahead, and cuddle him hard, because it’ll all pass, the bad and the good!