Our Secret Weapon to Toddler Tantrums

It had been an exciting day for Everly.   It was a Saturday. We had errands to run and a neighborhood dinner we were to attend as a family later that evening.  We had rushed the whole morning, from breakfast to errands, with a quick run home to get Everly down for her 12:00 pm nap.  She was always a sucker for parties, and her excitement was getting in the way of her sleep habits. We definitely always try to keep a sleep schedule, but sometimes, it’s not possible, and it’s not worth our fighting and headache to make it worth it.  That day was one of those days. She wanted nothing more than to count down the hours till it was time for us to go to the “party.” 

This girl even had her outfit picked out.

So what did we do?  We did what all completely logical parents would do, and made a deal with the 3 year old toddler (as if she would ever really remember).  In exchange for not napping, we asked her to pick her consequence. In our household, we make it clear that all choices have consequences – good or bad.  When you make the choice to not sleep, we explained she would get grumpy and isn’t very nice to mom and dad. Sleeping is important, so if she wants to skip it, she has to give something up.   

She willingly made the deal and said, “My consequence should be NO treats the rest of the day or at the party.  No candy, no donuts, and no cake.”

We shook on it.

We headed over to the party and things were going well.  There were other kids in attendance, and she was having a blast.  There was chocolate, which she remembered she couldn’t have and accepted it without a fight.

And then…a big jar of Swedish Fish came out.  Bright red, fresh, and something all the other kids were excitedly eating.  I saw her look at the bag. I saw her look back at us. She didn’t say anything at first, but a couple minutes later, came up to us at the dinner table.

“Mama, can I please have a sweedis fis?”  (She knew not how to say it, but definitely knew she wanted it.)

Bracing myself, from what I knew was an almost eruption, I said, “Sorry, hunny, remember, your consequence was no treats, and this was a treat.”

Her eyes swelled up.  Emotions built. She clenched her fist, and her head drops with a huge cry.  Toddler devastation at it’s finest…

It was time Everly and I went outside.  In the past, this is where I would usually sit down with her, and either wait out her tantrum or (if I had a million times more patience, and she was in the mood), I’d have her verbalize her feelings.  At first, I tried to tell her it was okay, and reiterate that she chose that consequence, and it will be okay. Pointed out all the good things she got to do, like pick out her dress, play with friends, and go to the party.  

THOSE FAILED.  5 LONNNGG MINUTES WENT BY.

FLASHBACK…

And I remembered this very random Target Spot purchase I bought last week.  It was called a “Calm Box.” I’d heard it before on a few mom blogs and groups.  They sell a few on Amazon, but I came across this $3 treasure randomly on a Target stop.  I decided to pick it up, and read it.  

It contains some colored cards with instructions to stretch, breath, hum, sing, etc…

I thought, “there’s no way this is going to work on Everly.”  I stuck it in the drawer.

FAST FORWARD…

Back to sitting outside the party, I remembered this box, and thought, why the hell not. 

I looked up at her, still crying hysterically and repeating “but I want a treat.  I want a treat. I want a treat. I want a treat.”

I tried to remember one of the cards of instructions about breathing.

I offered her an imaginary flower, and I said, “Everly, please smell the flower”

She took a deep breath.

Then I gave her one finger, and I said, “Now blow out the candle.”

She took a large exhale.  We repeated this 4 times.  

It had completely calmed her down.

I told her to close her eyes, and raise her hand, and it had done its job.  Since then, I have used those concepts consistently, and they have been effective 75% of the time.   Sometimes the most logical but unseemingly approaches work. Here’s 3 consistent actions we take during tantrum time:

  1. Take a breath.  This is for us, not yet for Everly.  Before we try to address any sort of behavior we need to prepare ourselves, which at the least means we have to take a huge breath before we speak to her.   You know this. I know this. But sometimes we need a reminder. Because God knows that when you have had a long day of parent sh!t, and you get a toddler screaming in a crowd of people, the last thing you think of is what would Mary Poppins do
  2. Get to a comfortable place where you can physically meet them at their level. It’s easy to be frustrated, and simply watch your kid throwing a fit from our adult perspective.  This can be intimidating for your toddler and also create an unintended separation between you and your toddler. She/he will be more likely to let down their walls, and give up their fight when you physically meet them down at their level which means to take a knee, bend down, or sit with them.
  3. Create a calming distraction.  Whether you use a “Calm Box” or found a way to temporarily distract them for a second to calm and take a breath, be consistent.  Some examples of this can include taking 3 breaths first, touching their toes, stretching, or counting to 10. When you implement this, make sure they understand the end game is to allow them to verbalize their emotions to you, so you can talk through it.  

It isn’t easy, and doesn’t always work, but eventually they catch on, and consistency and structure can add some confidence in those situations, and also decrease your stress.

If you want a list of some Calm Box ideas, check out our blog post on the Creating a Toddler-Proof Calm Box


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