Hello parents of tantruming toddlers, hopefully these 3 tips can help you and your little one cope with this turbulent stage of life.
I certainly have a tantruming toddler, and another one up-and-coming, so have scoured the internet myself to try and find some help. To be fair, the most helpful thing I found was the “biglittlefeelings” Instagram ‘Meltdown Monday’ stories. Parents who follow the account send in reasons why their toddler had a meltdown that day and they are pure gold e.g.
“He wanted me to take my shoes off, but only a little bit.”
“I gave him the cup of water he asked for.”
“I wouldn’t let him eat dog poop.”
“Her orange was orange, but she wanted a purple one.”
Knowing that you’re not alone and other people’s kids are just as weird as yours, makes everything a little less pants. Here are a few things you could try to soften the blow of those big toddler feelings:
- Feeling Eggs
“Feeling Eggs” are different coloured, soft textured stress-balls in an egg shape. The different colours represent different feelings, and your toddler can use the eggs in different ways to support them.
Blue Egg = Sad
Red Egg = Angry
Green Egg = Calm
Yellow Egg = Happy
With our toddler we use the blue egg to gently tap his face during an emotional meltdown, (watch this video for tapping therapy technique).
I would say that this works 80% of the time. My husband finds it ridiculous. He cuddles our son, taps his face with an egg and looks at me like I’m insane for asking him to do it. But it works… 80% of the time. The other 20%, we can’t get the egg anywhere near his face… but that’s when the red egg comes into action.
If meltdown turns into tantrum, or things just kick off with a full-on leg-thrashing, feet stomping, toy-chucking, screaming tantrum then head straight for that red egg.
Find a safe space for your toddler to really take things out on that egg. They can squeeze it, stamp on it, kick it, throw it around and scream at it if they want to. Help them channel all their anger into beating-up that poor little red egg. At least they won’t be damaging things, hurting themselves or anyone else. Eventually they’ll run out of anger and turn to a different emotion.
We use the green egg as a reward for using the red and blue egg to help them reach a state of calm. Getting the green egg is a big deal, my friends.
The yellow egg only comes out to acknowledge happiness and he can play with it if he feels like it, but he’s usually too happy to bother with it.
At the end of the day, when hopefully all meltdowns and tantrums are out of the system, we go through each “Feeling Egg”. We talk about what had happened to make him feel sad, or angry and then what helped him feel calm or happy again. It’s a great way to reflect on the big feelings long after they’ve happened.
Mum: Which egg is this one?
Toddler: That’s sad egg, Mum.
Mum: Why did we use sad egg today?
Toddler: I got milk on my chin.
I searched for some sensory-stress-relief-ball-type things online, and found these ALMAH Stress Relief Balls I prefer them to be blank rather than have faces drawn on them. Using emoji balls would still work, but the cartoon faces tell your child that those are the expressions they should be making when they are feeling that way. A happy child may not be smiling psychotically, or a sad child may not be crying dramatically. Just a colour please sensory egg world.
2. Control Cup
At one point, I was in desperate need of help. You can get as much advice as you like from family and friends, but when it comes down to it, you want an expert to tell you what’s what. So, I went along to a talk by Madeleine Woolgar at Fox and Kit in Bath and got some solid tasks I could put into action.
I won’t go into too much detail because Madeleine’s your gal for that, but the gold I took from her talk was the ‘Control Cup’. The key is to identify when your toddler’s metaphorical cup is low and find ways to top it back up for them.
We had got into a horrible pattern of early-morning tantrums. As soon as we would enter his room the storm would begin.
We tried, ‘first-stir’ where my husband or I would almost sprint to his bedroom the second he woke up and pump him full of chocolate brioche. We tried waiting until he called for us, giving him time to wake up slowly. We tried putting him to bed earlier. We tried putting him to bed later. We tried smothering him with love. We tried giving him space. We tried heating him up. We tried cooling him down etc etc etc.
Some of it worked as a one off, which gave us false hope, but ultimately, he was a grumpy goose in the morning, and we couldn’t figure out why.
It turns out his Control Cup was empty. After listening to Madeleine’s talk, I was ready to try and fill my little boy’s cup up the next morning. And golly goose, it worked. I filled that cup up good. Following the advice, I managed to help him feel a little bit more in control of his uncontrollable world. I allowed him as much control as I could, and I didn’t see one tear or receive one wallop.
As he has grown older his Control Cup seems to need filling up at different points throughout the day. Occasionally he wakes up empty, but now that he has lost his afternoon nap, the time for top-up happens between 1 and 3, and I. Am. Ready.
3. Relentless Preparation
Madeleine did delve into this tip as well, but being a teacher in an SEN school, I was already fully on board with this approach. As mentioned in How to Survive a Wedding Ceremony With Your Toddler, preparation is key.
A toddler can need warning for every transition going. It is relentless, but it is worth it. Young kids are so reliant on routine because anything outside of it tips their Control Cup over and their world is completely out of balance.
Before anything happens, my son needs a heads up. Sometimes we use a time frame to enable him to mentally prepare for something to change e.g “How many minutes until we go and brush your teeth?” and of course he has no real understanding of time, so whether he chooses 2 minutes or one-hundred-and-cowty-thirty minutes, the real amount of time is up to me.
Madeleine gave a brilliant example to help us understand how our kids are feeling in those moments of sponatneous transition. We were all sat in the café listening to her talk and she said, ‘Right, we are all getting on a coach to Bournemouth, now. Come on.’ We all giggled, because she was obviously joking, but she made us see that we would’ve probably out-right refused to go if she was being serious.
A toddler who is happily playing with some toys, isn’t thinking beyond that. They’re not expecting it to end on someone else’s terms. So if a parent swoops in and takes them away from their activity, takes all of their clothes off and plonks them in a bath, tantrums will ensue. I would have been raging if I was carried on to a coach and taken to Bournemouth without any warning or consent. This is basically showing us that our kids need to know what’s going to happen next.
One tool we have found super useful is an app called ‘Kids-To-Do’. It has been great helping us get ready for outings, especially ones where we have to arrive on time (like going to Pre School).
It’s a visual timetable, where the children can record the command. It comes with images, or you can upload your own. Once they’ve achieved that task, they click a star, which makes a satisfying sound and when they have completed everything on their to-do list, they get to play a simple game of clicking on different sea creatures.
Of course, these techniques are not fool proof. They may never work. They may work sometimes and not other times. They may work consistently for ages and then all of a sudden have no affect at all, but it’s always good to have some solid techniques in your back pocket… not that you could fit four colourful sensory-eggs in your back pocket, but you get what I’m saying.