How do I tame my toddler's tantrums?

Each phase of a child’s life produces new challenges. Just as parents are recovering from the joys of the first year of life a new set of changes emerge. From about 18 months toddlers are walking, talking & trying to feed themselves. However, most 18 month children don’t have a large vocabulary - often only saying about 20-50 words. Girls are more advanced than boys & many 18 month girls can speak in short sentences.

The progress of their vocabulary is unfortunately not linked to their desire for independence! Welcome to toddler tantrums. In my opinion the “terrible twos” really start at 18 months or even younger. Toddlers are trying to assert their independence in all aspects of their life & this tends to clash with an orderly set of rules that parents expect from their young children.

So, I guess the first thing for parents is to have appropriate expectations for children of this age. Expecting children to be quiet & compliant sets them up for failure. This does not mean that toddlers should have free reign with no structure & little in the way of discipline. Children love structure & boundaries. Their job is to continually push the boundaries & a parent’s job is to maintain their sanity (& dignity) while upholding the rules. Remember you are not alone & most parents with children of 18 months to 3 years are going through the same challenge.

Be consistent. Have a conversation with your partner & agree on a strategy that you both feel comfortable with. Be prepared as tantrums often happen suddenly & unexpectedly. Children really like to have tantrums in public places such as supermarkets & parks. This can be very stressful. Never lose your cool. It is much better to be firm & provide a clear explanation of why the behaviour is unacceptable & what the consequences of the behaviour will result in. Shouting & screaming may make you feel better at the time, but is also not a particularly effective strategy. I am a fan of “time out” if it is applied consistently by both parents. Toddlers will quickly pick up on inconsistencies in approach from parents & will split.

Try & be positive. Instead of focussing on punishment for poor behaviour or tantrums rather aim to reward good behaviour by means of a star chart. If you child gets the full quota of 20 stars they can get a reward of some kind. It does not have to be a big or expensive toy. Toddlers will respond regardless of the size of reward at hand. Most importantly don’t forget that it a phase & their behaviours will improve with time. Just wait until they are teenagers - you will be wishing for the toddler years again!