We’ve all seen it. A toddler in the middle of the cereal aisle at the grocery store. On the floor, screaming that they want a certain cereal and a parent trying their best to calm them down. If you’re a parent, you’ve probably been there. Young kids can get overwhelmed. Research shows that a toddler tantrum is a normal response to anger and frustration. The part of a toddler’s brain that regulates emotion is still developing.
Those public meltdowns may seem unavoidable. And sometimes they are. But there are things you can do to limit the chances of a tantrum.
One approach is to give your toddler clear choices. For example, go back to the cereal aisle. You probably have some preapproved options in your head, the cereals that you’re willing to purchase. Present your options right away. “Corn flakes or Cheerios?” Show your toddler the two boxes and have them choose. This way they feel a part of the decision-making process, but aren’t overwhelmed. And you’ve limited the choices to two or three options that you approve of.
This approach can apply to many potentially-frustrating situations. “Do you want to color or do a puzzle?” “Do you want to wear the blue or the red shirt?” By calmly offering choices that you control, you’re empowering your toddler while avoiding the power struggle and hopefully a tantrum. It’s part of setting limits, which young kids need to develop self-control.
It won’t always work, of course. But keeping calm and being consistent in your approach should, over time, help make tantrums less likely.
Ofelia Gonzalez is public information officer at First Things First.