Here’s what you can do to set your child up for positive behavior and decrease the frequency of tantrums.
Setting Your Kid Up For Positive Behavior
Written by: Jessica Diamond, MPH, RDN
Here’s what you can do to decrease the frequency of tantrums and set your child up for positive behavior:
Stick to a plan as much as possible, and consistently communicate that plan to your toddler – even if it’s the same plan everyday! Toddlers love routines and structure, and they feel safest when they know what to expect. They are most likely to have a tantrum when their security or sense of control is threatened. So, communicate the plan whenever possible: “In 5 minutes, we are going to go wash our hands and then eat lunch. After lunch, we are going to wash our hands and then play.”
Maintain boundaries and stay consistent. Boundaries make your child feel safe and secure, but they only work when they are consistently enforced. Boundaries without consistency can feel arbitrary and confuse toddlers. Expect your toddler to test your boundaries, and know that they want consistency – not for you to cave! The less you waver, the less frequently they will test you, which means fewer tantrums in the long run!
Example: Your toddler is consistently tossing their security blanket or stuffed animal out of the crib. You tell them, “Mommy will come in only 2 times to give you back the lovey.”
Use a timer and give your kids 5, 3, and 1-minute warnings whenever possible, and invite them to join in the fun. (This is a magic trick, truthfully.)
“In 5 minutes, we are going to change your diaper. Do you want to hit the button?” “In 3 minutes, we are going to change your diaper!” “In 1 minute, we are going to go change your diaper. Do you want to stomp upstairs or have Daddy carry you?”
Offer your toddler two acceptable options when possible, but make sure it’s only about small things like two acceptable outfit choices, whether they want to stomp or be carried, or whether they want to play with the boat or the cup in the bath. These small choices allow them to practice their decision-making and give them a sense of control in a world that, quite honestly, is out of their control. Even though they may ask, they don’t actually want to make the big decisions (like deciding what to eat or when to go to bed), but they will appreciate making small decisions – it’s really empowering for them!
Make sure to know the difference between a demand and a question. When your toddler has a choice, ask them, but when there isn’t a choice, don’t frame it as a question. For example, when presenting two options for outfits, you can pose the question, “Do you want to wear the purple pants or the grey pants?” But when it’s time to leave, don’t ask “Do you want to leave?,” but instead say, “It’s time to leave.” If you want to make this transition even easier, invite them into the decision-making by giving them two acceptable options: “Do you want to stomp like an elephant to the car or have Mommy carry you?” We are so used to phrasing things in question-form, that this transition can be really hard. But with some practice, it will start to feel natural.
Each day, carve out 10-15 minutes when your child can decide on the activity. Make sure it’s one-on-one, and give this chunk of time its very own name so that you can set expectations and make it feel special. Put your phone away, turn off all electronics, and really show up for these 10-15 minutes. This will fill up their love tank and will help curb unwanted behavior throughout the day. It may be only 10-15 minutes, but trust us, it will pay off big time!