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3 Parenting Tricks for Tantrum-Making Toddlers

Today’s post is brought to you from Vanessa! She lives on little sleep and a lot of coffee—and maybe some
beer, too—as she juggles her life with her pilot husband, three young
kids, giant dog, full-time job and full-time blog. You can find her
writing about everything from faith to beer to family — and maybe
bacon, too — at Bible, Beer and Babies

I love this post, so no more chatting….take it away, Vanessa! 


When I became a mom over 5 years ago, I knew what kind of parent I wanted to be. I would do elaborate crafts and spend hours outside. I would limit television time – if allowing it at all. I would use positive, reward-based discipline, and I would never ever scream or raise my voice.

Are you laughing as hard as I am right now?

The past five years and our three young children have taught me a great deal about this crazy job of parenting. I’m no expert, but if I know anything for certain, it’s that kids change. Things will go smoothly, everything is awesome, and then BAM! Something shifts. Usually without warning. What once worked, now fails. And this is why the biggest advice I have for fellow parents—aside from “go with the flow”—is you must must must… MUST… have a fully stocked arsenal of parental tricks.

From tantrums, to boundary-pushing, to finicky eating, and to bedtime stalling, having a multitude of ideas for responding to our toddlers can be the difference between slight frustration and losing our ever-living mind. 

Today though, I’m talking tantrums specifically, because these are like nails on a chalkboard for me. My husband may be jealous of my uncanny ability to tune out the screaming and fussing, but sadly it doesn’t always work. My instinct—I hate to admit—is to scream back at them. Yeah, I’m sure we ALL know how well that helps. It doesn’t.

So what do you do? When every bone in your body just wants to throw your own mommy-sized tantrum, how do you respond to cut the screams, quell the fusses, and stop the tantrums mid-stream?


1. It’s Hard to Cry When You’re Laughing

My kids have a tendency to get lost in their tantrums, making any words from us parents useless. No matter how sweet we coo or how stern we reprimand, we cannot break through some of their meltdowns. But where a talk from mom fails, a burst of laughter succeeds. Kids—my kids especially—struggle to keep crying or screaming when they’re too busy laughing. Whatever it takes to get them to laugh, I try.

I tickle. I blow raspberries. I make silly faces. I do all of the above at the same time…. as best I can.

Usually they’re so overtaken in a fit of giggles, they’ve forgotten why they were upset in the first place—leaving us both laughing, smiling and ready to move on with life.

Now, this isn’t always possible. I mean, I could do this in the middle of church, but the giggling would be just as distracting (perhaps more so) than the fussing.

2. Time In, Not Out

When a raucous laugh-fest isn’t exactly appropriate—say, during your pastor’s sermon, your best friend’s wedding, or your grandmother’s funeral—this quieter option may fare better. Yes, it involves actually getting up and leaving the scene of the fit, which is sometimes difficult and possibly embarrassing. Though after so many kids, I’ve found you get over that and simply own the mommy badge of honor as you walk out, flinging the kicking/screaming/thrashing/flailing kiddo under your arm or over your shoulder, careful not to take out any innocent bystander in the process.

This removal from the situation isn’t to give them a time out, though. It’s not a punishment for their misbehavior, but a chance to get both of you to an environment where there are no witnesses you can think clearly, listen to each other, talk, and agree on a resolution.

Yes, the older the kid, the easier this is, but don’t for a second let the incoherent babbling of your young toddler fool you into thinking they can’t understand your clear words. They can and do. More than you think!

So, sit in a place where there are few distractions, forcing them to focus on you. Get on their level, eye-to-eye. And then… Talk plainly, clearly, and matter-of-factly. Our most oft-used phrases are “this is unacceptable” and “do you understand?”. The former makes it clear their behavior (whether that’s an action that led to the tantrum or the tantrum itself) won’t be tolerated and the latter forces them to acknowledge what we’ve said—and even a two year old can nod.

But tantrums don’t always happen in convenient locations…..Wait, what? There’s something more inconvenient than a screaming kid at a wake?

Yeah there is. Try…. the car.

3. Play 20 Questions

The car has to be one of the most awful places for kids to get fussy. Whether it’s because they’re hungry, thirsty, their sister looked at them wrong, they’ve dropped their toy/lost their sock/spilled water on their lap, sheesh, you get the idea… whatever the issue, they’re screaming and you’re driving. And no, you can’t always pull over every time a kid cries.

Turning up the radio sounds like a great option, until you discover it just makes them scream louder. Simply ignoring them is a tactic I use often, because, well, there’s not much else you can do with a baby, and sometimes I’m just too tired at the end of a long work day to do much else.

But… the car tantrum is the perfect opportunity for a game of 20 questions. Okay, so not exactly like the popular road-trip game, but whatever, the name was catchy so I’m using it here. All you do? Ask questions. These can range from boring questions like “What did you eat for lunch today?” to bribery questions like “Do you want to watch a movie when we get home?” to silly questions like “Do you have an elephant on your head?”

It sounds crazy and ridiculous, but who cares? It works. You’re trying to get a kid to stop yelling at you and start talking to you or laughing with you… or just accept the bit of bribery you’ve dangled in front of them.

Will these work for your kids? I offer no guarantees. Heck, I don’t even expect these to work all the time with my own kids. Because kids change and our strategies for responding to them may have to change as well. But hopefully you now have a few more tricks up your sleeve and tools on your supermom utility belt.

Hmmm. I wonder if kids would throw tantrums in the Batmobile… that may be a question to ask my five year old.

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