Tips for extinguishing a toddler meltdown


If you are reading this, you probably either have a toddler yourself or you are someone who works with this age group.  So you are familiar with tantrums!  As many of us know, toddlers are just learning language and how to use it correctly.  During this time when they are learning, you may see them stutter or stumble over their words.  Their brains are “talking” too fast for their mouths!  They just can’t get all of that out!  So then add in a frustrating moment and their communication turns into screaming, crying, flailing their arms or throwing themselves to the floor because that is one way to get our attention.

Before we go any further, you all need to understand that this is typical toddler behavior.  It is our job as parents and caregivers to teach them ways to deal with their frustrations that are more socially acceptable.  It’s true.  I have been in your shoes.  I have been that mom who exited her car, ready to walk into the store with a toddler.  She was happy, right up until that moment when our feet crossed the threshold.  And then it started. My child tends to be on the extremely spirited side of the toddler personalities.  I have experienced tantrums since mine was 11 months old and we are still goin’ strong at 2 1/2 years!  However, our meltdowns are much shorter, easier to difuse and they are starting to be fewer in number.  I attribute this to some of the tips I am going to share with you.  Let me know if they help you!

Tip 1:  Respect

While a toddler is still a very small person and most of the time doesn’t act mature like we wish they would, they still deserve respect.  I am talking about respect for them as another human being with feelings & emotions, not respect as your equal.  You are still the parent and in charge of teaching them wrong from right.  While toddlers are capable of making choices, they still need your guidance, correction and discipline.  So back to respect.  Toddlers experience emotions like we do.  Sometimes it seems silly when they get upset over a shoe or a toy, but for them it is a real emotion and deserves respect.  For example, when your toddler is off playing by himself and you hear him scream and throw himself on the floor, ask yourself a few questions first instead of getting frustrated or angry.  Why did he do that?  Not the easiest question to answer, but be a super sleuth and try to figure it out.  Let’s say he couldn’t put a cap onto a bottle.  Once you know the why answer, ask him about it:  “Did it make you mad when you couldn’t put that cap on?  Do you need help?”  If you maintain this mindset of respect throughout the day, you will find that your approach with them will change.  And in turn, your approach will affect their response to frustrating events.

Tip 2: Talk

I talk my daughter’s ear off.  I do.  I confess.  She knows I respect her need to be understood because I talk to her and try to figure out what she is saying or why she is frustrated.  Toddlers understand a ton more than they can communicate back to you.  When your child is frustrated, talk to them about it.  The best time to do this is as soon as they meltdown starts.  Don’t wait because many times they will not be able to calm down, and talking will do no good.

Tip 3:  Bubbles

One of my most awesome finds.  I am a music therapist who has worked in many hospitals over the years.  The child life specialists always used bubbles or some type of blowing to calm their patients who were undergoing a procedure.  It only took me 2 years to figure out that I could use this for my own kiddo!  Sheesh!  The second they start a meltdown, ask if they would like to blow bubbles.  Man this works.  It has never failed me.  I tend to use this one more when my toddler is melting down quick and nothing is working or when we need to leave the house or get ready quickly.  This will get her over the tantrum quickly so that we can move on with our day.  Remember if you choose to use a distraction technique like bubbles, you have two choices.  You can either forget about the tantrum and move on with your day, or you can discuss it with your toddler.  Remember that discipline consistency is very important and you need to follow up, do it.  And do it right after the tantrum.  If they are just throwing a tantrum for a reason unknown to you and they aren’t disobeying or doing anything “wrong”, just distract them and let it go.  🙂  This is sometimes the hardest thing for me!

Tip 4:  Choose your battles

Not everything a child does needs a “talk” or “time out” or an “intervention”.  Decide when you need to intervene and when you don’t.  Simple.

Tip 5: Calm

As I mentioned previously, we are responsible for teaching our children how to cope.  If we ignore the reasons behind our child’s tantrum, we are missing out on a teaching moment because we are ignoring the underlying reason and just discipling them for their tantrum.  Just like when they were babies, we were told that they cried for a reason.  ALWAYS.  Now that they are toddlers, they still cry for a reason and throw tantrums for a reason.  If it wasn’t important to them, it wouldn’t be worth a tantrum.  So!  We have started something in our house to help teach our daughter how to cope with frustration.  She will run up to us from another room and start screaming “milk” over and over while jumping up and down.  She is starting a tantrum.  I turn to her and say with a quiet voice, “calmly tell me what you need.”  She immediately lowers her tone and asks me for the milk or whatever she is wanting at the moment.  Now, we didn’t arrive at  this result overnight.  We had to “groom” her 🙂  We started out by saying, “when you fuss, I cannot hear you.  If you want something, you need to ask me calmly.”  Another phrase I used a lot was, “You will not get what you want by fussing.  But you might get it when you ask calmly.”  What a difference this has made in our lives.  And not to mention the fact that we are teaching her a skill instead of disciplining her for her fussing and tantrums.  Don’t get me wrong, she still gets disciplined when she chooses to not listen or when she continues with a tantrum.  But we rarely have to intervene any other way except through talking with her.

Tip 6:  Time Out

This is not the time out you may think it is.  This is not a punishment, but a breather for them.  If you cannot calm your child using any of these methods, tell them, “you are not in trouble, but I want you to take a time out to calm down.  Go sit over there and when the timer sounds, we will talk about it.”  Some kids just need to yell a little bit.  Gosh.  Sometimes I need to yell a little bit 🙂  This gives them time to let it out without getting in trouble for it.  This gives them time to self-regulate and calm down on their own.  After this time out, then you can try talking to them.

Tip 7:  Hands Off

Most toddlers don’t like being touched when they are in the middle of a tantrum.  They tend to get more angry when you grab them or try to move them.  Avoid touching and stick to talking at first.  If they are not in danger of hurting themselves, this is ok.  If they are at risk for hurting themselves, then by all means, intervene and remove them from danger.

Tip 7:  Love

Love on that child.  He needs to know you still love him even though he is acting like a crazy person.  Say “I love you”.  You can also try holding/hugging your child, but as we mentioned in tip 7:  Most toddlers aren’t ready to show affection in the midst of their strong emotions, but they will be ready for a hug after it is over.  The times that you will be able to pick up your child in the middle of their tantrum is when they are tired, sick or hungry.  My daughter will resist me holding her, but as soon as I pick her up and talk to her sweetly, she just falls into my arms.  If none of the other tips work, try this one.  If they resist, then that’s ok.  Just give them time to calm down and then love on them.

Tip 8:  Exceptions to the Rule

Most of the time we can calm our toddler down using these tips, but sometimes she doesn’t calm down no matter what we try.  Sometimes she gets madder and madder.  There are exceptions to the rule.  When my daughter is hungry, tired or sick, the tantrums are hard to defuse, and I try to factor in those reasons when I am planning my response.  I choose to be compassionate and understanding.  When they are not themselves, give them a break and just love on them.

This is not an exhaustive list and may or may not work for you!  Toddlers have different personalities and all react to situations differently.  Regardless of their differences, I hope you will find something that will work for you!  Good luck, parents!


3 thoughts on “Tips for extinguishing a toddler meltdown

  1. These are great tips! My 1yr old just started having tantrums and I’m going to try these. Regarding your bubbles tip, you say it’s never failed you but that you recommend using it only if the meltdown can be overlooked. Why is that?

    1. @busylazydizzymom Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed reading! The only reason I mentioned using bubbles only when overlooking the tantrum is because I use it as a distraction where I am overlooking the reason for the tantrum. We usually don’t discuss it and just move on. If it’s something that needs to be discussed, you probably could still do that after blowing bubbles if you want, but for me. . .I just use it to distract! I will probably edit that part so that it makes more sense. 🙂

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