3 Tips for Preventing Toddler Meltdowns



Over the past 5 years as foster parents, we have learned a lot of tricks when it comes to keeping our kiddos happy. Of course every toddler (and adult for that matter) is going to have bad days, but here are some tips that should help keep the peace in your home.

1. Give Choices

I absolutely cannot stress this one enough. It is so important that our children get lots of chances to make decisions about their own lives. As a parent, It is very easy to choose everything for them, from the bowl they use for breakfast to the clothes they wear to the books that we will read at nap time. But giving our kids the freedom to choose the little things throughout the day will make them more agreeable when it comes to the big things that they do not get a choice in.

When giving your toddler choices, keep them simple by giving them two options and be sure that you will be absolutely okay with either choice. Some examples of choices you can give to even a very young toddler include: Do you want to wear the green shirt or the blue shirt today? Would you like the blue bowl or the purple bowl? Would you like to swing or go down the slide? Would you like to walk next to mommy and hold my hand or would you like me to carry you?

In each of these scenarios, I am absolutely fine with either choice. I am not overwhelming my young child by giving him too many options. Instead, I am keeping the choices simple and giving him the freedom to express himself. I do this throughout the day as much as possible with my two and three year olds and have found that they love to make decisions about little things in their lives and that they are much more agreeable when I have to lay down the law on something important.

2. Use Clear Transitions

One of my toddlers has a very hard time with changes in schedule. This child likes to know exactly what is going to happen and what order it is going to happen in. This is my child who used to have meltdowns when I announced it was time to leave Chick-Fil-A. I’m talking screaming, kicking, hitting. It took me a long time to realize that this child just doesn’t do change well and this is my child who needs a warning before things happen.

I can honestly say that we do not have the meltdowns when our plans change anymore or when it is time to leave somewhere fun. The way we have overcome those tantrums is through the use of transitions. I generally tell my toddlers what we are going to do each day in the morning. If the plan changes, I get down on my knees and look them in the eye and gently tell them about what has changed. I don’t wait until we have to leave to go somewhere unexpected or just pretend like it didn’t happen. I keep them informed.

When we go somewhere to play, I let them go into the play place and play. I will generally go in there about ten minutes before it is time to leave and just watch them play. Five minutes before I want to leave, I give them the five minute warning. I will say, “I am setting the timer on my phone. We are going to leave in five minutes.” I make sure that both children have heard me by asking them if they understand. Then I let them continue playing.

I repeat this scenario when we have two minutes left. I tell them verbally that we have two more minutes until we need to leave and that when our time is up they will need to put their shoes on. I make sure that they have heard me and understood and then let them continue playing.

When it is time to go, I generally will tell them that they can either go down the slide (or whatever they are doing at the moment) one more time or that they can go ahead and put their shoes on (giving them a choice). Surprisingly, they don’t always choose to go one more time! Quite often they walk right over to their shoes and put them on. I will then sometimes give another choice like, “Would you like to walk next to me or would you like me to carry you to the car?” Like I said above, I try to give them as much control as possible throughout their day. I was able to get what I needed, which was to leave at a certain time, but I can be flexible about whether they go down the slide one more time or whether they want to walk or be held. This keeps us both happy!

3. Have a Playful Attitude

This one can be hard, especially if we are in a hurry or if something needs to be done and my kids are fighting me on it. But I have found that all of my children (including my teen!) respond better to me if I maintain a playful attitude and a soft voice with them.

If I have a child who is fighting me on something, I try to find a way to make it fun for them. Let’s say I have a child who just really doesn’t want to brush her teeth. I can either scream and yell and force her to brush them, probably causing her to cry and throw a fit along the way. Or I can use my sing song voice and say something like, “You know what? Mommy hasn’t brushed today either. Let’s do it together and see who can make the most foam while they brush.” Kids love to do almost anything if it’s a game and if you’re doing it with them.

Another situation might be a child who is watching a movie and who does not want to turn it off when the timer dings. If I see a tantrum coming, I may go tickle that child or find a way to give them a choice about something else. I may say, “I know that you’re sad about the movie, but it is time to do something else. Would you like to color with me for five minutes or would you like to go play outside?” Instead of becoming angry at the child, I maintain my cool and shift the tantrum into a fun activity or choice.

I have found that by using these three ideas daily with my toddlers, I have seen a great reduction in the number of tantrums that they have. They still have their moments (and so do I!) but in general they are happier and more agreeable then they used to be before I started doing these things.

Having a bad day? You’re not alone.


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