How To Handle Toddler Meltdowns

Learn how to handle toddler meltdowns! It’s a healthy way for kids to work through their problems and a good approach for parents to take with young kids.

Hi friends!

If you’re here because of the title of this post, let me cut right to the chase for you:

Question: How to handle toddler meltdowns?
Answer: Let them happen.

I planned to share a recipe with you guys today but then yesterday we had quite a day. Toddler meltdowns have been on my heart a lot lately so I thought I’d just share a few words on that instead. I would consider my son an expert on the subject of meltdowns and as such, I’m getting lots of practice dealing with them.

The bottom line is: I let my kid cry a lot. And here’s why:

Toddlers need to cry. It’s the best and sometimes only way for them to process their emotions, especially before they can put their feelings into words. I have a strong willed child – this is a good article on that subject. I compromise a lot. But I’m also willing to stand my ground. And that means he doesn’t always get his way. And he doesn’t like it. So he cries. And by cries I mean more like ear-splitting full volume wails coupled with his little body vibrating in anger, occasionally coming close to hyperventilating, often throwing himself on the ground…full on meltdowns.

And more often than not, I ignore him.

There is at least one point in every single day where I question what I’m doing as a parent. When I get totally overwhelmed, I like to go back and read articles I’ve saved over the past few years that help me feel somewhat validated, like maybe I’m doing ok at this whole parenting thing

A few weeks ago I read this article on Romper called 8 Thinks You’re Teaching Your Child When You Ignore A Tantrum and boy did it resonate with me. By ignoring him, often leaving him alone in a room if I can safely do so (ie if we’re at home), I’m hoping to teach him that his behavior won’t help him get what he wants. If I say no TV, and he screams and screams, the answer is still no TV. I don’t care if he does it for an hour. It’s not going to change my mind.

I am always checking on him to make sure he’s ok and safe, and I’m more than willing to hold him, encourage him to take deep breaths or give him a hug if he needs it, or talk about the problem once he calms down…but in the moment, I can tune out a meltdown with the best of them.

Of course, each tantrum is unique and I do vary my approach depending on the situation, especially if we’re out in public. That does NOT mean I give in when we’re in public just to keep him quiet. I still let him have his meltdowns in the grocery store or at the park…but if we are in an enclosed space or he’s disrupting a party or other gathering with his screams, I will typically remove him from the room and let him cry elsewhere.

In addition, I do my best to let him work through whatever is going on, without letting it affect my mood…but it doesn’t always work.

Let’s take yesterday as an example:

Yesterday I woke up to face day 3 of solo parenting as hubby was on a business trip. I had a sore throat and a headache and I was tired from staying up late to work after the kids went to bed. We were supposed to join our local moms group for a trip to a small farm not far from our house. I’ve been a member of this mom’s group since we moved a year ago but only went to a couple events last summer and then went on a bit of a hiatus after baby was born. So, this was pretty much a totally new group of moms and kids. As an introvert, putting myself out there to meet new people is hard for me, but it’s something I’ve been working on this year….so I got the kids up, ready to go and off we went to the farm.

Squish was excited when we got there, we introduced ourselves to a few people and things got started around 9am. Squish noticed some small tractors that he wanted to investigate. The rest of the group was heading in the opposite direction, towards the garden and chicken coop. I told him now was not the time for the tractors and we’d come back to them later. Instant meltdown.

Squish spent the majority of the next 45 minutes standing about 50 yards away from everyone else, screaming his head off while all the other kids listened politely, met the chickens, planted seeds in the garden, etc.

I wanted nothing more than to give in and let him do what he wanted so he would be quiet.

Does it suck when your kid is the one misbehaving? Yes.

Was it embarrassing for me that this was the first impression we were making on this new moms group? A little bit.

But I stuck with my philosophy and let him cry. When he calmed down and told me he wanted to go home, I did the following:
1) Asked him several times if he was sure. (Yes)
2) Told him about the things we would be doing soon like petting goats, riding a pony etc. (Don’t want to see pony. Want to go home)
3) Reminded him that if we went home, we wouldn’t be having a snack or watching a show. (Want to go home)
4) Put him and the baby in the car and went home.

When we got home, I gave him the option of playing with his toys or laying down in his bed. He screamed for another hour while sitting at the top of the stairs, and then laid down and took a 2 hours nap.

I used the time to finish a work project and re-read this article that I’d saved last week: The Train Analogy That Will Change How You See Your Child Crying.

If you’re a parent, definitely go read the article. Here’s what it says at the end:

So the next time your child is deeply frustrated, angry, or upset, remember what the job of a parent really is.

The job of a parent is to:

  • Provide comfort through the frustration.
  • Draw out our child’s cleansing tears.
  • Show empathy to our child’s struggle.
  • Allow the life lesson to be learned naturally—not through preaching.
  • Support our child’s journey through the emotional tunnel.

The job of a parent is NOT to get our child to stop crying as quickly as possible. Tears are a sign of parental success, not failure.

When Squish woke up from his nap it was like we’d hit the reset button on the day and we were both refreshed and happier.

So the next time your toddler has a meltdown, try this:

  1. Let them cry. It’s not your job to get them quiet immediately. Move them to a different location if necessary but still give them time to work through it.
  2. Remind yourself that you’re not alone. Other parents have been in your shoes. Phone (or maybe text) a friend for moral support if needed.
  3. Remind yourself that ignoring a tantrum doesn’t make you a bad parent.
  4. Take a deep breath…or two…or five. Both of you will be ok. It can be hard to watch and listen to your child scream but it won’t last forever and they’re learning valuable lessons.
  5. When they’re done, give them a hug, talk about it and move on with your day!

I recognize that this approach might not work for everyone, and that’s ok. I’m certainly not a parenting expert…just an average mom doing the best I can.

But I wanted to share my experience in case it helps give someone out there some encouragement that they’re doing a great job as a parent, even if it’s hard and doesn’t always feel like it.

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