Dads can help with toddler tantrums

By Anchen Verster

In my pre-parenthood days I used to watch a toddler tantrum and think the parents must be making some or other parenting blunder. Mmmm totally missed the boat there – I have 4 kids and all four have thrown their fair share of tantrums. Maybe we have done something wrong but I suspect it’s pretty much unavoidable. The first thing that struck me when I became a mom was how early a form of tantrum started. Our first child started squirming off the changing table at 6 months refusing to let us put his nappy on. Squirming wasn’t the issue, but he was willfully trying to avoid getting his nappy changed. Totally didn’t expect that behaviour at 6 months and I wasn’t going to let him walk around our rental apartment nappyless!!

We started to find that distraction worked quite well. Give him an item to play with as soon as you lay him down on the changing mat. Something that he doesn’t usually play with like a piece of kitchenware – plastic container with a spoon inside – something that interests him. We also found that once we missed the distraction gap and we were wrestling with the little guy it sometimes helped to put on a firm but comical voice with humorous facial expressions and in yo-yo tone tell him “you are going to get your nappy changed”. He was sometimes so taken aback with the expressions but at the same time the firm voice compelled him to lie still until we were done.

If mom is with your little man or lady for most of the day it is harder for her to keep up with the distraction or clown behaviour if she has to do it 24/7 so try and take over a bit when you get home. Even a different person interacting with your 12-month-old can cut down on the “I don’t want to behaviour” so give mom a break and take some of the resistance for a few hours.

Toddlers quickly learn where the crack in the wall is between parents. If dad (or mom) is more lenient they will capitalize on that knowledge and make the job for the other parent more difficult. For example, if Dad allows toddler to run around the house without the nappy it will be more difficult for mom to get the job done because toddler knows he got it right with Dad there is more chance he’ll get it right with mom. So, keep your parameters as parents roughly the same. It becomes a bigger deal when one parent allows travel without a seatbelt and the other parent doesn’t. The battle then becomes so much greater than if the rule between both parents remains the same. Toddlers also thrive on consistency. It’s a win then for parents and toddlers if you keep the game plan the same.

Keep “No!” or “Don’t touch” to a minimum. These are smart little people we’re dealing with and they quickly become bored with negatives and imperatives so keep them to a minimum. For example, when fingers are heading for a plughole, that’s an important opportunity for a firm “no”.

Once they are older- I’m talking round 24 months- you can walk out of the room until the tantrum has subsided. Make sure your little one is safe and leave the door open. Walking away from the behaviour discourages it. Of course, if you’re in a shopping centre you can’t walk away! However, when at home don’t give extra attention to the tantrum.

I have noticed that my children’s tantrums were always worse when they were hungry. Braai’s are notorious for stretching dinner time by an hour or two, so it helps to be prepared with a healthy snack or toddler dinner so that you can side-step the hunger tantrum. It also becomes way more difficult to feed a hungry toddler who is crying. Toddlers should be eating 3 balanced meals per day (at least two meals with protein) and additional 1-2 snacks per day. Low sodium droëwors or biltong is a very useful snack especially when trying to avoid the long isles of junk food in the grocery store as you wait for an open cashier. A sure way of igniting a monstrous tantrum is taking a hungry toddler to the grocery store and then telling them they can’t have what they want from the shelves.

Children develop auditory vocabulary from roughly the age of 6 months. That means even-though they are not forming clear words they have the ability to understand the meaning of words. You can begin to explain to your child from an early age why you want them to avoid a certain danger. Try and use adult words and not baby talk. For example, “don’t touch the stove you will burn yourself” and with the explanation you can make a gesture or facial expression that communicates pain.

I have found that a plain old kitchen timer can be useful in limiting tantrums. My kids used to love bath time so getting them out of the bath was a challenge. Set the timer and tell them when the buzzer goes you are going to take them out.

Regularly affirm your love for your baby, toddler or young child. Give him hugs and kisses and play games with him. Our last-born was particularly strong-willed. However, if he had an afternoon out with Dad or even just played cars on the mat in the lounge he would become totally calm and peaceful. This has always been a sobering reminder for us to keep the pace of life where there was still time for outings and cars on the mat!

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