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How to deal with a stubborn toddler and avert a tantrum

We love them dearly, but they can test our patience more than anyone! Our children can seem completely different from the angels we know they are; especially as toddlers. How often have we heard the term terrible twos?! It’s not for no reason that toddlers get their reputation for being stubborn.

In fact one of the words toddlers seem to learn first is ‘No’ which they hear as often as they use it themselves. They say No to us as often as we are likely to say it to them and often as forcefully too.

The good news is that every child goes through this phase and it is completely normal and not so terrible after all. 

What makes stubborn behavior normal?

Toddlers are just realizing that the world is a whole new place and they are individuals who can experiment with their new found individuality.  They are pushing their boundaries and seeing how far the world will go to accommodate them. 

Discovering what we can and cannot do is a lifelong experiment, but it is intense for toddlers and is compounded by the fact they do not have the physical and cognitive skills to do all that they want to. They do not have the skills to discern danger and cannot comprehend why you would wish to curb their newly found independence. On the other hand, they are suddenly confronted with novel experiences and resist change to hold on to the familiar.

So there is the attraction of the new big, bold world, but also the insecurity of everything changing too fast. Torn between the two they often resort to tears and tantrums leaving both the parent and themselves frustrated.

How to deal with the frustration without losing your authority!

The rule of two. Toddlers want to feel like they have control over what they do (like the rest of us) and want to make their own choices. As parents we can offer them some choices – would you like to have an apple or a banana? Would you like to wear the green T shirt or blue one?  Instead of asking open ended questions that might lead to too many choices that leaves them overwhelmed, use the rule of two while giving a choice. It is a great way to negotiate and let everyone have a win.

Pick your battles. Yes! It’s that rule that gets us through life! The cardinal rule that helps us navigate life is one that applies to raising kids as well. Is it so trivial that it hardly takes any effort or time on your part? Let them have the win.  Not eating a banana after a reasonably full meal is not a problem. Push it to the next meal or snack and it’s all good.

Try not to say No – This does not mean that they are free to do as they please every time. If you can use a positive request instead of a negative reprimand it works better with toddlers who hear No often enough. ‘Do not run’ can be replaced with ‘please can you walk by my side’ and may work much better as it gives them a semblance of control.

The triggers – Meal times can be a battle ground for some, while leaving play might be the war another one fights. Bath time can be a battle with yet another toddler. Knowing what sets off a bout of frustration will help greatly to handle it better. A distraction goes a long way in making the situation better, especially as toddler attention spans are rather short and easy to handle. ‘Finish your bath and we can read a book together’ ‘Eat your lunch and we can play with blocks’. If they still resist, just stay firm and calm on not doing anything else till that part is done. ‘You have to get into the car, before we talk anyone’.

No caving in: The last firm sentence might lead to a meltdown that everyone hopes would be avoided, but at times it is inevitable.  It is tempting to give in especially in public places, but it’s important not to give in. If toddlers realize that they can get their way with tantrums, they will throw them more often, to get their wishes.

Watch out for anxiety: At times tantrums are a sign of anxiety. A child who is missing something, or unable to accept change easily may throw a tantrum when mommy is out on a business trip or when the family moves to a new home. Getting to the root cause may help eliminate stubborn behavior.

Improvise:  If they like choosing their clothes let them do so on a weekend when there is time to spare. Maybe make their triggers into fun activities. Plan meals with them when there is time and opportunity to do so. It can even become a teaching moment while taking the pressure off at other times.

Parenting is often about doing what suits the moment. Often what works with one child may not work with another sibling of theirs. However the challenges are universal and it helps to talk, discuss and take action. Use all the resources at hand including uncles, aunts and grandparents to simplify life.  Happy parenting!

January 27, 2020 — Suchismita Pai

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