Taking a Different Approach to Tantrums….

Munchkin will be two in a few weeks, and there’s been a definite shift in the last few months  from a  developing baby who is learning about the world around her, to a little person who is starting to understand the impact she can have on the world around her. Her sense of discovery and development is so fast at the moment things can change from one day to the next. And with that, of course, comes the great highs and lows, successes and failures, happy moments and grumpy days.


From what I know of all my friends with older children, the twos are rightly named as terrible because they are intense and hard and challenging. If nothing else, before, as a mother, you’ve been reacting on instinct a lot of the time, meeting your baby’s needs with simple things like hugs, food, sleep. Now – what they need is more complicated – boundaries, guidance, support, patience, explanations, clarity, humour – these things are all harder to measure, harder to manage, harder to give consistently when you’re frazzled, uncertain, and – like them – doing this all for the first time. I’m acutely aware of how much Munchkin picks up, how much of what I say she hears and understands. And how, more than ever, my actions and my words have consequences.

There’s no right answers. But I’ve taken great comfort in some of the below articles, which have shared ideas about more gentle approaches to discipline, examined the complicated issue of giving in to or ignoring tantrums, and explored ways to deal with the boiling anger that only a toddler can conjure up (yours – and theirs!)


12 Alternatives to Punishment: Some great ideas for simple ways to diffuse a situation, and learn from it – ask questions, go outside, give second chances.  They might seem like basic common sense concepts, but it’s amazing how quickly rationality goes out of the window when they’ve poured milk all over the sofa or kicked you in the face to avoid having their coat put on.

Tolerance for Tantrums: This great article gives some good analogies for toddler tantrums that help you as an adult understand the intensity they’re feeling, and the damaging effect of the much-favoured-by-those-who-know-better practice of ‘just ignore them, they’ll soon learn.’ It makes a solid case for more tolerance, (admittedly, easier said than done), when it comes to tantrums, including explaining that it is simply something they have to do. Our role is to support them through it as best we can. And, to remember, that it is also something that they will grow out of.  “As adults we should expect toddlers to tantrum. Responding to them respectfully and supportively doesn’t mean that they will stop…tantrums and toddlerhood are inseparable. What stops the tantrums ultimately? Brain development.”


No Shame, Just ClearBoundaries: I love all of Janet Lansbury’s books and writing, and this article makes a fantastic case for avoiding messages of shame when we have to discipline our children. Crucially, she also makes a strong case for the need for discipline, and quotes childhood expert Magda Gerber who said: “Lack of discipline is not kindness, it is neglect.”  In this article, she talks about things such as home being the best place for children to learn, not taking behaviour personally, speaking in the first person and never using ‘time out’.

Dealing with Anger: I, personally, have never had a very long fuse. As my mother said: “Having children requires an infinite amount of patience, darling, and it’s not something you’ve ever had much of…!” She’s right. I have a quick, hot temper that blows up at the first thing. Put a toddler into that mix and I can reach the ‘rage stage’ pretty fast. It’s frightening for me. I worry what it means for Munchkin. This article is very, very good at talking about how your anger affects your children and providing both practical, helpful ways to manage your anger and a level of understanding about how easy it is to get cross so quickly. For instance: “Your child may be pushing your buttons, but he isn’t causing your response. Any issue that makes you feel like lashing out has roots in your own early years. We know this because we lose our ability to think clearly at those moments, and we start acting like children ourselves, throwing our own tantrums.” Really insightful stuff.


It’s Not Black and White: A great, (if rather long), article that really explores the middle ground between ‘giving in’ and ‘ignoring’ a tantrum – both concepts which author Tracey Cassels says are misleading anyway. It’s pretty in-depth, but well worth reading. She takes the time to get us to think differently about tantrums as ‘bad’ behaviour, and says that there is a place where we can both emotionally support a tantruming child, and maintain a boundary. “It is actually okay to hug a child that is upset because you told them ‘no’, while also maintaining that “no”,” she says.

“When you hold an child, hold him not just with your body, but with your mind and heart.” 

Magda Gerber



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