Gentle Parenting: How to Handle Toddler Tantrums

Gentle Parenting Tantrums

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We all know the “terrible two’s” that seem to start when our child is 18 months old and only stop when they’re about 4 or 5. This is a long time, so wouldn’t it be nice, if we could understand what our child is going through and learn how to stay calm? Learn how to be a gentle parent?

When your child has a tantrum and meltdown over something that seems so little to us, it’s hard to understand why they act the way they do.

Luckily, they don’t have the same problems as us just yet. However, for them, it’s a big thing if they don’t get what they want or if something doesn’t work out the way they want to. They don’t just cry because they feel like it, there’s always a reason for their behavior.

They throw themselves on the floor, kick, scream, cry and carry on. Or worse, they might even hit or bite you or throw their toys or other heavy obstacles around them.

Also, drop the expectation of stopping tantrums altogether. That is simply not possible. Tantrums in toddlers are totally normal and with your help, they will learn how to deal with them.

This is where gentle parenting for tantrums comes into play.

What is Considered Gentle Parenting?

Gentle parenting is a parenting approach that is based on the following four elements:

  • Understanding
  • Empathy
  • Respect
  • Boundaries

Being gentle to your child doesn’t include yelling, hitting, or punishing. Yet, you are allowed to be firm and set limits. Children still need to learn how to behave properly, which things are allowed and which aren’t.

Let’s have a closer look at the four core elements:

1. Understanding Your Child

Understanding your child and the phases he’s going through is the foundation of being a gentle parent.

Your child’s brain is still developing and she needs to learn how to react in certain situations of life and how to control her feelings. You can’t expect your little one to act like an adult, it’s impossible.

Once you have incorporated this knowledge, it’ll be much easier for you to handle your child’s tantrum.

Tantrum Gentle Parenting

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2. Empathizing with Your Child

There’s always a reason for why they behave the way they do, so for you to feel their pain will help you and your child figure out how to solve the problem together.

3. Showing Your Child Respect

Respect the way your child acts and what choices they make. Whether you think it’s good or not.

No matter how young your little one is, they are unique human beings who deserve to be respected.

Being rejected for how they feel or react, will not help them in any way and they will feel judged. It will make them think that they can’t talk about their feelings or speak up for themselves.

4. Setting Boundaries

Only because you want to be a gentle parent, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any rules in place and your toddler is allowed to do anything they want.

Why Does My Child Have Tantrums?

As mentioned above, a toddler’s brain is still developing and they can’t control their emotions yet. A toddler gets tired, hungry, and fed up with things much more quickly than an adult.

Once all these things come together, it only needs a little spark to light up a tantrum. It might be you saying no to something they want, you telling them to leave the playground, or them not being able to put their shoes on themselves.

Your toddler has mastered so many things in the past couple of years. They learned how to walk, how to feed themselves, how to have water out of a cup, and many more things.

Now, they can finally let you know or even tell you what they like and want, but there’s you telling them they can’t do something or that they have to leave the playground to go home and have a bath.

These situations make them feel frustrated and angry.

No matter, how many times you explain to them that they can have it later or tomorrow, your toddler wants it NOW and thinks he’ll never get it again or will never come back to the playground.  

For you, the worst is when it happens in public. Everyone is watching you and your toddler and you have no clue what to do and how to make your toddler stop screaming.

This brings us to the answers you’ve been looking for about how to approach tantrums with gentle parenting.

How Can We Gentle Parent Tantrums?

One of the first things we say to our toddler when they’re having a tantrum is to calm down. Unfortunately, according to clinical psychologist Christopher Willard, it’s physically impossible for a child to calm down during a tantrum.

Instead, YOU need to be the one who has to stay calm so you can get through the tantrum together with your child. Close your eyes for a moment, take a deep breath, and then…

And then what? What are we supposed to do?

Talk to our child? Try hugging them? Distract them? Sit down and wait it out?

Gentle Parent Tantrums

This might spark the question:

Should Parents Ignore Temper Tantrums?

Simple answer: no, they shouldn’t.

Ignoring your child’s tantrum will make your child feel like you’re not supporting them and they will feel left alone.

They need us to guide them through their tantrum as it’s a bad situation for them that they don’t know how to handle it (yet).

If we ignore their feelings, they will eventually lose trust in us and think they can’t let us know how they feel.

Best Ways to Respond to Tantrums with Gentle Parenting

Some of the tips below might work better than others with your toddler. Don’t get frustrated if your child doesn’t stop the tantrum, even though you’re following this advice.

Every child is different and every situation is different. One way might work better one day, but not the other.

Your toddler also needs to learn, how you changed the way you react to their tantrums and adapt to these changes. While you might have yelled beforehand, you now stay calm and support them through it. There’s no doubt that they will appreciate the change.

1. Stay Calm

Staying calm during a child’s tantrum is rule number one.

If they see that you’re staying calm during their outbursts, it lets them know that they can calm down as well. Likewise, if you get angry and upset, the tantrum will last longer as they take in your bad energy and copy it.

Staying calm doesn’t mean you can’t talk in a firm voice, just not in an angry one.

2. Distract Them with a Game or Their Favorite Toy

Try to distract your child by starting to play with a ball and throwing it to them. By moving their bodies, the child will be distracted from their tantrum.  

3. Ask Them a Random Question

Ask your child a random question like what color their backpack is or what they had to eat at their grandparent’s house the other day. They don’t have to give you the right answer but a random question will make them stop for a second and think about, and hopefully forget about what they were just upset about.

4. Cover Your Child’s Basic Needs

We all know what it’s like to be hangry (hungry & angry)! Sometimes, a little snack or a lie down is all it takes to calm your little one down.

5. Have Patience and Be Gentle

Sometimes, nothing helps and you just have to wait it out. Give your child time and don’t try to rush them out of the house or to the next appointment. Try to build in some spare time throughout the day so you don’t feel rushed yourself when a tantrum occurs.

Stay close to your child, make sure they’re safe, and offer them a hug. Get down to their level, make eye contact and ask them if they would like to have a rest on the couch or the bed.

With my daughter, it often works getting our dog in from outside and he will instantly make her happy again by licking her face and playing with her. Of course, that only works if we’re at home or if he’s with us when being out.

Gentle Parent Tantrum

What to Do When the Tantrum Is Over?

Once the tantrum is over, whether you have interrupted it or it went away by itself, you need to talk to your child to find out what triggered it.

As mentioned above, you need to set boundaries, and explaining to your child what the household and family life rules are, is key.

There’s no chance to do this during a tantrum, so wait until it’s over and then make it clear to your toddler.  

Is There a Way to Prevent Tantrums from Happening?

You know your child best. You would have already gone through a few tantrums with your little one, otherwise, you wouldn’t be here reading this post and looking for ways to improve the situation.

Therefore, you might know what triggers tantrums most likely. So, before something happens that could potentially trigger a tantrum, try and be extra calm and supportive.

What helped me, was to sing or hum a song when my daughter put on her socks and leggings. It put her in a good mood and so she would just naturally dress herself rather than being too focused on the whole process and getting upset.

Another example: if you need to leave the playground or their playmate’s house, you could say something like: we’ve had a great time here and it’s so much fun to play with xxx but now it’s time to go home or go shopping or whatever you need to get done.

Rather than just saying that it’s time to leave, you should first talk a bit about the great experience they have had for the last couple of hours or let them know that they can play for another 5 minutes, and then it’s time to leave. This will make them feel like you understand them and it doesn’t end their great time too abruptly.

What to Avoid During a Tantrum If You Want to Be a Gentle Parent?

The following should be avoided during a tantrum as it won’t be helpful in any way and has psychological impacts on your toddler:

  • Yelling or spanking
  • Threats
  • Negative comments (such as ‘you’re a bad child’ or ‘why are you behaving so badly?’)
  • Don’t rush them to stop their tantrum
Toddler Tantrum Gentle Parent

Conclusion: Why Approach Tantrums with Gentle Parenting?

Don’t forget that your child needs you as they can’t handle their emotions by themselves yet.

If you lose your temper every time they have a tantrum, they will grow up doing the exact same things you were doing every time they got angry. Instead, you want to teach them to acknowledge their feelings, talk about what’s happening and ultimately figure out how the problem can be solved.

Always remember, that your child isn’t having a tantrum to annoy or upset you. They don’t do this intentionally whatsoever.

They’re not giving you a hard time; they’re having a hard time.

Gentle parenting doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a constant process that you have to work on every day and remind yourself of practicing. So, don’t be too hard on yourself either, and don’t expect to be ‘perfect’ (not that this exists anyway) all the time. 

As long as you’re empathetic with your toddler and don’t look down on them and their feelings, you’ll be great at handling their tantrums with gentle parenting.

I’m wishing you the best of luck – you’ve got this!

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Gentle Parenting: How to Handle Toddler Tantrums

Gentle Parent toddler tantrum

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