It happened again today as I was driving my daughter to preschool – another toddler tantrum.
It was a beautiful chorus of wails and screaming in the back of the minivan about leaving her Huggie and Stuffy at home.
We didn’t even need music, as she was providing it free of charge.
And if you saw me a couple of years ago when either of the kids had a tantrum, an intense heat would flush my face, my throat would tighten, and my heart would rapidly thud against my chest.
Basically, I battled my body’s fight or flight response and tried not to have a temper tantrum myself.
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All that changed when I discovered one really big myth about toddler tantrums.
You can stay up until 11:30 pm on Google searching how to stop a tantrum until your eyelids feel heavy and the screen starts to blur.
And throughout your “research,” you’ll find a large number of posts that say in order to get your child to stop crying all you need to do are things like…
- distract your child
- validate their feelings
- offer choices
- stay consistent
- hold your boundaries
- and so forth
While all these things can help in any given situation, they don’t actually get to the heart of what’s really going on with a child having a tantrum.
Here’s the big myth.
It is often misinterpreted that the validation or offering choices will stop the crying.
However, stopping the crying is not the goal.
If you’re looking around for validation or choices to stop the child from crying, then the child is in charge.
The goal of validation is to understand the child’s perspective so they can start to open up to your guidance.
The goal of offering things the child CAN DO is to help the child find a way to meet their own need for experience, power or connection.
Often a wonderful side-effect of validation and alternative ways to meet an underlying want and need is that the crying or whining stops, but it is not the primary goal.
When a child feels understood and their needs are met, they are often able to stop crying, but not always.
That part is up to the child, and it’s not something parents can control.
The part parents can control is holding their boundaries, understanding the child and guiding the child toward alternatives to meet their own healthy needs of power, experience and connection.
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There’s more about crying.
In order to make sense of crying, you have to think, “What’s ‘right’ about it?”
A toddler crying or whining is working to adapt to your boundary (the opposite of defiance).
Furthermore, when a child moves from anger to sadness, you’ll know he or she is moving toward acceptance of your boundary.
The crying and whining is also working to tell you something more that you didn’t hear. The child is working to clear up a missed communication.
In crying, children are telling you that they don’t like something, while in whining they are often telling you in words what they want.
Whining is how speaking sounds when your child doesn’t think what they want matters to you, but they know it must be heard for them to accept your boundary.
In order for any tantrum strategy to “work,” you must know two things:
1. “Stopping crying” comes from the child.
2. The part that comes from you is the validation and boundary (your preferences) and CLEARLY stating it in order for the child to have a problem-solving experience.
Things are different now.
When I see a child working through an upset, my brain immediately thinks – hey, they’re adapting.
So when my daughter’s in the back carseat “singing” her upset over Huggie and Stuffy being left at home, I know she’s well on her way to adapting to my boundary, which is that we are not going home and she will be without it.
I can validate her perspective, “You wish Huggie and Snuggy were here and you’re sad and crying really loud.”
I can clearly state my boundary, “I’m not okay with going back home to get it.”
And I can help her step into problem-solving to meet her needs for experience, power and connection, “Must be something you Can Do! Hmmmm…you can…”
And with peace in my heart I can leave the “stopping crying” up to her. I don’t need to fix it or control it, knowing that she is fully capable. Trusting that she will stop as soon as she can, I let it all go.
And when she stops, I now have the amazing opportunity to ground her in her Inner Greatness. “You were sad that Huggie and Snuggie were at home, and you found a way to calm yourself down. That’s self-control.”
Here’s the best part.
With Language of Listening® – the 3 part framework I use and teach to parents – you facilitate tantrums rather than manage it or stop it for the child.
This one simple shift helps kids learn how to calm themselves down, so you no longer need to do it for them.
L.R. Knost said it best, “When little people are overwhelmed with big emotions, it our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.”
Hey there! I’m Lauren, a Language of Listening® parent coach, and I help parents just like you take simple steps to help your kids want to listen AND become the amazing grown-ups they are meant to be. To get more awesome and insightful parenting ideas using Language of Listening, click the button below to get started.
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