Learn the No. 1 Tool for Keeping Cool While Handling Toddler Tantrums

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Let Babies Teach book cover (PRNewsfoto/Vonda Scipio)
Author Vonda Scipio (PRNewsfoto/Vonda Scipio)

Toddler tantrums seem to happen at the worst possible times when children are demanding, parents become irritated and onlookers are scowling their disapproval. Parents want to do everything they can to avoid such meltdowns and there are steps they can take before, during and after a toddler tantrum. So says Vonda Scipio, Ed.D., a mother, grandmother, early childhood educator and author of two new books, Let Babies Teach: Learning Child Development Through Observing Infants and Toddlers and the included companion guide Let Me Teach You, Baby: How to Help Infants and Toddlers Grow and Develop Literacy Skills.

Her secret weapon is for parents to use self-control before, during, and after toddler tantrums. Dr. Scipio says parents’ use of a higher level of nonverbal communication during a tantrum is key to helping toddlers calm down. Her advice is as follows:

Before a tantrum

  • Parents need to become an expert on their child’s behavior
  • Know the two reasons for tantrums (they either want what they can’t have or don’t want to do what must be done)
  • There are triggers that set the tantrum in motion (i.e. time of day, smells, noise, crowds, etc.)

During a tantrum

  • When they want what they can’t have, be firm, lower your tone, ignore if safe, do not offer comfort, inform that you will talk and hug when they calm down
  • When they don’t want to do what must be done, be firm, lower your tone, do not ignore, provide assistance to help them do it (cleaning up toys, putting on coat, etc.), do not offer comfort, inform them that you will talk and hug when they calm down

After a tantrum

  • When they return to a regulated state; reiterate the rules. For example: “When mommy says you can’t have the toy, that’s what she means.” Give words for their emotions (angry, hurt, mad, etc.)
  • Give a consequence for the tantrum
  • Offer compassion, hugs, and kisses

Credentials: Vonda Scipio, Ed.D., has worked in early childhood education for 18 years. She has been a kindergarten teacher, academic reading instructor, and adjunct professor. For the past six years, she has worked as an early intervention specialist and supervisor/trainer of early intervention specialists. Over the course of her career, she has delivered coaching and training to hundreds of families of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers in their homes and child care facilities. She has worked for Head Start, Tennessee’s Early Intervention System, academic institutions, and private companies. Dr. Scipio has one daughter and two young grandchildren.