The Commercial Appeal

Agitated parent believes it can ‘out think’ toddler’s tantrums


Adapted from an online discussion. Dear Carolyn: My toddler throws occasional tantrums, like I assume many of them do. I don’t like that my instinctua­l response is often to find something or someone to blame – like, if only we hadn’t left the house, or (worse) if only my husband hadn’t said or done whatever innocuous thing he said or did right before the tantrum. Usually these thoughts stay in my head. Sometimes they don’t.

Logically, I know kids this age throw tantrums and I can’t really prevent them. In the moment, I want to find a reason, and want to believe I can out think the next one. I want to be more levelheade­d and patient. Anything I can do to train myself? – How To Be More Zen?

How To Be More Zen?: It’s incredible how logical we can be about tantrums in theory, and how quickly that logic can be burned to ashes one minute into a tantrum. They just push all our buttons at once. But you’re not going to “out think” them all unless you can read your toddler’s mind, because tantrums are generally misunderst­andings that toddlers don’t have the skills to clear up the usual way. A couple of training options:

1. A good book or program. Harvey Karp has been the go-to for a lot of readers over the years, and I used some of his techniques with my kids.

2. A mantra: “Stay calm, keep child safe.” Adopt these as your only jobs. The rest will sort itself out. No one will care what caused the tantrum or where it happened or who witnessed it within five minutes after it passes.

3. Knowing that tantrums are speech for people who don’t have the communicat­ion skills to say what they want to say. So, while you’re working to remain calm, ask yourself, “What is my toddler saying to me?” Answering that will not only help solve the problem of the moment, but also take the edge off if not preempt the next one – not 100 percent, but better than zero.

4. File all this away for adolescenc­e, when children’s emotional range once again grows faster than their communicat­ion skills do.

Re: Tantrums: Blaming the husband for the toddler’s tantrums seems like an unhealthy relationsh­ip dynamic that ought to be addressed more directly. – Anonymous

Anonymous: Agreed that it’s unhealthy – but the letter-writer knows that, takes responsibi­lity for it and is working on it, which checks the boxes for me.

I don’t think there’s enough informatio­n to say it’s their particular relationsh­ip dynamic that’s unhealthy; blaming the husband could just be a factor of his being there to be blamed.

Re: Zen: Last weekend I was playing Legos with my 3-year-old grandnephe­w, who set a guy down and said, “This is where he goes to have meltdowns on the couch.”

“Do you have meltdowns on the couch?”

“Yeah,” he answered matter-of-factly, even happily. Now I want to have meltdowns on the couch. Don’t they sound wonderful? – Grand

Grand: My afternoon plans have just taken shape. Please send the little man my thanks.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost .com.

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