All parents have their own methods of dealing with temper tantrums and fits in older babies and toddlers, especially as an assertive one-year-old grows into the even more trying “terrible two’s”. Tantrums are almost inevitable, and usually don’t mean that you are overly permissive– in fact, much more often, the toddler is responding in the only way he knows how, when he does not feel a sense of control or is being disciplined too harshly.
As an attachment parenting mother of an assertive toddler– and a caregiver to many children–I have learned the ropes of what does and does not work when it comes to coping with the emotional turbulence of a toddler. The key to handling a tantrum does not lie in harsh discipline, avoidance, or even time-outs– instead, in accordance with the attachment parenting model, parents should act with compassion and love.
Dealing with a Tantrum the Attachment Parenting Way
Believe it or not, you were a toddler once. You may even have memories of your toddlerhood or early childhood, and, if not, you certainly remember being a teenager. Teens and toddlers both “act out” for the same reasons: they are in-between life stages and trying to exercise independence. As a baby grows into a toddler or a child grows into an adult, they feel awkward, out-of-control, and lacking a sense of stability. A toddler’s tantrum is a cry for steadiness.
Instead of reacting to your toddler’s fits as if he is deliberately intending to upset or hurt you, try focusing on love and sympathy. It may be hard to extend your model of attachment parenting to the two-year-old who just bit you, but try to ask yourself why he did it, rather than simply reacting with a swat or a scream.
What Doesn’t Work in Coping with Tantrums
Picture this– with love and sympathy: a two-year-old sees grown-ups eating a food on the table. It has peanuts in it, and she’s allergic to them– but, of course, she doesn’t know that. When she reaches for one, her mother pushes her hand back. She cries and reaches again. Her mother yells something she doesn’t understand. She cries more, now upset because her mother is angry. While she is crying, her mother spanks her, then carries her to a room where she is left alone, in a “time out” of five minutes.
Naturally, the child in the example would feel panicked and scared. What did she do wrong? Why is she locked in this room? Why did her mother get mad that she was upset? Are the grown-ups ever going to come and get her out of the room? For most children in this situation, the discipline method described would do nothing to eliminate tantrums– it would actually add to the child’s general state of anxiety, leading to more frequent melt-downs.
How to Respond with Love and Compassion
If a toddler wants something and is too young to understand the reason she can’t have it– or if she has a tantrum for “no reason at all”– compassionate parents following the attachment parenting model should respond with love and attention, not anger. An angry response will only escalate the toddler’s anxiety, worsening the overall problem. A loving reaction, on the other hand, will eliminate the tantrum and address the underlying problem.
Using the attachment parenting method of baby-wearing will almost always eliminate a tantrum in toddlers who are accustomed to being held, and it will encourage the toddler to seek comfort rather than taking out his fury on the floor. Additionally, a breastfed toddler will learn to comfort himself at the breast, increasing his healthy attachment with his mother while also decreasing his tendencies toward fits and tantrums.
Giving yourself a Break from the Tantrum
One of the “ten commandments” of attachment parenting, described by Dr. William Sears, is “Thou shalt realize thou art not perfect.” Even the most patient of attachment parenting caregivers will probably, at some point, raise their voices or burst into tears. While these reactions may not be good for your toddler, they do not make you a bad parent, nor do they mean that you are not practicing attachment parenting.
If you find yourself gritting your teeth or wanting to pull your hair out and you’re overcome with an urge to spank or scream at your toddler, take a break. It is best to leave your child with another sympathetic caregiver, but if you are alone, put him in a safe place, step aside, and take a few deep breaths while you regain your calm. The best way to be an effective parent is to take care of yourself first.
Look for a Medical Cause
If your baby or toddler has frequent temper tantrums with no obvious cause, it’s possible that a medical condition, rather than a parenting technique, is to blame. Children with autism, mental retardation, brain injury, anxiety disorders, ear infections, or sleep apnea are likely to have tantrums to a greater frequency and severity than average.
To rule out these possibilities, talk to your pediatrician about your child’s behavior and conditions. Do not worry about your parenting style being judged or excessively criticized– your pediatrician has seen and heard much worse before. With your doctors help and guidance, the attachment parenting model can effectively dispel the tantrums of even the most assertive of toddlers.
Source Used: Source Used: Sears, William, M.D., Sears, Martha, R.N. The Attachment Parenting Book. Little Brown and Company. 2001.