18 Month Old Temper Tantrums: How To Handle Them

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You probably didn't see it coming: your 18 month old toddler having those awful tantrums, with a lot of screaming and throwing themselves on the floor. Sometimes they can go on for 10 minutes, 15 minutes, or even more.

There are variations to it as well: going limp! or flailing around on the floor, all of it just drives us crazy. I am a parent, not a child psychologist so this post will be based on my experience with my daughter and my reading on the subject. Some of this might work for some kids but not others. You can try this with an older child as well but you will need to tweak it a bit if they are older than 3-4 years.



Why Is My Toddler Throwing a Tantrum? 

The most common reasons are: they are tired, because you didn't give them something they want, or because they are hungry. One of the reasons for tantrums can be that the child is unable to communicate yet (they have not developed enough speech skills yet). It might help to try and look for signs leading to the melt down so you could try and find the cause. The main thing to remember here is that they are normal. Children have very strong feelings, everything is extreme: they are extremely happy, or extremely angry, etc. Unlike adults, they don't know how to cope with those feelings, mind you, many adults don't either. That is where your role becomes important: you need to help them control those emotions, let alone express them in a meaningful way.

How To Handle 18 month old Tantrums:

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1- Stay Calm:

I know, it is much easier said than done. It hurts to see your child suffering and feeling helpless about it. It is also annoying when they throw a tantrum because of the most trivial thing, but remember, you are the adult here. Is can also be scary to see one of those 18 month old temper tantrums! In his book: Toddler Taming, Dr. Christopher Green says imagine you are a customer service operator! The customer would be calling to complain, angry and shouting and on the other side, a calm person acting professionally without getting carried away with the emotions.
The difference is of course, you are not going to detach yourself or do it in a "cold" way.

This is crucial because, although they are little, they can clearly see the effect of their behavior on you and it does not help if the parent is as stressed as them.

I found it helpful to STOP and REFLECT. Stop before the situation escalates, monitor how you are feeling and think about what has caused the situation: can you prevent the tantrum? Is there an easy solution out? This especially true with repeated and predictable tantrums like a toddler refusing to bath, for example.

2-Listen and acknowledge their feelings:

Your child might hint or tell you the reason why they are angry if they can talk but many can't say more than a few words at this stage. Many people find that this feels "unnatural", however it can be helpful if you are able to do it. Tell your child that you can see they are angry/sad/frustrated and that it is difficult when they can't get the toy the want [replace this with whatever is happening].

Label the feeling: 

When you talk to your child and tell them what you think is happening "I can see you are frustrated", you have given them a tool to help them deal with the emotion in the future, you gave it a name. By starting to have a dialogue and by naming the feeling, you are helping them talk about it.

Don't feel bad if you can't get the message across or your child does not speak yet, there is a limited amount of "talking" that you can do with an 18 month old and it might be enough for them to know the words "sad" or "upset". If it is not working move on to the next step.

3- Distract them:

It might be as simple as looking at something through the window or looking interested in a piece of paper. Pick up a book and start reading loudly to your other half and pretend you are reading the most interesting/bizarre/funny thing ever. This worked with us a few times and she would stop the tantrum and curiously come to look at the same thing we are looking at.

4- Offer Help:

Usually, this is a hug or holding them while they are upset. You can also offer an alternative to what they wanted to do or what they wanted to eat, etc. However:

5- Do Not Give In:

If they are upset because you wouldn't give them the 10th piece of candy in the same minute, you should stand your ground. If you give in, your toddler will very quickly learn that this is the way to get what they want.

That said, you need to choose your battles, if you can prevent a tantrum before it happens by offering them 2 more minutes to play in the park so be it. Remember that as with any effective discipline, this is not about punishment but rather an opportunity to teach your toddler that this behavior has certain consequences. For example, if they are going crazy in public (e.g. a supermarket) because they want to buy thousands of things, leave!

6- Be consistent:

You will need to be firm but gentle at the same time, then repeat this whenever a tantrum happens. It will take some time but if you are consistent, your child will eventually learn or at least, the behavior will become less frequent.

7-Move away:

Remember the first step? "Stay calm". If you are unable to stay calm or if you did everything you could and they just can't stop, leave the room. Remember: make sure they are safe before you do that, there are no dangerous items around and they are not in a dangerous place or position. Sometimes all it takes is 2-3 minutes in a different room for your toddler to calm down and move on.
 Sometimes you both will have to get out, get them to go to a park or an open safe space were they can play and use this energy in something useful instead.

I don't think it is useful to start with this or as some people advice to completely ignore the child. The approach I'm suggesting works better in my opinion and it also sends a message to the child: "I'm your parent, I'm here and I can handle this", specially when done gently, calmly and with understanding that they are not enjoying the tantrum but actually struggling to cope with their feelings.

Preventing severe 18 month old toddler tantrums

It is important to teach your child some boundaries to be expected so they don't find the way you handle the tantrum unsettling. At this age, you can start with stories, either buying them or making them up yourself. You can find plenty of stories on amazon discussing emotions for kids. The aim here is to teach them to communicate their frustration/hunger/etc before things escalate. It also teaches them what might happen if they keep screaming: they don't get what they want, because we can't understand why they are screaming.
This will take time, but will eventually sink in (I'm talking months here).

What about you?

How do you deal with tantrums and what has been useful so far with your kids?Try the methods I mentioned here and let me know which worked for you and which did not!

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