Award-winning author, L.R.Knost

The Taming of the Tantrum: A Toddler’s Perspective

[From Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood by L.R.Knost.  Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline also available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]

So parents, here’s the scoop on tantrums:

They’re your fault.

Okay, okay, so maybe my toddlerhood contributes to them a teensy-weensy bit, but seriously…

You with the obsession with brushing teeth and bedtimes and matching clothes, enough already! Does it ever even occur to you that there’s another person (Yes, I am an actual separate person from you. Remember that whole cutting of the umbilical cord thing?) who might have an opinion about what goes in my mouth or when I’m tired or not or what I want to wear?

And you, the one who thinks carrots and kale are food. Really? You have all kinds of opinions about what tastes good and what doesn’t, but I’m not allowed to have any?

And don’t even get me started on the rush-rush, hurry-up craziness that has me being snatched up in the middle of my most fantastic block tower ever and strapped into a torture device (Btw, where’s your carseat?!?) and dragged from one place to another right through snack time. I can’t have an agenda? Don’t my interests mean anything?

Okay, so maybe I don’t know everything yet, but how am I going to learn if you just force these issues instead of communicating with me about things? That whole learning by osmosis thing (a.k.a. passive learning) didn’t work for you in college, and it won’t work with me, either.

You keep going on and on and ooooon about wanting me to listen. “Why won’t you listen?” “If you’d listen for once!” “Would you just listen to me?!?”  I’ve got three words for you…

Two. Way. Street.

Maybe instead of that whole failed learning by osmosis experiment you keep trying (You do know the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result, right? Okay, okay, just checking!) you could read the research and find out that I learn by active engagement (two-way conversation!) and imitation. Yep, that’s right. I learn from what you do, not just what you say.

So here’s the deal…

Want me to learn to listen? Then listen to me. Listen and respond to my cries when I’m a baby. Listen and reply to my babbling attempts at talking when I’m a toddler. Listen to my whining and respond patiently when I’m a preschooler. (I know it’s annoying, but whining is my last step, kind of like your ‘last nerve’ you complain I’m stomping on, before I have a meltdown. It’s my last-ditch effort to hold on to the tiny bit of self-control I’ve learned so far in my short life!) Listen and actually pay attention (a.k.a eye contact!) to my endless stories about snails when I’m in middle childhood and to my endless complaints and dramas when I’m in my teen years.

Want me to learn respect? Then show me respect. Show me that you respect my personal space by explaining the things you’re doing to me like changing my diaper or strapping me into a carseat. Show me that you respect others by not talking about them behind their backs (Yes, I can and do hear you!) or yelling at them on the road. Show me that you respect my opinions by asking for them and accommodating them when you can. (I know you won’t always be able to, but the times you do will help me to accept the times you can’t.)

Want me to learn compassion? Then show me compassion. Respond kindly and gently when I’m upset or angry or just out-of-sorts. Stay close when my emotions overwhelm me and I have a meltdown moment. (I need your presence and compassion the most when I seem to deserve it or even want it the least!)  And model compassion by treating others kindly in front of me.

Want me to learn self-control? (This is a big one!) Then show me self-control. Take a parental time-out when you get tired or overwhelmed or angry so I learn how to handle those big emotions. Count to ten and take some deep breaths instead of yelling or hitting. And pace yourself in this big world. I need to learn that it’s okay to take care of myself and not feel like I have to fill every moment with plans and schedules and agendas. I’ll learn that from watching you choose wisely from the many opportunities and pressures life will offer.

Okay, so to wrap this up. My tantrums don’t just come out of nowhere. They are the result of tiredness, hunger, frustration, anger, etc. You can prevent them, or at least minimize them, by keeping me fed and rested, by paying attention to my preferences, interests, and attempts to communicate, and by communicating kindly and patiently with me about upcoming changes or things I might not like. And keep in mind, I’m always watching and absorbing everything that goes on around me, so make sure you’re living what you want me to learn!

Related posts:

Practical, Gentle, Effective Discipline

The ‘No’ Zone

When Things Get Physical: Hitting, Throwing, Kicking, and Biting

Testing the Boundaries~What’s a Parent to Do?

You’re Not the Boss of Me!

Toddlers, Tantrums, and Time-In’s, Oh My!

Parenting a Strong-Willed Child

The Problem with Punishment

Spare the Rod: The Heart of the Matter

Easy Peasy DIY Parenting Tools

To a Toddler Sharing is a 4 Letter Word~MINE!

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.

44 Responses

  1. Diane Turnbaugh

    I was on the right track 35 years ago with my toddler, but there wasn’t much out there to support my then progressive parenting. Thank you for educating and supporting young parents as they guide little people on their journey to living in the big wide world.

    November 24, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    • linda vellucci

      So glad you said that. My son will be 35 next month and I employed this paradigm. But I was told I was “spoiling” my son. Who is now a college educated police detective and husband and father who listens to people. bullying can get a child to do ANYTHING, but it’s so wrong.

      June 24, 2013 at 5:54 pm

  2. My husband and I both really enjoyed reading this from the child’s perspective! Thank you 🙂

    November 26, 2012 at 7:08 pm

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  7. Erynn Schwellinger

    I still remember my car seat from my toddler years. It got too small and the straps so tight I couldn’t take a deep breath without it hurting… my dad still won’t believe me wen I tell him I shouldn’t have been shoehorned in that thing as long as I was. Augh. I’m 27. It’s remarkable what sticks with you.

    April 17, 2013 at 11:54 am

    • So true. I remember crying until I threw up as a toddler every time my mother went to her night class because I was convinced she’d never come back. 🙁 I use memories like that to help me stay focused on being empathetic with my children and look for the need behind the behavior. I figure every experience has, at the very least, the possibility to learn something and grow from it!

      April 17, 2013 at 12:53 pm

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  9. Alex511

    I love the respect comment. How do parents think they can command respect by demanding it, as opposed to demonstrating it? What would make any rational person think they can treat someone else badly and yet he/she deserves respect. It doesn’t work that way.

    June 24, 2013 at 2:03 pm

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  12. Rebecca

    You know, this is a good reminder but this article seems to be insinuating that if your toddler has tantrums, we as parents must be doing something wrong. I understand this must be somewhat tongue and cheek, but it sure comes off as being serious. We use gentle parenting because it makes sense. I didn’t even know that it existed until recently…it was just my way of doing things. It makes sense to respond gently and lovingly and to respond to cries, listen to stories and treat them with respect. Of course you should be respectful to your child, we should be respectful to all human beings. But even though I don’t yell, give punishments, we lead a “slow living” kind of life (aka we don’t go out and do a lot of things, we stay at home a lot so our children are not strung out) my daughter still has horrible tantrums. Most are related to diaper changes (I can’t leave her in a dirty diaper all day and I have tried every trick in the book to make them easier) and the other ones are from waking up from her naps very upset. When she has the tantrums nothing will make them better so I just sit nearby and wait for it to be over. I guess this article makes me feel like I’m not being *enough* of whatever because she still has these tantrums. Maybe it’s just a sore spot with me right now that there are so many articles out there about how we as parents aren’t doing *enough* or should be doing things better.

    July 3, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    • I hear you, mama. It could read that way if you’re having a hard time and feel like you’ve tried everything and your little one is still having tantrums. The thing is that gentle parenting (or any parenting, for that matter!) won’t ‘fix’ a child or cure childhood. Toddlers have big feelings and sometimes those feelings come out as tantrums. Staying nearby and present and calm lets a toddler know that their big feelings aren’t too big for us to handle and won’t drive us away and also that they won’t be left alone to deal with the big feelings themselves. This article is a humorous look at all of the unknown, unseen, un-thought-about tantrum triggers and contributors that toddlers face every day but parents may not have considered. It sounds like you are handling things beautifully, mama, and your little one will grow out of her tantrums sooner rather than later simply because she knows she doesn’t have to handle them alone and can trust you to help her through those big, scary feelings. 🙂

      July 3, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    • Liz

      Just wanted to comment to say that my daughter has the post-nap hangover from time to time too, and so did her cousins. You aren’t the only one, and if you’re trying to meet her needs and she just isn’t ready yet, you are still doing a great job being there to listen- that can be really hard.

      March 3, 2014 at 6:44 am

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  14. colette

    love your articles and especially your writing. thank you

    July 12, 2013 at 11:21 am

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  17. Ines

    I loved this and really want to win. I am a preschool teacher and mom, which makes this all the more important!!

    August 7, 2013 at 8:25 pm

  18. Roberta Ferguson

    Would love to win! Thanks. 🙂

    August 7, 2013 at 8:42 pm

  19. Kelly

    I found this post to be incredibly healing. I often worry if my daughter will turn out like me, struggling with issues formed in my childhood. It is encouragement like this with concrete steps on how to raise a healthy child into adulthood that give me hope and allow me to have compassion for the child I was. Thank you so much.

    August 7, 2013 at 8:55 pm

  20. Great article! Just found you through Parenting Beyond Punishment on FB.

    Also, I WANT TO WIN A COPY OF ONE OF YOUR BOOKS! 2k Kisses a day, perhaps?

    August 7, 2013 at 9:03 pm

  21. Laura Merrigan (peters)

    love it!! so wanna win one of your books!!!!

    August 7, 2013 at 10:52 pm

  22. Pati Mattison

    I enjoy how it is the parents responsibility to understand each child and how to handle them as individuals.

    August 7, 2013 at 11:46 pm

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  31. Eric

    I agree wholeheartedly, and my girlfriend and I employ these strategies with my nephew while trying to impart them to my brother/wife.

    We feel that so often, the issue is that adults don’t seem to consider children… especially infants/toddlers as real humans/people.

    One note, however(writing style): At the top, one of your main arguments is that the child does not learn through osmosis(should be diffusion, osmosis is only water…besides the point). At the end, though, you mention how the child IS absorbing all the things going on around them. Of course both of these statements are true, I would just suggest a different way of presenting that point to make it not sound so contradictory to your first, very valid, argument.

    Thank you for writing this, as it saves us a lot of time and is going to be shared A LOT!!

    December 14, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    • Oh, you science-types, lol. Osmosis…passive movement of one substance with high density through a semi-permeable membrane to a substance with low density, creating a balance…or the process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas, knowledge. My point wasn’t that a child won’t learn by absorbing what is going on around them, but that they won’t learn what we want them to learn if we don’t communicate (two-way-street kind of communication!) with them as well as modeling the behaviors we want them to learn. Hope that clears up the confusion! 🙂

      December 14, 2013 at 10:49 pm

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  35. Karen

    This is great. I really needed to read this. 🙂 Thank you.

    April 15, 2014 at 12:26 am

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