Avoiding toddler tantrums on family trips (or anytime)
Over-tired, over-sugared, over-stimulated… Suddenly, you’ve got a howling little kid and a full-flown tantrum, for all the world to see.
So, what can parents do to minimize the toddler tantrum risk?
Tips for Toddler Tantrums
1. Bring along a good Bag of Tricks
Always bring more snacks and amusements than you think you’ll need. Here are some suggestions: What to put into the bottomless bag of amusements for long trips
2. Be a Mood Manager
The old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is apt for tantrums: it’s far, far better, to spend five minutes reading a story, or looking for a lost Smartie, than fifteen minutes dealing with a child so frustrated she loses self-control.
First point about moods: Make sure your child’s physical needs are met before they become a crisis. Offer a snack or drink long before he’s desperate.
Also: Try to manage expectations. If there’s a danger of disappointment ahead, prepare your child: “We’ll be seeing lots of toys, but we can’t buy one today”; or, “you might be too little for some of the rides”.
3. Watch for tell-tale early signs of frazzled-ness
Now’s the time for a distraction, a treat, a change in pace. When you see frustration start to mount: point out a funny hat, or a cloud that looks like your cat; try a funny voice or accent…
And If you feel yourself getting mad…
4. Try to sidestep, instead of locking horns
- reflect what the child is feeling (“You feel really bad because that Smartie got lost!”)
- acknowledge the frustration (“It’s so hard to lose a Smartie!”)
- try solving with fantasy (“what if we had a million Smarties”?)
- give the child a chance to find a solution (“We’re in a mess. Can we fix this somehow?”)
5. Understand Your Child
Some kids are easier travelers than others: they can adapt to change readily, go with the flow… For others, the reverse is true. An excellent book called The Difficult Child emphasizes nine temperamental traits, including:
- adaptability: does the child deal well with transitions?
- sensory threshold. Some children, for example, are really, really bothered by tiny sensations – like the feeling of the seams in his socks! The parent tends to say: “that can’t possibly bother you!” But: it does.
If a Tantrum Erupts…
The Difficult Child distinguishes between manipulative tantrums, and tantrums that are a genuine loss of self-control. If the tantrum is manipulative – the child howls in order to get what he/she wants – sooner or later you must make clear that this tactic won’t work.
On a trip, however, the tantrum may be a real loss of self-control brought on by overtiredness, over-stimulation, too much strangeness…
The task is to help the child regain self-control:
- stay physically present, holding the child if he’ll permit it.
- be calm and reassuring. “I know you’re upset, but it will be okay.”
- don’t get into big discussions about what’s the matter.
- distract if you can.
- and correct the situation, if possible. (For example, if the child really can’t stand the way his jacket feels – let him take it off.)
Sometimes, unpleasant as it is, all you can do is wait for the bad moment to pass. And though you may feel embarrassed by a tantrum in public: the world will not end. Move on to making good memories.