Dear Crissy

Toddler discipline or mom vs. the tantrum

Toddler discipline is becoming one of the most talked about topics in our home as of late. The problem is, the answer to the question of how do we discipline our toddler is never one my husband or I can answer. When Evan launches into an epic toddler fit, my husband and I just sort of look at each other with our respective jaws on the floor. There is a silent dialog that we share in that gaze when the fit is erupting. What is this madness, and how do we make it stop?

Now, doesn’t that picture look just terribly pitiful? Well, rest assured, Evan was only shielding his eyes form a ray of sunshine, and was about two blinks away from a giggle. However, our days are now peppered with tantrums that end up making everyone, not just the toddler, pretty cranky. How in the world do you discipline a toddler?

Toddler discipline methods I have employed

  • Saying, “that’s a no-no!”
  • Saying, “that’s a no-no!” in a loud voice.
  • Saying, “that’s a no-no!” in a really loud voice.

Guess what? Not doing the trick. He looks us right in the eyes, and while a grin may not actually pass over his lips, I can see it in his sparkly, ornery little brown eyes.

I keep seeing visions of Supernanny in my head, dragging a screaming toddler back to their naughty chair sixteen-thousand times for a three minute time out. That’s 45 minutes of dragging, kicking, and screaming for a 3 minute time out. Don’t get me wrong, I see the necessity here, and I know that there has to be some consistency and follow-through, but I sincerely doubt that my 18-month-old is ready for a time out. In fact, Babycenter says:

Time-outs can be helpful, but few children understand the concept until they’re at least 3 years old. For a younger child, time-outs are confusing and frustrating. If your child is old enough to understand time-outs, use them sparingly and limit them to three minutes or less — just long enough for your child to get control of himself. Put him in a “naughty chair” instead of sending him to his room — you don’t want him to associate his room with punishment. Consider sitting with him. He’ll probably calm down faster, and you could use the break, too.

The last time I blogged about toddler discipline and tantrums, a lot of you told me that I should ignore the fit. Ignore, ignore, ignore, in fact. Well, my little fit-thrower is pretty persistent. Today when I tried the ignore tactic, I ended up with small person guy clinging to my leg like like an angry monkey as I tried to walk through the house with an extra 26 lbs. on one thigh.

I was resorting to putting Evan in his crib to cool down during tantrums, but according to the same quote above that’s a bad idea too. Let me reiterate, what is this madness, and how do we make it stop?

So, what can I do differently? How do you handle toddler discipline in your home?

    31 Comments on “Toddler discipline or mom vs. the tantrum”

  1. It’s been a few years since my son was that age, but I think a time out may not be the solution at his age. I remember when my son would do that kind of thing. Have you tried re-directing his attention to something he can have when he is wanting to get something that he can’t have? But whichever route you (& hubby) decide to take, just stick with it-consistency is key! Also, it pretty much is just a phase that you have to pass through.

    Best of luck.
    Danae@Believing Unbeliever

  2. Now that my children are grown and I watch grandchildren it is easier for me to say ignore because it still is attention for them if we react more then once or keep talking to them through their tantrums. I find if I can wait it out for a few minutes then talk to them and they do not stop then wait it out again. they eventually will just want to love you and hold you.

  3. UGH I am at this stage too. My daughter thinks its funny when I sit her in time out and I keep dragging her back to the spot and it’s not doing the trick no matter how long I do it. Even when I say NO in a stern voice she still doesnt care. blah.

  4. Probably the most talked about topic by parents of littles: tantrums! My twins are completely different when it comes to tantrums. Neither has them very often at all (maybe 2 in her life- they’re 3.5 now), but she has to be completely ignored or she’ll hit, kick and carry on forever. Her tantrums always stem from hurt feelings. When ignored, she’ll cry for what seems like a LONG time (probably 15 minutes) but once she’s calm if I wipe her tears and nose and hug her and tell her I love her she’ll be perfectly fine. If not ignored it can go on and on and on…Her tantrums are about hurt feelings.

    My son, on the other hand, has tantrums that occur when it’s nap time and we’re out too long doing errands. He NEEDS his afternoon nap. His tantrums are always accompanied by a raging screaming that gets my adrenaline pumping and can sometimes make me cry because I feel like an awful parent that I can’t make him feel better or get him to stop . We have to wait him out and it is painful and long. We usually end up having to put him into his room because he will hit and kick and throw anything in site. Once in his room he will smash his feet and fists on the door, howl, scream etc. IT IS BRUTAL TO EXPERIENCE and generally wears me out for the entire rest of the day. His tantrums are about being tired and angry.

    THE GOOD NEWS: these tantrums happen very rarely and are predictable for him. He can’t be dragged about doing errands with us if it’s nap time. PERIOD.

    The Moral of my story: kids are different. Some can be talked to calmly and that calms them down. Others will try to kick you if you talk while they’re in the middle of it. Some respond to hugs. Others will try to slap you away. Some can calm themselves down quickly and for others it can last and last. Hopefully, you don’t have to experience too many of these at your house but I’d say you can usually see the perfect storm brewing and prevention is probably the best medicine. If it isn’t prevented, you’ll just have to try completely different things with him to see what helps him the most.

    Also, much later in the day I always discuss it. I say “You were so upset earlier today. Tell me why you felt that way. Were you sad or mad?” Surprisingly they are quite eloquent in explaining their point of view when asked. I usually get some interesting nuggets of information that I didn’t perceive at the time – or could never gather unless I were their age again.

    Hang in there! You are NOT the only one :)

  5. you deal with a lot of Whine by consuming wine, lots of it!

    Sorry Crissy, mine had melt downs that epic, the only cure was time, as they got closer to 3 and their verbal skills improved the tantrums gradually lightened.

  6. The Terrible 2’s started at 16 months in our household. Yeah me. Well next week my munchkin turns 3… and apparently 3 is worse than 2. Uhhh. More Mommy nights out are going to be necessary for me to make it through these tantrums.

    So onto the discipline. At home, Will has always had timeouts, and a few times when he has been close to hurting himself or someone there has been a spanking. But our first option is always timeouts. At 1-2 years old timeouts are more to take the kids out of hysterics and giving them a chance to calm down. We always still tell Will while he was in time out and not to do it again. Now that he is all but 3, He has timeouts. And when the timeouts are over we tell him why he was there and make him repeat it back, say he was sorry and then give hugs.

    They always say timeout lengths should be 1 minute for every year they are old. Definitely don’t talk to them, and if they are crying and screaming when you put them in time. Time out doesn’t start until they calm down and serve it quietly.

    That’s what we do…. some days it works, some days not so much. Good luck!

  7. I have 4 children, the oldest is 18 and the youngest is 8. They were all so different as toddlers. While one might test every thread of patience in me, another would be a perfect angel. But here are a few things I have learned to take into consideration:

    Is the child hungry or sleepy? Sometimes a snack or bath then nap does the trick.
    If the child is well fed and already rested, and still shows a tantrum is it out of selfishness? As in.. “I’ll scream til I get what I want”? Do NOT give him what he wants. He will quickly learn that this is how he can win. Redirect his attention elsewhere.

    I have also noticed with my children that sometimes they just need extra snuggling time. :) Only you two will know what your toddler needs. It takes time to learn their behavior, desires, and dislikes. Soon you’ll know if he’s up to something by the twinkle in his eye.

  8. It’s soooooo hard, I think we tried a kazillion things but redirection worked for us quite a bit, although it doesn’t work in all situations. That’s when I broke out the straight jackets and duct tape…did I say that aloud?? J/K and even though a 2 year old can’t understand time outs I do want to warn you, not scare you, IMO 3 is a lot harder than 2, they are asserting themselves more and testing your patience on purpose, not just simply being naughty by default. Good luck momma!

  9. I’m not sure if he’s old enough for it yet. But one of my absolute favorite wins I had during one of the tantrums we dealt with was played out in public (on a sidewalk in Downtown Laguna Beach, CA of all places). I don’t remember what started it but my son, who had gottengood at throwing them was going off about something. I drew my line in the sand and saw him reeling out of control over it. I put everything in my hands down on the sidewalk, crouched down to his level looked him right in the eye and said very sternly “You have two choices… you can continue to throw this fit and I will eventually win or you can stop the tears, give me a hug and we will forget this ever happened. Then we both win.”

    I had realized he didn’t have a way to dig himself out of the hole he had created, so I gave him a way out. He took it. The tears stopped and we both felt like we won as we went about the rest of the day. There was a homeless man standing a short distance away and no kidding, he cheered and said “Score for Mom!”

    That is a trick I have learned with tantrums. :)

  10. I’ve actually read in other places that time outs can be started at 18 months if your child communicates with you well in order to have what they did explained and apologize to you afterward a la Supernanny. (I LOVE Supernanny!) We have the House Rules and Time Out steps on a bulletin board in our dining room above the spot we hope to soon put a naughty stool for our 16 month old when she gets closer to 2 and communicates better. She just now says her first word so she’s not on the same level with that as Evan. We haven’t started using them yet, but have started introducing her to the rules when she misbehaves and stuck with the old toddler method of distraction when she gets fussy about wanting something she shouldn’t. For us it works pretty much every time. On the occasion she gets really persistent, I stand my ground with making her walk away, distraction, repeat until she gets over it. No matter how long it takes. And now she fusses for a few seconds and moves on because she knows fighting it is completely pointless.

    A few months ago she started doing the random screaming tantrums (I think because she couldn’t communicate on top of being tired/hungry/etc.) and I ignored her. She could cling to my leg, scream, cry all she wanted. I ignored every bit of it for as long as I had to. She doesn’t do it anymore. The whole phase lasted maybe a month. Also, I’m a scheduler. Routines are my thing. Anya has a very predictable schedule almost down to the hour. I always have the next thing ready to go in her routine and can get it to her before she even needs to complain for the most part. I never have her out at nap time, and I always have a snack, drink, and toys with us in public. I’m realistic about what she’s capable of, and if she has a melt down because I kept her up or didn’t feed her on time that is not her fault – it is all mine. I don’t punish her for that. Instead I try to make sure it doesn’t happen by sticking to the schedule she knows and thrives in.

    I know that she wants breakfast as soon as she wakes up and will want her first snack approximately an hour and a half to two hours after. So I have it ready at the earlier time and give it to her the second she starts to whine or go into the kitchen pointing at the cabinets where we keep the snacks. I know that about three hours after waking up for the day, and about an hour to an hour and a half after her snack, she will be ready for lunch. So I always start preparing it 15 minutes ahead of that time so it’s ready by the time she starts to get hungry and ask for food. I know that exactly four hours after waking up for the day, she needs her nap. Even if I don’t see a single eye rub, she’s ready. She goes right to sleep. I wait any longer and she’s overtired. I know she’ll want her second snack when she gets up, and I know she expects dinner around 6PM, bath at 7:30, and bed at 8PM. We rarely if ever deviate from that and plan accordingly if we go out or anything like that. It has made all of the difference in her behavior. As long as she rested and fed on time, she rarely misbehaves. As for the random upsets? She’s learned to get over it because Mommy and Daddy don’t reward that kind of behavior. It doesn’t get her what she wants so she doesn’t bother doing it as much anymore.

  11. What helped me with my now 4-year-old Matthew when he was Evan’s age to calm him down from a temper tantrum, was diverting his attention to something I know excites him – like:
    – changing the channel to some shows he likes,
    – playing his favorite movie,
    – I’d say excitedly, “It’s time for a bath.” even though he already had a bath.
    – putting on some music, or increase the volume
    – turning on and off the lights
    – playing with his toys, soon he’ll join in

    But on the aspect of discipline, for toddlers as young as Evan, very few to none works to make them realize what they are doing is wrong. On the aspect of discipline, my Matthew started to really understand at the age of 3; started to listen and understand that there is repercussion to every bad behavior.

  12. I did time-outs anyway, starting around the age Evan is now. It gave me a break to calm down, and removed him from the situation. Of course, that only works if he’s not thrashing around like a caged animal! If that’s the case, move him to a soft safe place until the fit is over and then get down on his level and explain (simply) that its not acceptable behavior. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the words to talk about his feelings at his age, but you can do it for him, and provide something physical to do as an alternative do tantrums – for instance: you see the melt-down coming and say, I see that you are upset. Let’s go to place X and scream into the pillow and punch it until you feel better. Or whatever. That may not work until he’s a bit older either, but its worth a try!

  13. Stay home!! lol.. never go out. OK I am obviously just kidding, but me and my husband tease that we are just going to stay home until our little 21 month old grows out of her toddler fits. It is really hard and I guess that is why they say “terrible 2’s” even though it starts before 2 and seems to last much longer. I am sure EVERY child is different and its good to not give them so much attention when they are throwing a fit. I always tell her, no we don’t act like that, ignore her if she keeps going (Which she will do the same, grab my leg and follow me around the house crying) and I understand she wants my attention. As soon as she stops (even for a second) I pay her attention adn try to be postive and figure out what she wanted or why she was throwing the fit. Usually by then she is over it. If she throws a really bad fit (this has only happened twice, but yes my daughter sweet special BABY spit at me…. do kids even do that at 20 months?? I was horrified… thought I was the worst parent ever, but kids all act differently) I put her in her crib because obviously that type of behavior is not tolerated. I just left her in there for 2 minutes and she was better, hugged me and I really do think understood (HOPEFULLY) that spitting was NOT ok. Ugh anyways toddlers are a real struggle. She is my first and I think its just important for us to not stress or take it out on our spouse (lol). Everyone is always going to want to give advice but do what you feel is best. No No really loud sounds good to me :)

  14. Ugh, I hear you!! We do time outs in our house. My son is going to be two in a few days, and we’ve done them for about 6 months now. I think they work, mainly because it allows him time to cool off and distracts him. I know people thought that he was way too young when we first started, but we only put him in there for a minute and it just allowed him a bit of breathing room. It worked for us-we started because Orion would go over to the tv stand and shake it, and whatever we tried, he would just go back and do it again. But after a day of time outs (probably ten times in one day!) he never touched it again. It works for us!

  15. Me and my Hubby have the same issue with my 15 month old… it is as if you were in my head!! It is so HARD to ignore a screaming child!! I really try to stay calm and calm her down by talking to her, but sometimes that just doesn’t work!! We are really trying to figure out what discipline will work best for Alex!

  16. I just recently wrote about how we avoid tantrums ( I’ve discovered that if I follow all of my own advice, tantrums just don’t happen. Not always easy and perhaps easier for me because my toddler generally behaves well, but it may work for you too! :)

  17. Not all tantrums are just ornery little boy acting out. I try really hard to figure out why he’s having the problem in the first place. Many times he gets frustrated because he just can’t make his toys do what he envisions or he can’t communicate to me what he wants or needs. I try really hard to figure it out first.
    If it’s really just a full-blown tantrum, we still have our little activity bouncer for our 28 month-old. It’s where he goes when he has his tantrums. He doesn’t go in it for punishment, just to calm down. I put him in, kicking and screaming (him, not me!) and then ignore until I notice a change. Usually, the all-out tantrum changes into just plain crying. Then I’ll ask him if he can talk about his problem. If not, I’ll ask him if he can be a nice boy and not throw his toys/hit/get into whatever he was getting int/etc. As soon as I get a message that he’s ready to try again, he’s out of the bouncer. Altogether, he spends about 1 minute in it. Now, whenever he starts into tantrum mode, I warn him with, “Do you need to go in the bounce?!” Usually, the behavior magically resolves itself. Sometimes, we have to go through the melt down and recovery. The more he can talk, the better it’s been for everyone!

  18. I remember thinking that the book “The Happiest Toddler on the Block” was extremely helpful. But my go-to tactic was always to do something weird. Like, say something completely off the wall (“I seem to have misplaced my bananapants!”) or start looking at something nonexistent with great interest or singing a nonsense song. It worked a lot of the time, distracting the kid from the tantrum (but then I was usually asked for a thousand repeat performances).

    The rest of the time… I ignored. Sorry :)

  19. I do believe that I have blocked the toddler years out of my brain. What I do remember is the importance of making eye contact with my kids. For some reason, holding them still and talking straight into their face (not necessarily in an angry way) made a huge difference. Good luck!!

  20. Ok, there’s a couple different methods you can employ. #1-Read John Rosemond’s New Parent Power. -that’s non negotiable.

    #2-replace what ever you are taking away with something epic-ly cooler. Rather than saying no, say Oh, look what Mommy has for you!!!! (EXTRA EXCITED VOICE!) trade. (You then say (please-may-I-Have-it and then thank you to help teach manners.)

    #3-he’s only got a couple ways of telling you how he feels right now. He can’t control the situation, he LIKES what he was doing, and there’s usually (with mine) something ELSE, too. Tired, hungry, bored, etc. So I don’t really let them get to the point that the perfect storm exists. You may want to try breaking his routine into smaller chunks and redirecting him before the problem arises.

    But yes, if the actual temper tantrum does occur, remove him from the room entirely. Tell him he makes such good tantrums he has to have a special place for them, and when he’s done, he can come back out. I go with bed for this, and it never goes more than three minutes.

    it’s a sucky three minutes though.

  21. It’s difficult, hang in there mama, it will get worse, but then better. I’ve tried everything with Zoe. Timeouts, cribs timeouts, saying no etc. The only thing that seems to work for her is sitting her down, alone with myself(we usually do this in my room) and telling her to calm down. I talk to her nicely and ask what makes her mad. Evan is only 18 months so this is difficult for you. He is learning so much right now, and because of not so many verbal skills they get easily frustrated. It’s how toddlers get all their anger out. Ignoring never worked for me. Sorry I don’t have much advice for you:(

  22. When my 17 month old starts I have to remind myself that this is a response if him not being able to get to something he wants (needs in his mind) and try to think how life would be if I was constantly dependent on someone else to provide stuff. For a moment I feel sorry for him. I try the ‘sit and be patient’ talk which works for about two minutes. But if it takes me longer than that he feels I’m still ignoring him. Next I try giving him a substitute to his needs that I can reach at the moment. That works also. If it is something I just don’t want him to have I love on him for 2.2 seconds then say ‘sorry but that isn’t happening’ put him down and let him cry it out. We’ll just have to see how long this last.

    • Philippa, you’re so right, they do thing they NEED it. I also do the “sorry, this isn’t happening” thing. I guess it is just going to be a matter of consistency. Thanks so much for commenting.

  23. one thing i was told also like you stated is ignore yes you do have to ignore them when they are in time out because if you listen to them or feed into them you have lost control of the situation. i have learned to tone him out to the point that it doesnt bother me, my hubby on the other hand comes to the rescue today i put a stop to it and told him we have to be on the same page. ignore him and you’ll see he will get over it. so just go about doing the dishes and let him know when time out is over.

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