When Leah was about 18 months old, the tantrums started. It was nothing major but situations that were previously met with equanimity were suddenly starting to cause problems.
In particular we noticed that she wasn’t coping so well with changes in activity. For example, going from playing with her toys to eating dinner, or going from cuddles to reading a book.
I remembered reading a book that explained how young children need to be given some notice when you want them to stop what they’re doing and start on something else. An older child can be told ‘in five minutes we’re leaving the playground and going back home’, but a toddler has no concept of time so this approach will not work.
I decided that a more age-appropriate way of giving Leah some notice was to count to five and let her know what we would be doing when I finished counting. For example:
‘We’re going to have a cuddle for five more and then I’ll put you in your high chair for dinner.’
Why five? Well I just decided that three wasn’t long enough and ten was a bit outside her counting capabilities at that stage.
It worked a treat! Whenever I wanted her to stop doing something and do something else, we counted to five and most of the time she would happily move on to the next activity. Plus she learned how to count to five pretty quickly! After a couple of weeks, I didn’t even have to count – she was doing it herself!
Some situations where I found this worked:
Toy sharing - ‘You can hold that toy for five more and then I want you to give it to your friend.’
Getting her to let go of things we didn’t want her touching - ‘You can hold that glass/iPhone/insert expensive or breakable object for five more and then I want you to put it back down, please.’
It makes sense – think about when you’re doing something that you’re really enjoying and someone asks you to do something else. Do you stop what you’re doing immediately or do you prefer to be allowed to finish your current activity?
I do want to make the differentiation between this approach and a countdown to a punishment. This is not the same thing as saying ‘I’m going to count to five and then there’ll be trouble!’ It is simply a way to tell your child that they’re going to have to stop what they’re doing soon.
We found this to be a simple and effective way to (mostly) avoid tantrums for about 8 months. It gradually stopped working and morphed into her wanting to do what I asked her without me counting (even better!).
Now she’s firmly into the Terrific Twos, this still works most of the time and we’ve started counting to ten – just to change things up a bit!
What ways have you found to avoid tantrums?
by Mel Duncan