Jo Frost’s top tips for toddler tantrums

Practical step-by-step advice from Supernanny Jo Frost on how to deal with your child throwing tantrums, why they start and how to stop them

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“Watching your child blossom from a baby into his own little person is an amazing time for every proud parent,” explains TV parenting expert and Supernannay Jo Frost enthusiastically. “It’s when their little character traits become very present. But,” she then leans in, “as your little one toddles towards the terrible twos, parents can start to feel nervous.”

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“All of a sudden your little cherub has a voice, a personality, and a temper, and parents will be anxious. But being anxious allows us to become more diligent about what skills we need to enjoy the toddler years.”

Raising a toddler requires a whole new set of parenting skills. “It’s essential to be patient and consistent. There’s so much a parent needs to teach and learn, but it’s an incredibly fun stage of your child’s development,” she says.

Jo outlines 3 main types of toddler tantrums to look out for:

  • The ‘I want’ – you child is crying because he thinks it’ll get him his own way.
  • The situational – you’ve gone somewhere, like the park, but now you have to leave.
  • The emotional – a result of your child feeling like he’s not getting enough focus or attention.

So how do you deal with these mini-meltdowns? Here’s Jo Frost’s practical advice for dealing with:

1) Throwing a screaming tantrum

A screaming and unreasonable toddler can leave even the most chilled out parent feeling helpless and embarrassed. But it’s important to remember that tantrums are one of your tot’s ways of expressing himself, whether he’s tired, angry or frustrated. And as long as these emotions don’t hurt someone, parents should allow their tot to have them, says Jo. “Toddlers live in their own little bubble so when they’re not getting their own way, it’s very easy for a parent to want to control the emotion,” she says.

Try this:  “Parents should respond but not react,” says Jo. Ignore his behaviour and don’t try and reason with him, as he won’t understand. You simply have to wait until the tantrum burns itself out.

2)  “No! No! No!”

This two-letter word can turn even the simplest of tasks into a battle of wills that’s bound to frustrate even the most patient parent. “Children engage in power play as toddlers. They’re trying to figure out who’s in control – you or them,” says Jo. It’s easy to give in for the sake of a bit of peace and quiet, but in the long run you’re making life harder on you and your tot. “The good news is that once you win, the issue generally goes away,” adds Jo.

Try this:  “There’s a difference between telling your child, and asking him,” says Jo. Instead of asking your little one ‘Do you want to put your shoes on and we’ll go to the park?’, rephrase it so you’re gently telling him by saying ‘Put your shoes on because we’re going to the park’. “Keep your tone of voice conversational – it’s when you’re disciplining your tot that you need to firm up your voice,” advises Jo.

3) Doing a runner

As soon as your tot finds his feet, he’ll want to walk and run everywhere, including places you don’t want him to go. “When I’m looking at children who run off, it’s normally the same parents who have problems with their child listening to them,” says Jo. “In the toddler years, it’s important to have a balance of allowing him to walk and being in the buggy,” says Jo.

 Try this: “The roaming technique teaches your toddler how to remain safe and stay near you, while giving him space to roam,” says Jo. Tell your little one he can hop out of the pushchair, but when you say ‘Stop!’ and hold up your hand, he needs to stop, wherever he is. “As soon as he tests that boundary, get him to hold on to the stroller for a few minutes, which gives him the boundary again. He’ll very quickly get it if he wants the freedom of no hands,” Jo says.

4)  “That’s mine!”

You might cringe as your little one snatches a toy out of another tot’s hand, but rest assured that learning to share will develop over time. “There’s an expectation that your toddler will just do as you say the first time and everything will be OK, so that’s why repetition is one of the essential tools that are necessary in the toddler years,” says Jo. Encourage your tot to share at every single opportunity and lead by example, too.

Try this: A trip to the library is a good way to teach your tot that the books and toys are for everybody to use, suggests Jo. “And playdates are important for helping your little one to understand that other children will come to his house and play with his toys so he needs to share them. Enjoying the friendships and the fun that comes from that allows your child to learn the lesson,” she adds.

5) New baby jealousy

“Some parents don’t tell a toddler about a new arrival until the last minute, while others choose to involve the child from the get go, and I think that’s really a personal choice,” says Jo. It’s important to keep your toddler’s routine the same and teach him valuable life skills during your pregnancy so you’re not dealing with two ‘babies’ in nine months time. “It’s important for your tot to learn how to get dressed and be more self-sufficient so he can be proud of his independence. If you don’t, your toddler can become very jealous because all of a sudden he’s expected to learn these life skills overnight,” warns Jo.

Try this: Allow your toddler to give suggestions on what the baby should wear or what lullaby you should sing. “Getting your child involved in what you do with the new baby is important because it brings all of you together. If he doesn’t want to be involved, then let go of it and don’t expect him to be skipping over to put the nappy into the bin,” says Jo. It may take a while, but slowly your tot will adjust to the new family structure.

6)  “Why?”

This is another common catchphrase that can send you a little batty. Your tot’s brain is like a little sponge and he wants to absorb as much as he can, so patience is needed by the bucket load. “You’re raising a toddler who’s inquisitive and curious and wanting to learn, so embrace that. Some parents will get fed up because it’s a repetitive chant and often they don’t know the answers. But instead of getting frustrated, just admit you don’t know and say you can find out,” says Jo.

 Try this:  “If you find that everything’s a question, then have 10 minutes of downtime where you tell your toddler that there are no more questions now. Do something else and then you can have questions afterwards,” says Jo.

Jo Frost’s 8 essential rules for dealing with tantrums

  • Communicate clearly
  • Adopt a positive mindset
  • Repeat again and again
  • Be consistent
  • Give encouragement
  • Establish routines
  • Have realistic expectations
  • Set boundaries

And don’t forget: Eye contact with your child at his level is extremely important, as it’s the first basis of your communication with him, especially when trying to put across a resolution to a problem you’re having.

Jo Frost answers your 4 most common tantrum and anger questions…

My toddler has the most horrendous temper tantrums. She had a complete meltdown the other day when shopping because I wanted to get her feet measured. I felt so embarrassed.

Jo says: Children are not born with patience, they have to be taught, and your child is still very young. My hunch is that you 
give in because you’re uncomfortable, but this only reinforces tantrums and teaches her that’s how she can get what she wants. Yes, it can be embarrassing, but you have to put that feeling aside and do what’s right. Believe me, the people around you will, for the most part, be very understanding.

Do not, under any circumstances, give in to what she wants. Once
 her tantrum in the shop is over, still get her feet measured and try shoes on. Helping her practise the right behaviour will go a long way towards her being able to handle a tantrum in the moment. So when she screams in public, make eye contact and in a firm, low voice let her know that you disapprove and proceed to carry on.

Help! My 1-year-old son has just started biting when he’s angry, especially when we try to take things.

Jo says: When a little one bites, it’s certainly not exceptional. It’s simply an act of sheer frustration and anger at being told he can’t have his own way. His brain hasn’t developed enough to not act on this frustration, and he doesn’t quite have the language yet to express his feelings.

You need to teach your son what is acceptable and what is not. If he’s touching something that belongs to you that you don’t want him to have, explain politely, “This is Mummy’s,” and give him something else to play with. If, when you take the item away, he bites, put him down and say in a low, firm voice, “no bite”. He’ll cry, and may follow you if you move, but simply say to him, “Ouch, that hurt Mummy, kiss Mummy better.” Once he’s done this, pick him up, and praise him affectionately for listening to you.

My son hits when he doesn’t get his own way and sometimes even just for the sake of it. He’ll say, “I am going to hit Sophie at school,” and when he sees her, he hits. I just don’t understand what is going on, as apart from this, he’s a very loving, caring little boy.

Jo says: It seems to me that your son has learned how to receive your full attention, and he openly tells you the naughty behaviour he is going to do because he’s guaranteed an extreme reaction. His behaviour needs to be dealt with by discipline, so put him on the naughty step. You state very reassuringly that your son is a loving, caring child, and I am pleased to hear that you truly see that in him.

So now I want you to act upon those facts. Teach him clear, simple rules that he can follow: Be kind with your words, help him share and play nicely, and tell him no hurting anyone. Give praise and reward him when he follows these, and he’ll soon learn that positive behaviour is far more rewarding than negative attention.

My son is a terrible sharer. He screams and refuses to share no matter what 
I say. It’s a constant litany of “mine, mine, mine”. Help!

Jo says: Sharing is one of those crucial social skills that must be taught, and you’re going to need patience because it doesn’t happen overnight. The best way to start teaching your toddler to share is to make him do exactly that at every opportunity, with books, crayons, toys, food and more.

Also prep him before play dates, explaining that it’s fun to share. If he starts to get possessive over a toy, get a timer and tell him he can play withthe toy until the timer goes off, then he must let his friend play with it. When the timer goes off, encourage him to hand the toy over, but don’t 
try to take it out of his hand, as you’ll only end up in a tug of war. Also use the timer with the other child, so that the time is equal for both children. When everyone has had a turn, return the toy to your son.

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