My 2-year-old son was standing in his bedroom doorway with little sobs, tears rolling down his cheeks. All because he was so tired and it was bedtime, but he wanted to keep playing with his trains.
My heart was breaking.
He wanted me to take him back downstairs, but I was nursing his half-asleep baby sister, and his older brother was already in bed and ready for me to sing his bedtime songs.
I felt like I was doing everything I was supposed to do during a tantrum. I had stayed calm. I had talked to him about how I knew he was sad, how I knew he didn’t want to stop playing but that it was time for bed. I had tried to hug and comfort him, which he refused, so I had stayed nearby.
I didn’t know what else to try, and seeing him like that was more than I could take at that moment. I felt like I was going to start crying, too, just from seeing him so upset and from me feeling so helpless.
Then I remembered a creative suggestion I’d read recently for handling tantrums. I pulled out the nearest book, one I knew he loved. I opened it and started reading. I didn’t make a big deal out of it. I didn’t tell him to come over and didn’t read directly to him.
His tears stopped almost immediately. Soon after he was sitting beside me, giggling as we all looked at the book together. The trains were forgotten about, and once the book was finished, he climbed into bed with no more protesting.
It was the best strategy I’ve found yet for dealing with tantrums, and it’s worked for us several times now. A similar concept also worked when he had a tantrum in the car, and I turned on music and started singing to myself.
However, what I’ve found is that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to a child’s tantrums. What works in one situation won’t necessarily work in another.
Sometimes, the reading idea will only work as a temporary fix, and right after the book is done, he’s back to crying for what he wants and can’t have. Sometimes, he just needs me to sit beside him while he cries, to offer to hold him in my lap, to comfort him.
This was the case recently when my son wanted to leave the house and go to the park, which was not something I could say yes to at that time. To him, it was so unfair. He didn’t understand why we couldn’t go right then. I tried to empathize with him and acknowledge his feelings, but there was nothing I could say to make it better. We sat on the garage stairs together for several minutes, my arm around him as he cried. Suddenly, he stopped crying, stood up, turned off the garage light, and went back into the house.
There’s a lot of trial and error in finding the right method of handling a tantrum, but I hope my son knows that I’m there for him and trying my best to figure out what he needs in that moment. It’s still a struggle for all of us when tantrums happen, but little by little, we’re finding new ways to help him deal with those big emotions.