If your toddler is anything like mine, a tantrum can spark easily from nearly anything. Not wanting to get dressed, not wanting to sit in the grocery cart, not wanting to clean up his toys, you name it. Distraction is my favorite way to stop those tantrums before they get out of control. Most of the time, I can nip it at the bud and move on to our next task without much kick back.
When I divert his tantrum with distraction, I get him to focus on something else other than what he is upset about. I started doing this when he was about 18 months old. This works when…
We’re heading for the car and he doesn’t want to get in:
I talk about something completely unrelated. For example, I will ask: Did you see that airplane? Or, where’s the moon? Is it out right now? Can you find it? (He is obsessed with finding the moon right now and sometimes you can see it in the morning or early evening). Or if we’re going somewhere that I know he would enjoy, I talk about how much fun it’s going to be.
It’s time to get dressed and he doesn’t want to:
I ask him what he wants to wear and pull out two choices. If he protests, sometimes I’ll let him pick something else out of his drawer, but most of the time, I distract him while getting him dressed by telling him something fun we are going to do that day. Or, since he loves helping me take out the trash, I tell him let’s get dressed so you can go take the trash outside with mom.
We’re at the grocery store and he doesn’t want to sit in the cart:
I pull out a fruit snack, smartie, or another favorite snack and while I’m handing it to him I put him in the cart and quickly get moving. We talk about what we see as we pass it, talk about something fun he did in preschool that day, talk about our cats, anything I can to distract him from realizing he’s riding in the cart instead of walking like he wants to. Since he’s not a patient shopper, I don’t do my clothes shopping with him or anything that’s going to take me some time to decide what I need (if at all possible). I try to keep moving or the melt-downs and whining start. Our grocery store is awesome because they offer a free cookie at the bakery. He loves going there with me now because we always stop and get him a free cookie. That occupies him for several minutes. I’ve discovered that many grocery stores offer a free cookie at the bakery and/or a free kiddie ice cream cone at the deli.
The key is to distract them with something else that greatly interests them before they turn their protests into a full blown tantrum. Distraction is typically only effective if you catch them at the very beginning of their tantrum/whining/protests. Once they’ve launched into crying or throwing a huge fit, it’s harder to get them to listen and stop.
If distraction doesn’t work, I go to my next favorite response, ignoring. I let him throw a tantrum and try to tune it out. If we’re at home, I tell him he should go to his room and come talk to me when he’s done. He runs in his room, cries or yells for a little while and then I either poke my head in the door and ask if he’s done being upset and wants to say sorry or sometimes he comes out on his own and gives me a hug when he’s ready to move on.
Title photo by Nate Grigg flickr.com