Try This Tuesday: Choices

09 Sep
Photo by shadowfax the second

When the all-to-common toddler meltdown occurs, I’ve learned a “secret” for defusing the volatile situation.  No, it’s not failproof.  In fact, it’s failed plenty of times, but it’s worked more times than it’s failed, so I thought I’d share it with you today.

Just to clarify:  I’m talking about those irrational, inconsolable, fits of crying, screaming or tantrumming.  For Jenna, they usually occur when she’s overtired, hungry, or sick.  Obviously, the best course of action is prevention – recognizing the warning signs and symptoms and intervening to redirect – but realistically, that’s just not always possible.

Here’s what works for me:

  1. I get down on her level.
  2. Whatever words are spoken are spoken softly and calmly.  I call it “Toddler Whispering.”
  3. I gently remind her that I can’t understand her when she’s crying/screaming/sobbing.
  4. I ask her to use her words.
  5. I listen.  I might have to gently remind her of #3 and #4.
  6. I offer her two choices.  I always first state the key or “trigger” phrase: “Jenna, here are your choices…” and I don’t phrase them as questions.  I say something like, “You can do/have A, or you can do/have B.  Which do you want?”  Sometimes she’ll throw in a C option, but I just softly and firmly restate choices A and B.

She almost always calms down when I softly remind her that I can’t understand her when she’s crying.  I think the key is that she knows from experience that I will truly listen to what she says.  The tantrum was her way of trying to communicate something in the face of what she considered overwhelming emotion that she didn’t know how to deal with or express.  Knowing that I’m listening and the reminder that she has to “use words” to communicate helps guide her to the appropriate behavior.

The storm usually ends once she makes a choice.  Surprisingly, the two choices that I offer are often not at all what she was originally after at the onset of the tantrum, but the fact that she’s empowered to make the choice almost always leads her to pull it together, emotionally calm, choose, and move on. No more tears.  No more screaming.  Happy toddler.  Happy mommy.

I should point out that Hubby (bless his wonderful heart) sometimes struggles with this.  He has a tendency to offer choice like this:  “Jenna, do you want to do X?”  in an effort to distract her.  This usually only results in her wailing “NOOOOO!” even more loudly and him frantically trying to think of other options (“How about Y? or Z??”) – you see where this is going.  Frustrated toddler.  Frustrated daddy.  There’s just something “magical” about honestly listening, speaking softly (at their level) and stating two simple choices.

Ahhh, the power of choice!

For more great tips on Try This Tuesday, click the link below.

Try This Tuesday


Posted by on September 9, 2008 in Jenna, Parenting tips, Special Needs


9 responses to “Try This Tuesday: Choices

  1. Marinka

    September 9, 2008 at 4:00 am

    I think that’s a great strategy and very empowering to the child who may be scared by her own tantrum. Thanks for laying it out. And what a great picture!

  2. Trish @ Another Piece of the Puzzle

    September 9, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    So glad you found something that works for you! It is probably so helpful to her to see that you are able to stay calm and know that she is safe with you, even when she is falling apart.

  3. Kate

    September 9, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    This is advice that I’m just starting to need with my oldest. It’s hard since he has delayed speech (so far he hasn’t really understood “either/or” discussions) – but we’re getting there… This is definitely on the horizon for us. Thanks so much!

  4. Bitsy

    September 9, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    You know, I have found that getting down on my son’s level is key to so much. What a great post!

  5. frogsmom

    September 9, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    This is a great strategy! My Hubby has trouble with this too. He is prone to giving choices that he has no intention of allowing – then everyone is in tears :0(

    I love your picture!

  6. susanlindgren

    September 9, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    My DH is actually better at this then I am:) Great reminder that all thing work with a calm tone

  7. Jessica

    September 9, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    Great strategy!

  8. Jenny

    September 9, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    Wonderful tip! I’ve got two little ones who like to throw themselves on the floor in a sobbing, screaming heap. Think I’ll try this out!

  9. Julie

    September 10, 2008 at 3:00 am

    Thank you!!!


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