Why I Created This Guide
It’s tough being a toddler. Everything and everyone is so much bigger than you. You often don’t have the ability to clearly communicate what you want or need or how you are feeling. You don’t always understand what is going on around you, which can be scary. And you live mostly in the now, so it’s very difficult to understand that after the boring trip to the grocery store you’re going to the park. It’s no wonder toddlers sometimes Completely. Lose. It.
Tantrums are probably the most dreaded and trying parts of parenting. Adding parental fear and frustration to this mix of toddler emotions makes for an explosive situation. Below you will find some ideas and strategies to tame tantrums, both while they are happening and before they start. I have included some of our family’s favorite tools for helping our daughter stay in control of herself and ask us for the help she needs.
Where the Wild Things Are written and illustrated by Maurie Sendak
Possibly the original tantrum book. Max makes mischief of one kind and another and is sent to his room without dinner. While there Max roars and storms then decides to sail away in a boat to the land of the wild things where he becomes their king. Max ultimately realizes that he misses his home and family and returns to a warm dinner, a gesture of love from his mother despite their disagreement.
Finn Throws a Fit! by David Elliot and illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering
It all starts with peaches, which Finn usually likes. Today they set off an earth shattering fit. The illustrations, with their sketchy lines and bold swipes of colors really set the mood of Finn’s tantrum. The story really validates how intense a child’s feelings can be when they are in the middle of a tantrum. Parents will love the ending where the fit suddenly stops and Finn politely asks for the peaches.
My No, No, No, Day! written and illustrated by Rebecca Patterson
Bella wakes up on the wrong side of the bed and has a terrible day. Nothing is right, not her breakfast, not her shoes, not even ballet class. Her mother maintains her calm, but is clearly irritated with her. At bedtime her mom chooses Bella’s favorite story and tells her everyone has bad days, maybe tomorrow will be better. And it is! Kids will identify with Bella and her litany of bad things. Parents will appreciate how spot on these complaints are and the dirty looks shot at Bella in the grocery store, ballet class and on the street. Everyone will be glad to see that Bella’s bad day doesn’t last forever.
The Super Hungry Dinosaur by Martin Waddell and illustrated by Leonie Lord
A super hungry dinosaur charges into Billy’s backyard. He’s so hungry he wants to eat Billy, his parents, and his dog. Billy won’t let him eat any of them, but the dog is the last straw and Billy takes off across his backyard. The dinosaur, fueled by his grouchy hunger, gives chase only to be tied up with a garden hose. Billy gets the dinosaur to give up on eating the dog and has the dinosaur clean up the mess his rampage made. But he’s still hungry. Billy’s mom comes to the rescue with a huge bowl of spaghetti. Kids will recognize their own inner super hungry (and grouchy!) dinosaur and will enjoy how Billy saves the day.
Angry Dragon by Thierry Robberecht, illustrated by Philippe Goossens
After hearing “no” one too many times the little boy in the story becomes fiery angry and turns into a dragon. A dragon cannot feel his mother’s hands on his face. A dragon destroys things. A dragon says words a little boy would regret. After a good cry the boy returns. He tells his parents he loves them and they assure him he is loved, no matter his behavior. This is such a validating story for kids who have tantrums. It shows them other kids feel the same way and react strongly too, but it also affirms that your parents will love you no matter what, a message kids need to hear over and over.
Benny's Had Enough! by Barbo Lindgren and Olof Landstrom and translated by Elisabeth Kallick Dyssegaard
Nothing is going the right way for Benny today. His mother wants to straighten his room, give him a bath, and, worst of all, wash Little Piggy in the washing machine. That is the last straw and Benny decides he and Little Piggy will find a new home. As Benny wanders around town he discovers that maybe things at home aren’t so bad. After a run in with a grouchy old man Benny realizes he misses his mother and returns home after giving Little Piggy a bath himself. This is a sweet story that shows children that even if you’re having a bad day, there’s no place like home.
The Peace Book written and illustrated by Todd Parr
Todd Parr’s books always have wonderful, positive messages. The Peace Book offers kids ideas about how to get along with each other and in the world. The brightly colored illustrations and simple text will really draw in young readers.
Tip: This would be a great title to keep on the Peace Table (see activity below).
I Always, Always Get My Way by Thad Krasnesky and illustrated by David Parkins
Susie is used to being able to pass the blame on her messes by pouting, looking cute or throwing a fit. But how much will her family take? A funny book that offers kids used to getting their way a perspective on why maybe, just maybe, someone else might not appreciate having their stuff taken or dirt tracked across the floor.
Tip: This book would serve as a great conversation starter about how other people feel in different situations.
Videos, skits, and games that help kids understand and process their emotions. Tantrums can be frightening for children because their emotions are so overwhelming and they may not be able to articulate what they are feeling. As with many of the apps and media these videos help kids label and understand their emotions. There are also suggestions for further activities to do after you have watched the video with your child.
From Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, a song about what to do when you feel angry- take a deep breath and count to four. It is especially good that the video affirms that it is normal to feel angry sometimes. Tantrums can be scary for kids when they experience emotions that feel like they take them over. It is very reassuring for kids to know that they are not abnormal or bad for having these emotions. Includes links to an article about angry feelings and activities you can do with your child. This song is also included in the Daniel Tiger app suggested below.
Tip: Practice this strategy when your child is feeling calm so when you are in the heat of the moment you can fall back on it instead of needing to teach it.
Another great song from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. Many times tantrums can be brought on by frustration at a perceived lack of abilities or skills. This song gives kids an easy-to-remember strategy for how to help themselves control these feelings. On the page, the song lyrics are listed with a link to the iTunes store where you can purchase the song. The song is also included in the Daniel Tiger app listed below.
Tip: This is another strategy that is best practiced in a calm moment.
Music can be a very soothing way to help your child calm down when a tantrum or difficult mood strikes. Classical, with its lack of lyrics and intense beats, is an especially good way to mellow out. The list of pieces of music listed here are lovely and relaxing (as the title of the article suggests) and the article contains the links to YouTube or iTunes. Build an association with calm emotions by playing this quietly while reading to your child, while napping, or while playing a quiet game such as puzzles.
Tip: This would be a great playlist to keep in the peace table or corner.
Yoga is another activity that you can try with your child. Yoga helps teach focus and can offer some breathing and relaxing strategies for kids who are struggling with emotions. It’s also a great way to encourage kids to focus their physical activity. When you do the poses with your child you are also providing them with some one-on-one connection, which can help alleviate frustrated feeling. Here is a great article about the benefits of doing yoga with kids from PBS Parents.
Tip: For more poses, check out Namaste Kids YouTube channel.
Daniel Tiger’s Grr-ific Feelings
Overview: From the creators of Mister Roger’s neighborhood, Daniel Tiger’s Grr-ific Feelings features songs, a game, painting and a photo booth that help children recognize, deal with, and name their emotions.
Inside Scoop: Join Daniel Tiger in singing, drawing, and playing with emotions. The songs are really wonderful (even if they seem a bit hokey to adults) as they validate the emotions (“It’s okay to be sad sometimes”, for example) and give kids strategies for dealing with big emotions (“Take a breath and count to four.”). The trolley game requires some fine motor work to move the trolley along the board, but is otherwise easy to engage with, even for young audiences. As the trolley lands on the board kids will explore emotions and help solve problems that lead to these emotions. There is also a drawing section where kids can go to paint with markers, paints, pencils, and stickers. The app saves each drawing on a clothesline and into your photos. The photo booth encourages kids to practice their faces that go along with different emotions while Daniel Tiger does the same on the left side of the screen. This teaches children to recognize what emotions look like and identify them on other people. The app costs $2.99.
I Was So Mad- Little Critter
Overview: A Little Critter ebook all about getting mad and finding a way to improve his bad mood.
Inside Scoop: Things are just not going right for Little Critter. Everyone is misunderstanding his desire to help and play and it makes him really mad! When it’s just too much Little Critter decides to run away. Just as he is about to leave, though, his friends come along and ask him to play and turn his bad mood around. Like many of the books suggested above this story does a great job showing kids they aren’t the only ones who have these feelings and that a bad mood won’t last forever. Every page has a little mouse tucked into the illustration and can be touched to “find” them. Your child has the choice of reading the story themselves (or having you read it), having it read to them by the app while they turn the pages, or a fully automated read aloud. The book costs $1.99.
Today I Am - A Book on Emotions for Children
Overview: A book designed to teach children, with the help of their parents, the names of different emotions. It also provides a daily emotions journal and works well as a vocabulary builder and conversation starter around emotions.
Inside Scoop: Based on the book by the same name, Today I Am is a great tool for teaching your child the name of emotions and for opening up a discussion about your child’s emotions. The app could also provide a way for less verbal children to express what they are feeling. There are three sections within the app, “My Fish”, “My Words” and “My Feelings”. “My Fish” displays a fish with an expression. Pulling the screen to the left reveals the emotion word that goes along with the fish. The “My Words” section features just the word. Touching the word brings up three synonyms which can then be touched, in turn, to reveal a definition. “My Feelings” is a daily journal where your child can select three fish to describe how they have felt throughout the day. This could be particularly helpful for kids struggling with tantrums by tracking their emotions over a period of time. The app is free with the option to buy 15 more words in the “My Words” section and 15 more fish in the “My Fish” section for $0.99 each. Each section has five free fish and/or words.
Tiny Hands Children’s Lotto
Overview: An easy-to-use matching game for young children.
Inside Scoop: The game features a large card with objects centered around a theme, such as clothes or shapes, and a deck of cards. The child matches each card from the deck to the picture on the larger card. It also says the name of each object as your child touches and matches them. When they have matched all the cards a silly animation of someone driving a car scoots by on the bottom, followed by bubbles they can pop. Sometimes tantrums are brought on by frustration or overstimulation. Giving your child a quiet activity they can easily accomplish can help relax them and build their confidence. The link is for the lite version which features two matching cards. The full version has ten and costs $3.99. For an extra $2 you can buy the Tiny Hands Babies bundle which has the lotto game, a stacking-by-size game and another type of matching game. The Tiny Hands games are all easy to use and engaging.
Fingerplay: Ten Little Fingers
Why This Activity
Poems, songs and finger-plays are a great way to connect with your child, to practice language, and to give them something to do when they are feeling bored. Like the one below, they often require only your voice and your fingers. Poems and songs can also help soothe an upset child.
I have ten little fingers (hold up fingers and wiggle them)
They all belong to me (hug them to chest)
I can make them do things
Would you like to see?
I can close them up tight. (close hands into fists)
I can open them wide (open fingers out wide)
I can press them together (press palms together)
I can make them all hide! (hide hands behind back)
I can hold them up high (hold hands up in air)
I can hold them down low (hold them down toward ground)
I can fold them together (fold hands together)
And hold them just so! (place in your lap)
Family Activity: Toddler Basketball
Why This Activity
Sometimes tantrums can be brought about by a toddler’s feeling of a lack of connection. This activity fosters quality time with your child and provides them with positive feedback.
What You’ll Need
a sock rolled up into a ball or bean bag
a hula hoop, jump rope, or bucket
What To Do
This game can really be played inside or outside. Place the hula hoop or bucket on the ground. If you have a jump rope lay it out in a circle.
Players take turns tossing the sock ball into the bucket or hoop. If you make the shot, take a step back and throw again. When you miss it’s the next person’s turn.
Be sure to cheer for everyone and/or offer helpful advice when they miss, like “next time try to throw more gently”.
Why This Activity
A peace table can provide a quiet, safe place for children to go when they are feeling upset. Be sure to introduce the space when your child is calm and explain it is a safe place to go to help them calm down when they are feeling frustrated. Also be sure never to use it as punishment. The space can also double as a place for squabbling siblings to go to resolve their conflicts.
What You’ll Need
a quiet table or corner
a stuffed animal
a stress ball
a few pictures of calming scenes (old calendars are a good place to mine for these)
play dough (see activity below)
a CD player or some way to play music and some quiet, soothing music such as a classical CD or the playlist listed above (optional)
What To Do
Select a few items and toys that soothe your child. Place the items in the basket and put the basket in the space or on the table. Introduce the space to your child when they are calm and explain that it is a place they can go to when they are feeling frustrated. Have them ring the bell, hug the animal, or squeeze the ball.
When your child is exhibiting signs of frustration, gently lead them to the peace table. (We find taking a deep breath together can help calm our daughter down enough to get her to follow simple directions when she is upset.)
Sit down with your child. Turn on the music or start the puzzle. Encourage your child to let their feelings out and help them share them with you verbally if they can. Stay with your child until they are calm, unless they prefer to be alone.
When they have calmed down they can ring the bell to signify this.
Making Snack Time Fun
Why This Activity
Tantrums can be set off by a lot of triggers, but hunger is a very common one. Even for adults. Making a snack together can give your child food for the body, but also the soul through the time you’ll spend making it. Below are two ideas for fun snacks which are versatile enough to change based on your child’s food preferences and the day.
Variation 1: Muffin Cup Snack
What You’ll Need
a six-cup muffin tin or several small bowls
a variety of snacks (such as carrot sticks, small crackers, cheese cubes or slices, hard boiled egg, cherry tomatoes, cereal, fruit snacks, etc.)
What To Do
Basically you will fill each cup with a different food. To simplify even further, fill two cups with the same item, which will require only three different snack options.
Engage your child by having them select the snacks. You could theme the cups around a color or a book (I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato or Bread and Jam for Frances), which will require stretching your imagination a little.
Kids, especially young ones, LOVE to fill small dishes and cups. Let your child fill the muffin cups or dishes. Bonus, this is great fine motor practice if they have to pour from a box. They can also practice carrying by moving the muffin tin from the counter to the table.
This works great as a lunch or a snack.
Variation 2: Cookie Cutter Snack
What You’ll Need
tiny cookie cutter
snacks that can be cut with a cookie cutter (cucumber slices, carrot slices, cheese slices, fruit leather, apple slices, etc.)
What To Do
Pre-cut the snacks into slices.
Help your child press the cookie cutter through the slices of snacks. Some snacks they may need more help cutting through.
If you cut extras you could pack them in school lunches.
Why This Activity
Another common trigger for tantrums is frustration over not being understood. When children are just learning to talk it can be very difficult to understand them. It’s difficult for them knowing that they are trying to communicate what they want, need, or how they feel, but aren’t quite capable of doing so successfully. Giving kids a few basic sign language signs can help them communicate more effectively and alleviate some of the frustration.
What You’ll Need
What To Do
While you can sit down and show your child each of the signs, it makes more sense to begin incorporating them into your everyday speech and use them during storytimes. Many books written for very young children are about the home and everyday life so it is fairly easy to work these simple signs into storytime.
Hungry: form hand into a C shape, touch fingertips (still in C shape) gently to chest and move your hand down your chest.
Thirsty: point your index finger at the base of your chin and draw down your throat.
More: pinch fingers together and tap fingertips in front of your chest.
All Done: put hands up rotate wrists in half circles so your palms go from facing in to out.
Afraid: hold your hands up on either side of your chest, splay your fingers and move both hands in toward your chest so they end up one over the other, you should look a bit like you are drawing yourself in in fear.
Sorry: make your hand into a fist, rub in a small circle over the center of your chest.
Angry: curl fingers in slightly and hold hands slightly lower than your chest, draw your hands upward a bit.
Stop: hold one hand out in front of you, bring your other hand down on its side into the palm of your open hand making a cutting motion.
Sad: hold your hands in front of your face with fingers splayed, draw hands down face as if tears are coming down your face.
Please: place open hand on chest and move in small circles.
Love: cross hands over heart.
Homemade No-Cook Play Dough
Why This Activity
Play dough is a great calming activity. There is wonderful sensory input and the repetitive motions of kneading, pinching, and rolling the dough helps soothe frayed nerves. This is a great material to keep with the peace table.
What You’ll Need
For the dough:
a large heat-proof bowl (a bowl that can have boiling water poured into it)
2 cups flour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ cup salt
2 tablespoons cream of tartar
1 ½ cups boiling water
food coloring or icing coloring (optional)
For the play (all optional):
found treasures (pebbles, pinecones, sticks, leaves, etc.)
small rolling pin
What To Do
Whisk the dry ingredients together. Then add the oil.
If using, add the coloring to the boiling water.
Slowly add the water to the flour mixture stirring as you add. Stir until it the ingredients are all combined and the dough is sticky.
Let the dough cool then remove it from the bowl. Knead the dough on the counter until it has a nice smooth consistency and is no longer sticky.
Store in an airtight container for up to six months.
Put the dough out on the table with all the loose pieces and allow your child to knead and touch the dough. They can press the small toys, pebbles, and leaves into it to make patterns or impressions or small play scenes.
Recipe Source: (The Imagination Tree)
About Tibby W.
Tibby, a curator from the Bay Area, was born to love books. Seriously. Her parents named her after a nickname from a children’s book! Anyone remember the Betsy, Tacy, and Tib” books? There you have it. Even stranger, Tibby’s best friend from high school is the granddaughter of the illustrator of the series. Now, that is someone almost born with a book in her hand! Tibby is a former teacher and children’s librarian, currently staying home to spend time with her little one. She is a dynamic member of our curator community, and we’re thrilled to have her! Let the questions begin, and if you have more questions, leave comments or visit us @zoobeanforkids!