Motherhood

A Surprising Way to Stop Tantrums

A Surprising Way to Stop Tantrums

This month, Anton has been really fussy. He’s three, so I’m sure some of that comes with the age, but it was making us all a little crazy. I wondered what might help: Should I give him time outs? Does he need more sleep? Should he eat less sugar? Is he nervous about school? Then I remembered a reader’s comment I read years ago…

Joy left a comment on this post:

The most life-changing book I read was Playful Parenting. The main idea was that you need to make time regularly to sit on the floor and PLAY with your children. Doing other stuff with them is great, but doesn’t count as “floor time.” Temper tantrums went from nearly every day to almost never when I started doing twenty minutes of floor time most days when my son was two or three. Now he’s six, and my daughter is three.

So, I took her advice. Almost every morning for the past two weeks, I’ve been playing on the floor for twenty minutes with Anton. Just the two of us. We’ll usually build a train track all around the room (“to China!” he says, inspired by Knuffle Bunny). I’ll make sure to keep my mind present — if it starts to wander (to work, home stuff, whatever), I bring it back to the moment. I’ll build a bridge, comment on the tracks Anton chooses, or even just watch him and the way he breathes really slowly when he concentrates.

Honestly, it’s REMARKABLE what a difference it has made, even on the very first day. He’s so much more relaxed and less wild — maybe because he isn’t trying to compete for attention; he knows he has it.

Do your kids go through these tantrum phases, too? Holy smokes, it can test one’s patience! How have you helped curb them?

P.S. Trying out slow parenting, and 20 surprising parenting tips.

(Photo by Nicki Sebastian for Cup of Jo.)

  1. Just saw your post and I want to kiss your feet right now (if this works he he!) because we have been going through the weirdest insane tantrums with my 3 year old too and my husband and I were just dumbfounded. He has been screaming with unbridled rage several times a day for the smallest little things and I was thinking like you, maybe his diet is messing him up? Maybe he’s over-tired? I don’t know! But now I feel like I’ve been shown a triangle of light. And it makes sense too because I’ve been busier than normal… *sigh* RELIEF. I hope it works. Trying it immediately.

  2. A great post, Joanna. Last year when my older son was three we went through a rough patch with him. It came as a shock because up until then he had been the sweetest, most adorable kid. I suppose it was the age, combined with some major changes he had to go through (a new school and the arrival of a baby brother that coincided almost to the day). What changed everything for us was a lecture I attended (out of despair) by a Canadian lady who had developed a parenting system called Educoeur. Her idea is that children are naturally disposed to please the adults they love. When they misbehave it is because they feel a shortage or attention which to them equals a shortage of love and care. Her system advised each parent to spend twenty minutes (what is it about that period of time?) with each child three time a week and give them their undivided attention. The child calls the shots. Also, she discourages yelling (by the parents) and grounding as they hurt the children and do a lot of damage in the medium and long run even if they may deliver results in the short term. I was sceptical at first but when we tried her suggestions it really worked wonders.

  3. Jessie says...

    Hi Joanna, two of my three daughters went through this phase. When they are 3 they are also going through hormonal changes. I also read this book recommended by their montessori school called, How to talk so kids will listen & listen so kids will talk. It’s been working wonders when I talk to my daughters. I’m calmer and the storm passes quickly with no screaming on my end

  4. Bron says...

    Great post Joanna! Well done finding something that works for Anton. I find sensory play really calms my 3yo if she’s having a bad day. Water play such as giving the dolls a bath or playing with toy cars in water, or even ‘washing up’ is great, but playdoh or magic sand or even playing with some uncooked rice to make a picture in a tray seems to calm her down. Playing with her also helps. Especially if I leave all technology in another room and just give her my full attention.

  5. Patty says...

    How beautiful! This simple but lovely gesture seems like common sense, now that I read it. But it actually brought tears to my eyes! So simple – so special!

  6. Amy says...

    I work full time and get home at about 4pm. I dedicate that hour before the bedtime routine to being on the floor in my girls’ rooms or outside in the garden kicking a ball. It really does wonders for them before I’m occupied with making dinner etc.

  7. Joy says...

    Still a loyal reader! It made my day to see this small piece of advice making such a big difference for Anton.

    • Congee says...

      How amazing! I love this community! And how cool that Jo remembered the comment! xo

  8. marsha says...

    Parents are parents – adults – not playmates… kids should learn to interact with other kids as an outlet, learn to use inner resources to entertain themselves, self-sooth, manage through their feelings etc. Parents have enough adult-ing to do and not entertain and play with their kids, there is an adult world and there is a child’s world. I do have to worry about work, and dinner, and my husband… My son can worry about play. We’ve taught our son this from a young age, stressed this as our family thesis. Aside from tears and “melt downs” when he has been sick he’s never had a tantrum/emotional outburst.

    • Julia says...

      Sure parents are parents – but when letting my “adult stuff” behind me in order to enter my kid’s world of his thoughts and plays, it not only does something good to my kid. It makes ME feel blessed, happy and relaxed to share those moments of his introverted play. And I also love the particular closeness between us that only those precious moments of intense play and conversation can create.

    • Samantha says...

      I understand what you’re saying, but still, parents should pay attention to their kids for other than explaining homework or sitting at the table and making sure they finish their meal. Yes, you have a husband, you have a job, but you also have a kid and he requires time and attention too. Playing with your kid doesn’t make you a child and it won’t make him respect you any less. You don’t even have to play with your kid at all, just seat on the floor with him and give him your uninterrupted attention for just 20 minutes of your time, that you’re probably wasting on social media or netflix anyway.

    • Congee says...

      I think the 20 minutes is about connecting emotionally to the child.

    • Alice says...

      The adult-ing you mention is time consuming and important, and so is self-reliance in a child. And there is a child world kids need to exist in without their parents – but l love getting down on the floor and experiencing the world full of wonder and adventure with my children. It’s about love. And I feel kinda privilidged to be invited in. Plus, you know, I just love a good play!

  9. Hannah says...

    I swear this worked with my 5-month-old yesterday. She wasn’t having tantrums or crying or anything, but was kind of a grump all day while I was trying to “work from home”. After I read your post, I played on the floor with her for almost 20 minutes and what do you know! After that, she seemed so much happier. Going to try to do this more often and now I want to read that book. Thanks so much, Joanna!

  10. A good reminder!

    Most disciplines that work with children have some kind of term for this (in ABA it’s motivating operations, the crunchier-leaning will call it “special time,” “Floor Time” was best popularized by Stanley Greenspan), which I think demonstrates how useful it is!

    I think it’s so much easier to do as a teacher or professional, since that’s your one job at a given time. It’s hard as a parent, especially one who stays home IMO, since there’s always something else you feel like you *should* be doing. Thanks for reminding me!

  11. When my son was little, I would get on the floor and play with him any chance I got – just because I loved to spend time with him that way. And you know, he was so easy to deal with. He hardly ever had tantrums. I think the key is connecting with your kids. As they get older, be sure to continue to spend some quality time with them regularly (whatever that might be for you guys) and you will be able to help him/her adjust to all of life’s bumps.

  12. I love this idea, thanks for sharing! My baby is 10-months and she likes me to be on the floor with her too, even if she’s the one doing most of the playing.

  13. Amanda says...

    What a wonderful tip! its a win-win-win all around. I will try this with my 2.5 year old STAT. Thank you for sharing.

  14. Jessica says...

    This is helpful. Recently I’ve been so frustrated by my almost-three-year old’s totally inability to play by herself. She’s never been good at it no matter what I try to do to encourage it. It’s now become a source of tantrums. Maybe I’ll try really playing with her (not pseudo playing while also cooking/checking phone/caring for baby brother) for 20 minutes and see if that helps.

  15. Leah says...

    Lately I’ve been fixated on how sugar and sleep play a huge role in kids’ behavior. It’s just not fair to let kids eat a bunch of sugar and/or get too little sleep and then punish them for the inevitable outcome- fussiness, inability to listen, lack of control over their emotions etc.

    Recently at a concert, a friend of mine was threatening her 3 y/o with spankings because he wouldn’t stop whining. It was 9 o’clock at night! I definitely didn’t offer my two cents, but I was thinking “What do you expect from a toddler past his bedtime?”

    Even with the right food and adequate sleep, little kids struggle to control their emotions. But they have a MUCH tougher time when over-sugared and under-rested.

  16. tunie says...

    I LOVE this idea! I also love Aletha Solter’s book, Tears and Tantrums. Really insightful!

  17. Cassie C. says...

    The timing of this post, like many mothers here have commented, could not have come at a better time. My almost-two-year-old has been home sick and we are all about to go “crazy”! I’ve feel as if the only word I have been saying is “No . . . no . . . no . . . no!” Yesterday, I looked at my husband and started to cry: I couldn’t say no again or I would go crazy. We talked and realized that we need to take some responsibility for needing to say no so much–we should put a safety lock on a door we don’t want opened; we could turn the tv off if we don’t want him to get attached to it; etc. BUT, our son also isn’t always a very good listener, which is frustrating.

    Recently my son has started to outright ask us to play with him in his room: he will point and say “Mama play!” or “Play Dada” as walks to his toy of choice. We have embraced these moments and spend time playing with him, his choice. However, I struggle with this mentality when we have all been home for several days and (our already small) house feels like it is shrinking. I always appreciate the comments and openness in this space and would love to hear what other parents do when their kids are sick and not listening and throwing tantrums.

    Thank you for this space and your work.

  18. Lisa says...

    What a great solution! My son is six months so a while away (I hope) from temper tantrums but it’s something that I can start from now.
    What happened to me was one day he was whining a lot and I realised that he needed a cuddle! I spend all day with him (so I assumed he was getting enough attention) but sometimes he just needs that moment of being held, not to be fed or changed or put to sleep, but just for a hug

  19. Sadie says...

    We have been giving “consequences,” usually putting a toy on a high shelf. But last night, out of nowhere, my three-year-old turned to me and said, “Do you need a consequence?” Since I basically treat these situations like improv scenes, I answered, “Yes. I DO need a consequence.” And he said sunnily, “Wellllll… I think I’m just going to give you a hug instead.” And he did. Really made me think. Maybe he’s telling me what’s going on with his testing behavior!

    • Congee says...

      Wow, he is a wise three year old!

  20. Suzie says...

    I love hearing these tips! I am going to be a first time mother come spring and while I am so excited, I am anxious too. I would love if you wrote a post for expecting mothers. When I really sit down and think how I will be someone’s parent in six months I start to freak myself out! Thanks for always writing thoughtful posts.

    • Alice says...

      The fact that you are pregnant and thoroughly thinking about being a parent already shows you are going to be an amazing mother to your little person! There’s so much baby ‘stuff’ online and week by week development guides and nursery gear and pregnancy clothes, when actually just preparing mentally is really worthwhile. For you and the little one! But hey, really, don’t freak out – Cup of Jo archives have EVERYTHING you need :)

  21. Joanna says...

    The simplest solutions are so many times the best ones.

  22. Catharine says...

    Excellent and I totally see this with my 2.5 year old! I have also started “following his lead” a bit, even if more it means more work or a slight inconvenience for me. The other day he wanted me to play in his room with him, kind of boring right? How WRONG I was! We sat there for an hour, stacked blocks, laughed and listened to music. It was so fun and neither of us wanted to move on to the next activity. He loves to have picnics. We were rushing inside to eat lunch and start naps, he requested a “picnic outside!” His baby sister was happily dozing in the carseat so we put out a blanket, slowed down and had a picnic. It was a blast and we were both sad to go back inside for naps!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      you sound like the sweetest mom. xoxoxo

  23. shopgirl says...

    There is also that British method for more difficult cases, when a child is furious and screams and throws himself on the floor. You leave a child completely on his own (but in a safe place- for example, in his room or when in store, you just stand nearby) for so long as he is old (three minutes for three years). You are not looking at him, not listening, not responding, even if everybody is watching…Initially for parents it’s very hard to withstand, but it works very quickly.

  24. shopgirl says...

    p.s. that is such a cute!!!! photo!

  25. shopgirl says...

    And I also bet that we don’t need any yoga, if for twenty minutes every day we don’t think about anything else, but concentrating on our child…

  26. Couldn’t agree more. I teach small ones and family life is so hectic, the parents are thinking about one thing to the next – their to do list, when all the children want is time and to know they matter. In a large family with siblings of a similar age, even more crucial.

  27. Sharon says...

    What excellent advise! Many years ago when my two girls were 4 and 6, I was given similar advise by a couple of pastors who had a family ministry and had six children! She told me to put aside the housework and spend time actually playing with the children, down on the floor, either reading or building puzzles, but genuinely interacting with them. Once they have the attention they are craving for, they seem to settle down and are less ‘naughty/fussy’. It’s very hard for young children to express that they only want mummy to give them attention and play with them. Nowadays adults have such an overload of technical gadgets to take up their ‘mummy time’ that it is hard for children to feel that parents are engaging with them when their hands are busy on FB and IG.

  28. Vivian says...

    It also works great with older kids – spending calm time together and just but really really listening. Thanks for the reminder :)

  29. molly says...

    I loved that book! The Art of Roughhousing is another great one ;) And I also second the recommendation for Hold On To Your Kids…phenomenal.

    I love the sweet, honest, down-to-earth manner in which your share motherhood / life nuggets! It’s always so comforting and feels safe + secure, like talking with a friend. Thank you xo

  30. Rachel says...

    This idea still holds true with my twin boys who are nearly 13 years old. It’s not trains on the floor anymore but playing ping pong or cards or having a Connect 4 tournament. It’s easy to forget and yet the payoff is big.

  31. Courtney says...

    Gottman’s Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child changed our lives as parents. We try (and still fail sometimes) to help our kids recognize and label their feelings. Identifying the correct feeling helps dethrone the inappropriate expression of that feeling. Man, it’s really powerful stuff to say to a 3 or 4 year old kiddo, “I can see you’re upset/angry/disappointed… let me hug you until you feel better”… switch out words and maybe change up what the child might need to help cLm down. It gives everyone a chance to take a breath, and then create room for a discussion about boundaries that need respecting or behavior that needs correction.

    • Sadie says...

      YES! Gottman’s book changed everything for us, too. Lots of books have practical tips, but “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child” made me feel like I had a big-picture goal in mind during tricky interactions with my child. It is amazing how quickly an empathetic response dissolves a tantrum.

  32. Amber says...

    Yes! I notice this makes a difference even with my ten month old. I work full-time and I often can see the effect on her–she’s needy and irritable, especially when I work long hours. Making sure that mama-baby time happens, even for 10-20 minutes is huge. I too have to continually remind myself that we both need me to be present during the time we do have together. I try to spend my time with her in wonder, studying her looks and glances, the way her fingers move. Precious time.

  33. rach says...

    You’re such a great Momma, Do! Honestly, those boys are going to be fantastic husbands someday with the wonderful example you are as a woman and wife and Momma.

    • molly says...

      I totally agree! ♡ You said it so well, Rach. xo

  34. Sasha says...

    Connection. When there is connection between adult and child magical things happen. Dr. Gordon Neufeld wrote a wonderful book about connection and attachment and their link to discipline, called “Hold On To Your Kids.” I can’t recommend it highly enough. It gives real practical ideas for creating connection and maintaining attachment (hint, attached children WANT to follow their adults, like mama and baby ducks.) It’s wonderful to read and implement BEFORE you lose your children to peers.

    Thanks for sharing a smart way to prevent tantrums, I think this is such wonderful advice, and it really feels good for the adults too.

  35. ellie says...

    My daughter is in play therapy for selective mutism (she talks a blue streak to us but not anyone else at age 4). Sometime last year we were having issues where she was unrecognizable due to crazy tantrum behavior that we really had never seen. We had an ’emergency’ session with her therapist for just me and my husband….and got instructed on how to play! We felt a bit like morons, but it worked like a charm. The key thing she told us: “children are told what to do all day every day. Their only domain to be in charge is during play time, so when you engage in play it is ALL on their terms.” She also related that ‘doing’ something with your child, such as a craft or planned activity, is great but is NOT play. It was life-changing, truly. Also, however, I discovered how pathetically HARD it is to just ‘be’ and reflect back to my playing child. But I also realized letting her be 100% in charge for 15-20″ during her free play was not too much to ask!

    • Anna says...

      Such a useful comment! We’re struggling with my daughter’s nursery – she supposedly has behavioural problems but I think it actually has to do with her lack of control / nothing on her terms because things are so structured. We engage in a lot of free play at home and almost never have the same issues they tell us about. Thank you – as confirmed that we need to look for somewhere else.

  36. Alison says...

    Can you read my mind? My almost 4 year old has been doing this every night since he started school. I read your post and realized how rushed our time was this evening before bed and think some one-on-one time is probably needed. I’m just the worst at building train tracks ; )

  37. Molly says...

    My sister told me about this when my son was about 2 1/2 & I had a new baby. His behavior had become pretty terrible but it changed so much for the better after turning off the TV & spending time together playing on the floor. I’ve passed on this nugget of advise to friends going through the same thing.

  38. Patty says...

    Thank you! We’re are going through the same with our 3 yr old. We will do this tomorrow!

  39. oooooohh, I love this. My 5 year old has been acting out lately since going back to school and I wondered about this very thing. My husband and I made time to put her little brother to bed earlier and spend 20 mins playing cards with her and she was a whole new kid. Definitely a game changer.

  40. Stephanie says...

    Three is a tough one…thank you for this.

  41. Julie says...

    I needed this today too! I have a generally sweet 3 year old, but lately he’s kind of driving us crazy with his mood swings. Today he greeted me at daycare by swatting at me and pretty much resisting every thing i asked of him. After I read this, I realised maybe I am too distracted lately, so I played with him for an hour, no distractions at all. His mood was light and sweet, and he even hugged and snuggled me out of the blue for a good 5 minutes. I’m keeping this up!

  42. Susan M. says...

    I’m soaking up these good ideas. I agree with the floor play — and the general concept can be expanded to other aspects of being present. The empathizing with feelings works well; on the flip side, I have tried happiest toddler on the block approach of speaking toddlerese, but that has mixed results (I get the concept, but it’s hard to deliver correctly). With my 3-year-old daughter a couple of other ways to get her out of her crazy fit is to ask for her help doing something as she loves feeling important doing something or making a ridiculous joke or other kind of distraction (what the next thing that we’re doing will be, and who will be there, and what will they be doing, saying, wearing, etc) or game out of some issue (such as — can you get your shoes on faster than me, and then , oh, oh, mum is so slow, it looks like you’re going to beat me, etc). And there’s planning to avoid the melt-down: not too much screen time, not too much sugar, regular meals and sleep schedule, avoiding shopping if too tired (if possible — sometimes jus not possible). thanks for the topic!!! love it!

  43. Laurel says...

    This is great. Even though my kids weren’t having tantrums this morning, I got down on the floor and played with both of them. And they loved it! It helped them play together (they are 3.5 and 1) and they each got in on the mama cuddles. Thanks for the reminder to just play with them. It’s sadly easy to forget that!

    Also the tips from readers are fantastic. Reading through them is yet another reminder that our kids are complex individuals and as such, we all have slightly different approaches to help them out.

  44. Ginger says...

    Seriously amazing reminder. Thank you.

  45. Lauren says...

    Yes! We are in this with our three year old, and having a four month old little sister has only heightened the intensity of her emotions. We’ve been consistently surprised by how much harder three is than two…
    I’ve found some traction with the strategy of acknowledging that the feelings are real, “you are very upset right now, I hear that you want X.” Reading that young children need their emotions validated, even if their reactions are outsized and inapproproriate, really helped me remember that littles need empathy just like big people, because all the feels are so real to them in the moment. Yikes! Thanks for posting this; it feels so comforting to know so many are in this struggle.

  46. Emma says...

    I love this! I used to teach two year olds in preschool, and something I learned to do when kids were throwing tantrums was say, “Are you sad because . . . .” It’s usually not hard to guess why a child is upset and 80% of the time my students would say, “Yes” and then come in for a hug. It seemed to diffuse the situation for them and helped me to calm down too before doing something rash! At the end of the day, whether we’re 2 or 92, we all just want to be understood.

  47. Tricia says...

    This is such good advice for the parents of teens, as well. A different type of “tantrum” but the same underlying desire to enjoy the undivided, non-judgmental attention of a parent. Remember this when the boys are older!

    • Leah says...

      Great point! I was wondering if it would apply to teenagers.

  48. Meg says...

    This changed my life when it came tantrums… when my oldest was young and got worked up I was always at a frustrated loss. Things escalate so quick with a toddler! Ack! One day when she was out of control I knelt down so we were face to face and I took three deep breaths with my eyes closed. (For her or me? I’m still not sure!) I kept at it, counting each breath, until she became curious and started copying me. Raising our hands up as we breathed in through our nose and lowering our hands as we breathed out through our mouth. In a minute we were back to calm. Then I started doing it every time I could see that baby blood pressure gauge reaching the danger zone. The physicality of it would almost always break her of a screaming funk – it was incredibly effective to get down and deescalate WITH her. Sometimes even amid sobs her chubby little hands would start moving up and down and I knew she wanted to start breathing together. It was her self-aware call for help amidst the insanity. And sometimes if she was too upset, I would start, and within seconds she would find the courage to join. She’s now 11 years old and we’ll still breath together from time to time to calm big feelings and give each other strength in a hard moment.
    -Hugs of appreciation for your lovely and generous thoughts.

    • Abby says...

      I love this!

    • Sarah says...

      this is just the sweetest… and totally made me teary eyed.
      I need to remember this for when my little lady gets a bit older

  49. Corinne says...

    My kiddos are grown now (20 and 22), but when they were toddlers the tantrums were definitely an issue. At one point I stumbled upon a little trick that worked really well: it was a two step process where I would (1) very sympathetically tell them that I was sorry they were so sad and (2) tell them to let me know just as soon as they were done.

    I know it sounds like a very touchy-feely 70’s thing to do, but it works! First, you are validating their feelings by telling them it’s ok to be angry/sad/whatever (three is, after all, a terribly difficult age to be!), then you disengage and politely ask them to let you know when they are finished “tantruming” so that you can give them some cuddles. This allows them to feel all their feels and then move on to getting some warm hugs and comforting words.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      this is so smart and empathetic — i really like the sound of this approach. thank you, corinne.

    • Corinne says...

      Thanks! It’s hard not to jump in and “manage” the tantrum but, ultimately, it seems to cut the tantrum time down significantly. If you’re lucky, sometimes they even do a little half-hearted tantrum and then decide not to even bother. Ha!

    • Lisa says...

      There was an article about how hard it is to be a little kid, and it’s so true. You’re misunderstood all the time, you’re clumsy, you don’t know all the rules and everything is the wrong size for you. if you think about it that way, it’s amazing they’re as positive as they are! I’m amazed at my baby. He recently had a cold which he then passed on to his 15 year old cousin. i only realised how tough it must have been for him when his cousin took a day off school and told us (because she could, he can’t) how awful she felt. Poor little boy had a stuffed nose and must have felt terrible, but he was still sweet and charming and smiley. Such a trooper!

    • Jessica says...

      Yes! I try to guess what she’s feeling angry/sad/jealous/mad/frustrated/annoyed/disappointed, etc and then I tell her that those feelings are hard and when she’s done I’m here for a cuddle or when you’re done we can play some more or whatever…works most of the time. Key thing is to disengage from the tantrum.

  50. I will definitely come back to this post as my daughter grows up a little! I have honestly been wondering about this already, though, because she has started doing some little baby tantrums (she’s 8 months) that scare me for what’s to come! And as a stay at home mom (for now), she’s definitely getting more than enough floor time with me!

    • rebecca says...

      I’m a stay at home mom to a 9 month old who has started having “baby” tantrums this week! Even though I used to work with small children, it caught me by surprise! He outright screamed and cried when we wouldn’t let him play with the blind cords! Redirecting didn’t even work. We had to take him out of the room so he could no longer see them. We are on the floor all day too. It’s tricky!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Oh yes, there’s definitely no one answer. If there were (I often tell myself), everyone would hear about it, and we would all do it, and kids would never make a peep, ha! At the end of the day, children are complicated, multi-faceted people in a wide world, and they’ll have emotions like we all do. But I’d love to hear what works for other people! It’s all worth a try :) Thanks, Joy! Your daughter sounds adorable and spirited and smart and lovely!

  51. Mairéad says...

    Good idea – a lot of tantrums are about attention so I suppose it makes sense. I read someplace last year that playing rough with them if they are on the verge of a tantrum can help. It said to pretend to be a bear/gorilla/dinosaur etc and allow the child to wrestle you until they knock you over. It gives them a sense of control while also working out aggression and frustration. I started using it straight away. It works great for my 5 year old when he gets home from school over-tired and not knowing how to manage his emotions. It’s the most stressful, highly charged part of the day. The 5 yr old and 3 yr old boys can’t be left alone for 5 seconds without starting to fight and the 1 yr old likes to get in the middle of anything that is happening. The screams and tears are ridiculous but when I pretend to be a gorilla nd let them take turns to knock me over – making them really work for it – they end of laughing and giggling in no time. I like that it is a very controlled game – each gets a turn and they are not allowed to hurt.
    For my 3 yr olds screaming tantrums, I take him outside and ask him if he can scream louder. Tell him it’s good to scream outside but that once he is finished just let me know and we can go back inside. Giving him permission to scream seems to take away his need to scream!

  52. Colleen says...

    I’m going to try this with my 9 year old daughter. She is starting to show signs of attitude and related tweeny behaviors and maybe this will help.

  53. Julia says...

    No Bad Kids by Janet Lansbury was a complete and total game changer for us. We’ve not made it to 3 yet so there are sure to be many challenges ahead but it was a real paradigm shift for us as parents and relieved so, so SO much of the pressure I was putting on myself to constantly fix everything or risk having her ‘issues’ be my fault.

    • It changed our lives, too. My kids are seriously so happy and content and easy going. Last night My son (18 months) was overtired and protesting being put in his car seat. My daughter (3.5) leaned over and held his hand and said “it’s okay to feel upset”. It made me sooooooo happy that she’s internalized that message.

  54. lindsay says...

    Thanks for reminding me about this. I tried it in the past with my oldest and it really works. My middle child who is 3 has started throwing so many tantrums since having my baby recently, he must need this now. As a busy mom it can be hard to just stop everything and play but that is what they need.

  55. Jen says...

    I have tried this but it’s SO difficult with siblings. My boys are close in age (1,2,3yrs..I know!) so they don’t give space, they all want to be with me. So I make a point to plop on the floor when I get home from work and just play with all (it’s something at least)

  56. Joelle Benoliel says...

    This is great advice and something my hisband and I do, but I am actually the step mom and we only get the girls every other weekend. The weekends we have the girls, they basically get our undivided attention but the tantrums are really tough to conquor because of the inconsistency of our presence with them. I’d LOVE for you to do a series on Step-Parenting. I’m new at this and realize it is an extrememly complicated situation but so many people experince it! I’d love to hear some stories from people who have gone before me.

    • JL says...

      I agree on the step-parenting feature! I’ve started dating someone with children and as someone who doesn’t have children, it’s a little daunting (and exciting) but I find myself wondering what advice Cup of Jo and it’s lovely readers would have! Please consider, Joanna!

  57. Tara says...

    As others have said, this is so timely. My 3-year-old started with the tantrums two months before my second son was born in June. The meltdowns that seems to have come out of nowhere have subsided slightly, but my biggest issue now is getting him to go into his new classroom at daycare, which he started earlier this month. I’ve had to chase him in the daycare hallways, and all he says is he doesn’t want to go to school (meanwhile, after I leave and he’s there, he’s totally fine, and he comes home and tells me all the new things he’s learned). I wish I had the time to sit down and play with him before daycare, but I’m either frantically getting things together, or nursing his little brother.

    • I had this issue with my daughter at 3 as well. What worked well for us was to have the one-on-one time at drop-off. Once at her daycare I would help her put her things in her cubby & then follow her to the reading corner. She would chose a book and we would snuggle while I read. By the time I finished the book her interest was grabbed by the goings-on of nursery school and I would give a quick kiss and goodbye.

    • Tara says...

      Thanks for the tip, Rae! I’ll have to try that out tomorrow. :)

  58. Laura says...

    My daughter recently turned three and she also has been extra testy and tantrumy. Great timing and good reminder. I will certainly make the effort to give her that undivided play time. My five year old son had been extra oppositional last week so I made conscious effort to play Legos and give him that daily one on one time and it really helped.
    Another tip I read somewhere and like is, when a tantrum is starting to come on or I feel myself getting frustrated, depending on the situation, is to tickle my child. It breaks the tension, distracts the child from whatever they were upset about and the giggles make me smile and I instantly become less frustrated.

    • Laura C. says...

      I discovered by myself that tickle thing, it works!

  59. Kim says...

    I love this. I am really trying to focus more on being present and in the now with my kids- instead of just being here, if you catch my drift. My son can grab a book or a toy and get hyper-focused and tune everything out, so I often just allow that, as I am an introvert too. But it’s not working. He needs me and I need him and I need him to know I’m here for him always. So we’ve been spending most of our waking hours together doing. Playing, reading together, hunting for bugs outside, digging, even watching a movie, but doing it snuggled close and still interacting. It’s been really good for both of us.

  60. Lori says...

    Thanks for sharing! We also have a 3 year old and we’re in the thick of it… sometimes it can be hard when you have other little ones that are more hands on. BUT we all need our cup filled :]

  61. Lizzz says...

    Yes! We just potty trained our 2 year old and my husband has been traveling a lot for work. We also have a 7 mo old. Needless to say I am often preoccupied. My 2 year old has been a monster and I couldn’t figure out why. This morning I sat outside with him and we made a race car track in the sand. The rest of our morning and lunch was extremely enjoyable. I had my sweet chatty happy boy back.

    I think it was because of the play time. Thank you so much for pointing this out, Joanna.

  62. Erika says...

    Such a timely post, and I always love reading comments from other parents. My son is five now and this kind of one-on-one time makes a big difference. Being on his level and 100% engaged can change the whole dynamic of our house. We also try to spend as much time as possible outside walking, playing, talking about the birds and the wind. I can usually shut a whine-fest down by saying, “let’s get some air” though it’s easier said than done (I’m a working mom living in the scorching hot desert!). As my son has gotten older he doesn’t throw tantrums like he used to, but he definitely goes through emotional phases. Like right now, in fact! He’s been weepier than usual which breaks my heart, and suddenly isn’t all that interested in doing things for himself. He started kindergarten about six weeks ago and while he seems to really like it, I’m certain that’s playing a part in what’s going on. Maybe he feels out of control, or just unsure of himself, but regardless it’s been a little to tough to navigate. Just trying to love on him as much as we can and hope it passes sooner than later. Sigh, never a dull moment with this parenting gig, eh? Here’s to all the moms/dads/caregivers winging it out there!

  63. May says...

    That’s a very good way to help children. Separation anxiety is horrible thing at that young age, and any age. Imagine an adult child stopping by to ask for floor time like you use to when he was a kid, not toy or video playing, just talking in that safety zone. I think many parents would be thrilled to feel that needed.

    • That’s a great point, about an adult asking for one-on-one time in a safe zone with someone who loves them!

  64. Mac says...

    I do this! I’ve never had a name for it, but I learned when my first was about a year old and just starting tantrums for the first time. Whenever she woke up, in the morning or from naps, I’d spend at least 10 minutes on the floor, very engaged with her. The difference it makes is amazing and I think of it as a little investment–I’m often busy and ready to just get going, but when I dedicate that time I actually get more done because we both feel filled. Feeling inspired to try it with my husband tomorrow morning!

  65. We have a 2 yr old daughter who is just a little firecracker! She lights up the room, but can also go off at any time in these unbelievably dramatic meltdowns! I love this reminder of how important spending 1-on-1 time together is. We also have an 8mo, and whenever our toddler is feeling neglected due to the baby, she lashes out.

    Isn’t it amazing how 20 minutes without your phone, or letting your attention wander can sometimes feel so long? I know it can for me, but I am getting into the habit now of intentionally leaving my phone in the kitchen (so that I can still hear if I receive a call) and then getting down and playing with my toddler while dinner is in the oven or simmering on the stove. I normally know I have a small to medium chunk of time when I can just stay and be present SO important!

    xoxo http://www.touchofcurl.com

  66. Katrina says...

    Does this work with CATS too?

    how about a cat that MEOWS and body slams outside your door while you are trying to sleep? I do not play with him that much–so now I am reconsidering playing with him until he is exhausted at night.

    • Andrea says...

      Cats actually have an inborn pattern of hunt-eat-groom-sleep. If he’s not getting enough activity or interaction during the day, he won’t enter into the evening sleep time well. Our cats tend to be up for two hours and then sleep for 4-5. If we interact with them and actively play during the day, they are better at playing quietly when they get up at night. One easy game is to take some dry food and throw if for them to hunt/chase and kill/eat. It tires them and fulfills the need to hunt. I do this as soon as I get home from work and sometimes before bed, if necessary.

    • I am not trying to turn this into a cat behavior forum…. but I just tried this technique on my cats.. One cat was extremly aggressive toward his brother, it was really getting out of hand, cat howling fights, it was driving me nuts I was always having to drop what I was doing to do a rescue. Instead of rescuing, I started gabbing the aggressive cat by the scruff of the neck (I don’t pull or use any force I just kind of hold) At the sametime I say his name and talk really sweetly and in a high tone. He immediately relaxes.
      Well after a year of him attacking 10 to 15 times a day, he’s down to maybe one attack and he quits right on cue if I talk to him in that high tone voice don’t even have to grab his neck… Its been amazing, maybe this techinque could be modified for your door slammer!
      Okay back to the kids!

    • Sophie says...

      I was just thinking this applies to our new cat! He is a major pain if we forget to play with him during the day. He loves the laser pointer, so we have him chase it all over the living room until he is tired. Leaves us alone every night now. :)

  67. Robin says...

    Thank you for this! I just went on leave from work (baby #2 is around the corner) and this is a great reminder to take some of the extra time I have now to focus on my three year old. He’s been having more tantrums lately (mostly about wanting to watch more tv) and I definitely have a tendency to do something else when he’s playing on the floor instead of focusing on him. We read together and so on but playing like this will be good. Starting today!

  68. Kati says...

    Thanks for this great reminder! I have been seriously struggling with my loud, opinionated three-year-old son the past couple weeks. It’s so refreshing to hear of other mothers going through the exact same thing. I love how your blog has such a sense of community through womanhood. Thanks Joanna!!!

  69. MOlly says...

    My girls (6 & 8) have a disco light in their (large) bedroom. When the kids are fussy (little brother is 3) I draw the shades, turn that sucker on along with The Big Chill soundtrack or some Motown and everyone is in a better mood! We’ve had it since they were 4 & 2 and it’s always worked like a charm! Bought it at Bed, Bath & Beyond and it attaches right to the ceiling light fixture.

    • L. says...

      This is brilliant!

  70. Beth says...

    This is such wonderful advice. I am going to try it with my 2 year old. I wonder if it will work with her 4 yr old sister as well. She has been melting down as of late, but I think it is related to the change in schedule as she headed back to school.

  71. Carmen says...

    I spend floor time with my two and a half year old son but his 9 month sister is always around, do you think it makes much difference? we have also tried to read kids books with him that talk about tantrums so he realizes whats going on with him at such times. When the melt down comes we say….
    “look! you are starting to look red, like Roberto in the book…” and he calms a bit. The books are “El monstruo de los colores” y “Vaya rabieta”, in spanish i´m afraid…

  72. Annie says...

    Thanks for the reminder. It’s so easy to get caught in the trap of “oh, he’s on the floor playing – I’m just going to throw in a quick load of laundry,” Or, “I should empty the dishwasher” instead of just stopping and focusing on him/playing.

  73. Thank you for the tip. I find myself using threats/bribes a lot while trying to corral my 3-year-old, but a preventative measure would probably be a much healthier, and easier, way to go. I really appreciate these little parenting tips you share. I use the interrupting tip (hand on the wrist) all the time!

  74. Amy says...

    Thanks for the advice! We have always used the technique of rephrasing how/why they’re upset to diffuse the tantrum (“It seems like you’re frustrated. You seem upset because you wanted that toy…”). It usually works, and our two-year old now labels his own feelings before we do (“I’m feeling fussy.”).

    But there’s a particular type of tantrum my toddler has been throwing more frequently in which he can’t make up his mind, and this technique doesn’t work when that happens. We just had one today:
    Toddler: “Want to go to the park.”
    Me: “Ok, let’s go.”
    Toddler: “No! Don’t want to go the park.”
    Me: “Ok, we will stay home.”
    Toddler: “No, do park!”
    Me: frustrated silence, reaching for nearest sugary snack
    Repeat 15-20 x

    Usually, he throws these tantrums when something basic isn’t met (hunger, sleep, etc) and they’re probably more frequent because we just had another baby. But does anyone else’s toddler do this?

    • Angela says...

      Yes, mine does! This may or may not apply for you, but my son is very verbal, both in practice and in understanding… so when he does that kind of stuff, I tell him something along the lines of, “Remember! You are learning to mean what you say. Think for a minute about what you really want and then give me your answer.” If he still continues to mess around, I remind him of his choice and then we do whatever he first chose. Does that make sense? Sometimes he reacts well and sometimes he reacts poorly. When that happens, we just try to sit and snuggle/love on him for a few minutes, talking to him in low, soothing tones, but we ALWAYS take him at his word. He actually seems to be getting the hang of it and these little tantrums are happening less and less.

      Just my 2 cents on what works for us. Hope you find a stride with it! Those types of tantrums are so annoying!

    • Oh yes. My toddler girl turns 3 next month, and she does this a lot. I usually make it into a game. I’ll say, ” well I’M going to go to the park! I want to go to the park!” and USUALLY she’ll perk up and say “NO I’M going to go!” and we’ll just keep saying “No, ME!” “No, ME!” until we’re giggling and heading to the park. I don’t know why this works, and it probably won’t next week, but that’s what works right now. Good luck!

    • Kim says...

      At that moment, I just pack him up and go, and even if he still says he doesn’t want to, I’ve never had a bad trip to the park…until we have to go home, of course.
      I always reccomend “happiest toddler on the block,” it really helped me understand how hard it is to be a little caveman with limited communication skills.

  75. Evie says...

    Offering choices seems to work too. I learned all these from behavioral therapy. Here are three examples from my life:

    Example one: At a pet store, my son wants to pet the bunnies but can’t as they are in cages. After explaining that, son decides he is not leaving until he has pet the bunnies anyway, so he lays down on the floor, heavy as rocks.
    In this case: I would give him two choices: “Since we can’t pet the bunnies, we can go see the fish instead. You can walk there or I can carry you. Which one do you choose?”. It always turns out that he wants to walk instead of being carried. :)
    Example 2: “Playtime is now over, and it’s time to clean up”. Son replies: “No, I want to play some more” In that case we tell, show and do.
    “We have to clean up, like this, see, I am putting the blocks in basket,” If he doesn’t or if he runs away, I bring him back to the toys, hold my son’s hand so the back of his hand is cradled within the palm of my hand, and I guide his hand to pick and drop a block and put it in basket. I say “Now you are carrying a block, now you dropped in the basket” and continue as needed. Usually at around the 2nd time my son gets the idea and does the rest.
    Example 3: When he wants to play instead of eating dinner. I tell him “First eat dinner, then play” Sometimes I have to write things out and have him check off as go complete the task.
    1. First we prepare dinner
    2. Next we sit down and eat
    3. Then, after we are done eating, you can play with your……
    I hope this is useful.

  76. Lucy says...

    As is so often the case, Joanna, you have the right post at the right time! I just got off the phone with my nanny, who told me that one of my two-year-old twin girls bit her sister in class today. And then I read this, and it helped me think about an answer to the all-too-frequent recent tantrums. Thank you!!

  77. I’m am SO going to try this! I love the idea of being very present with my girl first thing in the morning. Thank you for the tip!

  78. Laura C. says...

    THANK YOU Joanna!! (not screaming). My daughter is three and she is driving us nuts lately. I’ll try this floor time and let you know!
    Xoxo

  79. Hi Joanna,

    Thank you for this post! How does Anton do with transitioning from that floor time to going to school? That’s where I’m having difficulty. 20 minutes isn’t always enough for my four year old daughter. I could be playing with her for half an hour or an hour, but when I’m tired and want to move on to something less physically involved, such as coloring or play-doh where you get to sit and don’t have to “play pretend”, or if it’s time to leave the house, she gets very upset. I would love anyone’s advice on this if they can relate! :) Thank you!

    • Lauren says...

      Set a timer for 15 minutes, and let her know that when it goes off that you will be playing with her for 5 more minutes. You could then give her options of what to do next–do you want to keep playing trains by yourself
      or would you rather go read a book to your stuffed animal?

  80. Natalie says...

    Such a great tip- thank you!

  81. Jeiran says...

    I got a great piece of advice that has worked for my 3 year old who tantrums when he doesn’t get his way – I turn to my husband and say “he thinks if he screams, I’m going to change my mind” and my husband says “are you going to change your mind” and I reply “no I’m not going to change my mind.” It’s amazing how it works!

    • Kim says...

      I’m trying this the next time I need to!

  82. I totally agree with you on how important floor play! I noticed it a few months back when my husband and I were packing all morning for a trip we were leaving on later that day. Our son, who was around 14 months at the time, was crying and being so fussy. We couldn’t figure out why but then I realized he had received almost no attention from either of us that day. I sat down and started to play and read books with him and he calmed down almost immediately.

  83. Megan says...

    I started talking to my 2 year old’s stuffed animal during a melt down when I felt myself losing it. I talked to it about about what she was doing and feeling and how that was making me feel. Honestly I think I needed to be heard at the time but she LOVED it and cooled down to listen. Now if she is upset or in “trouble” she sometimes asks me to “talk to Pony about it”.

    • Amanda says...

      This just legit made me tear up…this is the sweetest thing EVER!

    • Kim says...

      That’s so sweet. Great idea.

    • megan says...

      This is awesome, and too cute!

  84. Thanks, Joanna, what a great suggestion for parents– play focused attention is so soothing for kids. I’m a couple and family therapist who always recommends floor time to families. Another helpful tantrum-halting suggestion is to name the emotion: “you’re feeling sad” or “it’s really hard to leave the park today.” When kids feel validated “mom understands me!” they are more likely to be ready to move on to the next thing.

  85. Kelly says...

    This is ideal for everyone. We all need our husband to pay a good 20 minutes with us. I once went over to my in-laws who I love, but felt like I had to scream to get any attention. And, it was really good news. I wanted to say just validate my existence, maybe repeat what I’ve said and be happy for me and I’m golden.

    • Lauren E. says...

      I don’t have kids, but I completely agree with you, Kelly! We really do all want to be seen. One night my fiance was being particularly annoying when I was trying to focus on something and I actually said out loud, “OKAY! I SEE YOU!” And we had a good laugh about it, but I could just tell he was after my attention. Seems to be human nature :)

    • Kristen says...

      Oh Kelly, I so feel you here. You’re not alone in this exact circumstance!

    • KN says...

      I’m so happy you posted this! I always feel so silly and childish when I start feeling jealous of my husband’s family, but all I need is just a little bit of attention! I’m going to try to talk with him about this tonight – the holidays are coming up and it can be a difficult time. Thank you for this!

    • Samantha says...

      Along a similar vein, when I am trying to contribute to a conversation and someone talks over me it instantly deflates my mood. I have a friend that does this frequently when we are in a group setting. My husband cannot understand why I get irritated by this and I often wonder if I am being unreasonable but then I circle back around to her being rude.

  86. Auste says...

    Yes! I’m home with my two girls (18 months and almost 4) and we like to start our days playing, too. I consciously leave my phone in the other room, make a cup of coffee and let my girls lead playtime (usually they make “breakfast” in their play kitchen for me). I feel like it fills their “love cup” (as a previous commenter noted) and gets the day off to a good start.

    If my older daughter has a meltdown for whatever reason my approach is usually to get that energy out in a different way – usually an attack of hugs and kisses and tickles. It releases whatever is pent up in a way that doesn’t involve hitting her sister:)

  87. This is such a simple, beautiful piece of advice. I’m dealing with a 2.5 year old that has just started having tantrums and giving him a positive kind of attention sounds like the sweetest first approach of dealing with them.

    http://www.typeatypeb.com

  88. sb says...

    This is interesting. I get recommendations on parenting books at least once a week. Maybe you could start publishing the cliffs’ notes? The one making the rounds right now among my parent friends: “The Collapse of Parenting”. Clearly I haven’t read it yet, but I wonder how it compares with Playful Parenting? Can we ever win? :-)

  89. So excited to see such sound parenting advise here! Playful Parenting is one of my go to book recommendations as a child and family therapist. It’s so important to remember that our children learn, process emotions, and connect through play!

  90. Samantha says...

    Love this! As a child therapist this if often a recommendation given to parents-even if it’s just 5 minutes it really does make a difference. For added benefit and to keep it child-directed, I would suggest using reflections (repeating or summarizing what kiddo says), behavior descriptions (“you’re putting the blue train on the tracks”, “you built a big tower!”) and labeled praises (“great job keeping the train on the tracks!” instead of “great job!”) and avoiding questions, commands, or negative talk (no, don’t, stop, quit). This is the foundation for Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT)!

    • Jenn says...

      Yes! So glad to see another PCIT therapist commenting on this blog!

  91. This is very timely! Thank you Joanna!

  92. One of the only parenting books/videos I consumed was the “Happiest Toddler on the Block”, which tells you to kind of tantrum with your child, speaking in short sentences and mimicking what they want so they understand that you get it. It feels painfully awkward when you’re doing it, but it did work for us, to calm her down in the moment.
    Here’s a video, if anyone is interested:
    https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-mozilla-002&hsimp=yhs-002&hspart=mozilla&p=happiest+toddler+on+the+block+video#id=4&vid=b09fb8bfe607e321f3d3f8e64c82cae5&action=click

  93. Karen BEnson says...

    playful parenting is a wonderful book and I highly recommend Peaceful Parenting by Laura Markham. She has a blog (Aha Parenting) where you can get twice a week posts or an online class. I am in no way affiliated, I just found her advice to be unbelievably helpful for kids of all ages and stages and also for reminding the parent to not get to the point of depletion (which never works out for anyone). She is a contemporary of Lawrence Cohen ( Playful Parenting). and getting weekly, thoughtful prompts and articles can be helpful when you don’t have time to read a whole book. They are two authors/experts who I go back to again and again.

    • Auste says...

      Oh yes, I read ‘Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings’ when my second daughter was born. I feel like it will be far more poignant now that my girls are starting to play together (and steal toys from each other). Thanks for the reminder. Going to grab it off my bookshelf now!

    • Kim says...

      I refer to her blog a lot.

  94. Leah says...

    when sammy wants to play on the floor, he says, “sit on your tushy!” recently he’s been in a major daddy phase so it’s more “sit on your tushy, DADDY!”

  95. That’s funny! Just yesterday my mum remarked how neither I nor my brother ever had tantrums (she’s a paediatrician, so she’s seen stuff). We never associated this with “floor time” but I remember that always after work mum or dad would play with blocks or trains or matchbox on the floor – first with me and then with my brother!

  96. NSU says...

    This suggestion aligns nicely with the “Positive Discipline” approach to parenting. AhaParenting.com is my favorite resource for this (Janet Lansbury is another), and this school of thought advocates for at least 10 minutes of quality time with each child per day. Even as working parents, that’s doable and makes a huge difference in behavior with my toddler.

  97. Ali says...

    Timely post! It’s worth a shot!

  98. Allison says...

    We found that having a “bedtime chat” where we ask open ended questions like “how are you feeling?” Or “what’s on your mind?” was amazing. When we first started it, we were having an issue with our then 3-year old biting and resisting toothbrushing. After the bedtime chats started, this behaviour vanished. I had read about biting being a “tension release” on the hand-in-hand parenting website and we used the chat as a more appropriate place for any upsets to be addressed with full attention. At 5.5, it is still a really nice way to connect. I have been totally off the idea of timeouts since reading Unconditional Parenting and they also just didn’t feel “right” to us.

  99. I love that book. I don’t feel like i’m the best at this. Often I just become the authoritative “just stop!” As my son is aging I can ask him “are you hungry?” “do you need a rest?” “some time alone?” and that will open a discussion about what HE thinks. I want HIM to be able to control himself as an adult too…so we work on techniques for him, and I show him things I use for myself. One thing that helps him is having a journal (or many) that he can write or draw in. I’ve promised to never look unless he gives me permission. Sometimes we worry our mean thoughts are judged by others…so it helps him to know he won’t be. but often after he’s written them he’ll say to me “would you still love me if I thought this or that?” and I say yes…of course, and we explore that more. how those feelings are pretty normal and what we can do about them without hurting ourselves or others.

  100. Jennifer says...

    Another blogger I follow said that she tries to give each of her children (she has 3) 15 min of attention a day to ‘fill them up’. Sometimes they play a game, or read a book etc. This really resonated with me (new mom of two) and I feel like it has really helped!

  101. I couldn’t agree with this more! My daughter is only fourteen months but I started to notice that when I’m running around getting things done first thing in the morning she clings to me. If I sit and have playtime with her first, she relaxes and is much more independent the rest of the day. Such a great tip.

  102. Two things, one you are so wise. I need to slow down, get on the damn floor and connect. Starting tomorrow morning, thank you!! and two, we had no clue who Knuffle Bunny was until your book post recently and now WE ADORE KNUFFLE BUNNY!! So thank you twice over xx

    • R says...

      We were delighted to learn that there’s are a total of three Knuffle Bunny books (I didn’t realize!). The first one nearly made my toddler cry because she was so attached to the story. The last book in the series makes me cry.

  103. Jami-Lin says...

    There is a somewhat related model of treatment for autism spectrum disorders called DIR Floortime (http://www.icdl.com/DIR) with a growing body of supportive research.

    I find it fascinating and wonderful that you’ve discovered this outlet with your son to the effect of reducing his grumpies! When I worked as an in-class preschool aide several years ago, I was very inspired by practicing this model.

  104. Eliza says...

    I love this! And I have to say, it totally works… especially if you’re able to stick to it! It’s like a daily vitamin: best when used preventively.

    Our kids really do crave our undivided attention once in a while. I feel like I know this intellectually but it just doesn’t seem to fit into a busy life with multiple kids and it’s easy to let it slip. Thanks for this reminder.

    I have done this sporadically with my kids in the past (we actually set a timer for 20 minutes… can’t remember where I got the suggestion, maybe this blog! Sometimes we’d play past the 20 minutes, sometimes not, but we never ended early) and it’s really great. My suggestion for younger siblings would be to stick them in a pack’n’play with some toys for 20 minutes. Older siblings, give them an assignment (like complete a puzzle, or listen to an audiobook…or watch a TV show… ? Or do homework if they’re school aged) and set their own timer for 20 minutes. Then maybe they could have their own special time another time, or another day.

  105. Laura says...

    I only have a nine month old but I’ve read some great tips in the book Peaceful Parents Happy Kids by Laura Markham.
    She says parents of more than two children should have Special Time with each kid for fifteen minutes a day where there child chooses which activity to do. This way the child gets your undivided attention and a chance to reconnect with his/her parents during the day. On the topic of tantrums, the author says that it is essentially how the toddler is able to discharge pent up emotions that she/he is to young to verbally articulate or process.
    These emotions are scary and instead of ignoring your child when they happen, it’s best to make them feel safe with your presence to help them get passed all those negative feelings.

  106. emanuella says...

    Brilliant!

  107. CJ says...

    Sometimes, certainly not always, tantrums arise when kids need to let off steam (same with adults). It can be helpful to allow the kids to meltdown while in your presence, letting him/her know that you love them, that it’s okay to feel the way he/she does. I notice that sometimes I’m trying really hard to prevent my daughter from having uncomfortable feelings because I don’t want to deal with them, but really she needs to express them while knowing that we love her and are present for her.

  108. Lauren Whitaker says...

    I love this! I have a two year old that gets overwhelmed with her emotions as well. Isn’t it interesting that these little ones need more ‘time in’ than “time out’, which is basically the opposite of what most parents are told.. Oh, how I wish this concept was shared more. Books like: Peaceful Parenting, Happy Kids and No Drama Discipline talk about the findings regarding this research. Once again, love this and thanks for posting!

  109. Putting this into the memory bank, for a hopeful “someday” need! I used to never see myself with kids (“too selfish!” I’d proudly exclaim…) but now I am embarrassed at that girl. It must be amazing to experience and discover all of the little things that come along with motherhood- thank you for always speaking about it honestly!

  110. Celeste says...

    Such a lovely way to not only curb behavior problems but also acknowledge them.

    I’m not a mother, but something I do with my Girl Scouts (they are a special bunch, coming from at-risk backgrounds like refugees, low-income, ESL, etc. and have behavioral problems) is say, “NAME, I can tell you’re FEELING. But right now, we’re doing ACTIVITY and I would love it if you joined us. We can discuss your feelings after Girl Scouts if you’d like.” It’s a way to acknowledge that they are feeling something that they aren’t sure how to appropriately express, but redirect so we can keep the group on task. Because somehow, tantrums always happen when you’re trying to get something done. ha.

  111. This is so true and something we discovered through trial and error. Each of children are different so time together with my son is different than time with my daughter who very loudly lets us know that she wants us to “play with me!” I didn’t realize just how caught up we were with other things until our kids started acting out more, and I get it now. Every time I find my husband and I stressed and distracted, the kids start acting up more and it’s a wonderful reminder to be more present and really THERE.

  112. MA says...

    Yes! Great reminder, thank you. It seems so obvious to choose to spend time with your kids, doesn’t it? But in practice with everything else going on all the time in life, I will eventually realize that I haven’t just hung out with them or played whatever with them in forever. I had great results with “floor time” when my kids were 3-4 years. Now they are 7 and 10, but I still find that some individual time goes along way in terms of behavior. Keeps us all sane!

  113. This is so sweet and simple. Similar techniques are actually used in children’s play therapy: you let the child do what they want (within reason, ha!) and just comment on what they are doing and what you notice. Play is kids’ language so when you play like this you are speaking so much love to them! Beautiful <3

  114. Christie says...

    This is great, and I think the advice is right on! BUT like a lot of parenting guides, I don’t feel like they are always practical for many working families. My husband leaves for work at 6:30 and that leaves me alone with both kids to get us all ready for school and work. There is no time for play, and, even if there were, there is no way one kid would let me have one-on-one time with the other. Likewise, after work, we are all tired after work/school, and our evenings are: come home, cook dinner, get the kids to bed–hopefully by 8. My husband has some time with the kids while i cook, but not one-on-one. You have to have both parents available to do one-on-one time with two kids, and it’s entirely impractical when you are one parent with two kids.
    Having said that, I do love the Louise Bates Ames child development books because they always help me to see what is appropriate and provide good tips on managing the children, with no “theory” or ideology of parenting. I got the reco from this page. Those books were the most helpful I’ve read.

  115. I agree!! I have noticed that my six year old, who is my middle child, is less moody when I get to give her my undivided attention for a little while. Great advice and adding that book to my list, even though I’m generally anti-parenting books. LOL

  116. Bianca says...

    This is so timely! After an epic meltdown this weekend (our 4.5 yr old did not want to leave grandma’s place), my husband ended up playing Lego for an hour or so with our son, on the floor. We had the most peaceful bedtime routine. A normal bedtime is lots of screaming/nagging/negotiating! Have to try this trick consistently to see the connection with his behaviour. Thanks for the tip!

  117. Christian says...

    Playful parenting is wonderful and in line with that same vein of thought is the “nurtured heart” approach — which completely transformed my highly spirited, intense oldest child. (and also benefits my more typical youngest child). The books are wonderful but a simple, life-altering take away is just *noticing* and commenting out loud things the kid is doing. Aim for 10 outloud, dialouging, non-judgmental statements a day — you’d be shocked at how far this goes into making an easier flow, and a happier child. Example statements:
    “You’re working so hard on those train tracks – I see you put two straight pieces together with a curved piece.”
    ” I notice that when I asked you to take you plate to the sink, you did it without complaining – I appreciate that a lot – thank you.”
    “Wow. It looks like you are really enjoying that ice cream. I see that your face looks really happy right now!”

    So lots of — “I notice” and “I see” or “It looks like” statements. It may feel a little awkward at first. Especially when we are busy dealing with the getting of all the things done– but try it and I you will see how amazing it is! They just want to be ***seen*** and if they feel like they are, they don’t need to get your attention in other (non productive, tantrum-ing ways).

    • Allison says...

      Love this idea. I’m betting it could help with our sibling rivalry.

    • Raina says...

      This is awesome. I’m going to start doing this with my wild 2 year old! Thank you!

    • Wow, I’m trying this! Thanks Christian.

  118. Eleanor says...

    Love this :) I don’t want to give in to my child but when I let her take the lead and I just build on that, our days are the best. At least for her (just turned 3), cramming activities or too much screen time means more tantrums. Winter is tough for us but we try to keep a loose routine, add in fun quality time (baking for us) and enough independent play keeps us all sane. And slightly less tantrums :)

  119. This is real. Our daughter also suddenly started acting differently at school, not wanting to play, asking to go home, then fussy at home. I started doing this as well as making sure we didn’t skip family dinner time with no TV and it totally changed her attitude immediately. Thanks for the reminder! <3

  120. lexi says...

    Playful Parenting is a good book. I think about that concept of “filling up someone’s cup” (i.e. with love and acknowledgement) all the time, and how when they are acting out, it is often that their “cup” is empty and they are depleted of their ability to handle things. It’s very true for adults as well as children. Here’s to full cups for everyone!

    • emanuella says...

      Aww, I love this! What a caring concept and approach.

    • Ashley W says...

      As I was reading this I also thought – what a great relationship tool! Totally makes sense for kids and adults!

      I’m definitely making a mental note and adding the book to my wishlist. (baby is still cooking!)

  121. Lillie says...

    I think I need a 12 year old girl version of this solution! Ideas anyone??

    • Rose says...

      Hi Lillie,

      Not sure how many kids you have, but growing up my mom always took us on “mom-dates” once a month or so where it was just the two of us and let us pick an activity (a movie to see, a restaurant to eat at, an activity like ice-skating or rollerblading, even shopping). I know it meant a lot to me and maybe having some guaranteed one on one time would help!

    • Emily says...

      Is there a craft or skill you could learn together? Knitting, photography, plant identification or printmaking.

    • Crissy says...

      Or a sixteen year old girl (and boy) version would be spectacular!

    • what does your daughter like to do? usually that age kids like attention, too. maybe ask her. for older kids we’ll do an art project together (shrinky dink jewelry) or friendship bracelets. going out for a treat together (high tea!) or pictures, or to the bookstore. driving and listening to music together and singing to our favorites. even deciding to make a meal together. or take a class together – dancing, yoga, sewing – the possibilities are endless at that age. I still read in bed to my son too at the end of the day. do you do this? its a nice time to have him say his deepest worries, fears as after I read to him, I tickle his back.

    • cgw says...

      this.
      not so much the fussy or tantrum-y kid, but rather the 11 going on 12 sass and sulk.

    • Allison says...

      Bedtime chats. Just ask something open ended and see what comes up. Make a point of repeating back a lot of what they say so they feel acknowledged and understood.

    • Raina says...

      Oh jeez. My girls are only 4 and 2, but I remember myself at age 12… can’t say I’m looking forward to my girls being in that tween stage! Good luck. If she’s anything like me, going shopping and getting a smoothie with my mom was what made me happiest. Talking about random stuff and not getting grilled with questions. That’s about all I can remember liking from those days ;)

    • Lillie says...

      Lots of great ideas, girls! Thank you for your thoughts. I will definitely try to do more dates with her. She’s already so busy, maybe a weekly ritual would work!

  122. Megan says...

    Thanks for this idea! I’ve got a 3 year old and every day is a struggle with that guy! I’m going to see if some floor time helps. Something else I’ve found that helps him with tantrums is when he starts melting down, I verbally acknowledgement his feelings and frustrations, for example “I understand you’re very mad and frustrated because you want another treat and I said no.” Magically he goes from boiling down to a simmer giving me a chance to hold him, explain the situation and talk about different ways to handle his frustrations. The trick for me is trying to stay calm, cool, patient, and collected in the moment so that I can respond compassionately even while being firm. Parenting is tough!!!

  123. Yes! This is the whole premise behind filial play therapy, which is something I used to teach parents of young children. Being non-directive in the play is key—tracking, reflecting and observing, but never leading —it allows the child to feel in control, but also connected with the parent. And having full and present attention is also so helpful! I’m happy to hear this is helping, you seem like such a wonderful parent :)

  124. Raina says...

    This is great timing for me! Our two year old daughter has been giving us SUCH A HARD TIME lately. Our 4 year old was always really mild mannered and an “easy” kid. Not the case with this little one! Thanks for posting.

  125. Jamie says...

    This is a great reminder for me. I find that my husband is so much better at just sitting and playing with my 2 year old. I think it is a benefit of the male brain. While I am constantly thinking about the millions of things that need to be done – dinner, cleaning up, work, getting ready for the day – my husband is present in what he is doing in that moment and doesn’t think about anything else. I read somewhere that the the male brain is like a computer screen with one tab open at a time. The female brain is like a computer screen with several windows operating on the screen at the same time.

    I am working on being better at just sitting and playing with my kids instead of occupying them with an activity while I get something done. Twenty minutes is totally doable!

  126. Brinkley says...

    I’m the mom of two boys (4 and 7), and I remember reading a piece a long time ago (forgot where) about boys and hugs. The basic point was that boys often express their feelings in ways that don’t trigger our parent brains to give hugs; they yell or punch or kick, and our immediate instinct is to react sternly, to stop the madness before sibling gets punched/carpet gets stained/toy gets broken. It’s automatic to hug boys in those sweet, cuddly moments (story time, wrapped in a towel after a bath, first thing in the morning), but hard to remember that it might also help when they are kicking and screaming on the floor, or mid-stranglehold on little brother. But a lot of times it does!

    • heather says...

      I love this. Sometimes when my 3 year old is making me crazy climbing all over me and grabbing at me when I’m trying to do something else (like eat, or change someone else’s diaper), I get so frustrated with him.. and he probably really just needs some physical contact. Thanks for this tip.

  127. Emily says...

    OMG the timing of this is impeccable. My almost-2-year old had the most epic/insane tantrum this morning over us breaking off the tip of the banana by hand to give to her (instead cutting it with a knife I guess???) And yesterday there were two restaurant tantrums… the “green” crayon wasn’t red and she couldn’t have a sip of my cider. We were those people with the screaming kid! It’s just been getting worse and worse, OMG the drama. I will have to try this!

  128. Caroline says...

    My go-to method for tantrums is to repeat what the child is screaming about over and over, like “You wanted to wear the grey tights? And they’re in the washing machine? So they’re wet? And you wanted to wear them? And now they’re wet? Wow! I’d be so angry if I were you!” It sounds silly, but it works! (Unless they’re really gone over the edge and are so deep in the tantrum, they can’t hear what you’re saying. Don’t worry – I’ve been there too!) I’m going to try the floor-time idea now too. Thanks for passing it on!

  129. Dottie Louise says...

    What great advice! I don’t have any children just yet but I’ll be sure to remember this (and add the book to my wishlist :P)! It’s funny how sometimes something simple really works!

  130. Lindsey says...

    Um YES! We had a new baby (and moved when he was 3 weeks old), and our 3-year-old went (understandably) berserk. It’s so hard to remember when she’s arguing and screaming that’s she’s still very little. Sometimes the best thing is to just ask, “Do you need a hug?” That almost always helps.

  131. Needed. This. Today. We had a heck of a weekend. My daughter is 3.5 and just hasn’t been listening very well at all. She is intensely strong-willed and I’m a pleaser, so it’s confusing for me to know how to parent her sometimes. At an event on Saturday night, a 3 year old boy went missing and everyone was frantic. It just reminded me that being so insistent she stay close and hold my hand isn’t actually being a terrible mom and limiting her independence…

    Playing with her after work on the floor needs to be happening again…even when I’m tired (especially when I’m tired).

  132. Christina says...

    My two year old is in a really bad tantrum phase and I will try this approach immediately. It makes so much sense! Thanks for sharing.

  133. Jessie says...

    I can only speak from my perspective as a mother whose child is on the autism spectrum (but maybe some of these tips are helpful for neurotypical kids, too).
    What I’ve learned from my child’s aides & therapists is that you can’t try to reason with them when they’re in the thick of the tantrum. I’ve found saying things like “I understand you’re upset now. When you have a calm body & voice, I will help you”. You validate their feelings, let them get it out (safely), & then when they calm down, talk to them. I ask what made him upset (sometimes the answers are surprising!), then talk about a different choice he could’ve made (i.e. “Instead of yelling, you could say ‘Mom, I’m angry because xyz'”), then we practice. Time consuming, yes, but it helped my son in the long run.
    We also have the “zones of emotional regulation”, with colors corresponding to moods/emotions. Red for anger, blue for sad, yellow for happy/silly & green for calm. We can ask him where he is at the moment & him having this one word code helps him tell us how he’s feeling w/o having to get too wordy when he’s so escalated.
    Hugs are also great for calming kids down ?.
    My son is older than yours (6). But maybe these will help? Good luck!

    • Carrie says...

      I love your approach!

    • cgw says...

      yes, mine is a high functioning autistic and it helped so much when we would acknowledge her emotions and what she was going through. Also it helped her identify some feelings that were perhaps new to her, or she didn’t have a word for yet. Now she is much more able to let us know how she feels before entering meltdown phase… granted she’s 11 now.

  134. Amanda says...

    That is just so sweet. And really, reminds me that when I take the opportunity too, to really be with my son, it is so nourishing for both of us. Thank you for the reminder.

  135. maya says...

    How do you play alone without Toby interrupting or trying to join in? I have two boys the same ages and find that alone time can be tricky when it’s just me and two of them since the other always wants to join in the fun.

    • Brianne says...

      I was thinking the same thing! Mine are exactly 1 year apart so if i try to build a train set with the 3 1/2 year old, the 2 1/2 year old is focused on destroying each piece that we built!

    • NSU says...

      Toby’s probably at school…

  136. Emily says...

    Love this idea! Jo when do we get a house tour of your new home? I can’t wait!

  137. I admit I hate playing on the floor with my kids. :( But this is the first compelling argument I’ve heard for doing so. Might have to give it a try!! :)

    • Lindsey says...

      I’m not a player either, but I’ve found snuggling while reading books has the same effect :)

    • Neena says...

      You made my day, I always feel like I am the only one who doesn’t like it, so glad to know we are at least two! But you are right, if there ever was a good reason to get out of the comfort zone, this must be it.

    • KN says...

      I’m not much of a player or pretender (also not a mom, but aunt to many and babysitter to LOTS) and so I’ve had to figure out the kinds of games and toys that I like to play with – not just the kids! I’ve found that I love sorting and colors and Legos with fun characters. So maybe it’s also just a matter of finding those toys that you enjoy, as well!

  138. Marcy says...

    Love this idea. We have a 4.5 year old who is an only child, but we both work full time, so there’s still a lot he has to compete with. We struggle with a protracted bedtime routine–bath/book/story/singing can stretch on for more than an hour, and as much as I love my son, after a long day of work…etc, I’m exhausted by 7:30, and just want some time to myself. It would be great to get some unrushed time with him in the morning to play and hang out so that we’re not trying to cram ‘together time’ in at the end of the day when everyone is beat. Thanks Joanna, for always giving these great, managable pieces of advice!

  139. Victoria says...

    Gosh, what great timing! I have a 2.5 year old who has just started to have proper (hysterical, screaming, stropy) meltdowns. I’m going to try this over the next few days and report back :-)

  140. Above all, I remain calm and let the storm pass! I never punish for tantrums (after all, they can’t help it and it can be even a little scary to them when they lose control) but I also never give in. A big long hug when it’s all over reassures that the love remains no matter what.

  141. Heather says...

    Oh my gosh. I so needed this post today! My daughter is two and has been REALLY trying my patience. Thank you! Thank you!

    I am looking forward to our floor time this evening!

  142. Sarah says...

    This is SO helpful. That and your lovely writing are why I check this blog every day (multiple times a day). Thank you.

  143. Caroline says...

    I like this idea. Where is your older son when you are playing with the little guy?

  144. mosey says...

    Love this tip! I have a 3 year boy who went through an especially tantrumy/emotional phase a couple of weeks ago. He’s back to his normal self now bit I do spend more floor time with him, as he asks for it specifically “mommy will you sit on the floor with me and play”
    This is so interesting and I will def keep this in mind now.