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Anjali Varma Headshot

How To Manage Toddler Meltdowns

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The scene was the same one I had been judgmental about so many times before I became a parent. My youngest child was lying in the dairy aisle kicking and screaming -- a full-fledged meltdown in the middle of the grocery store! The terrible 2's had most definitely arrived.

This type of meltdown happens to be my little one's favorite method of protest. He "goes limp" and lies down on the floor wherever he may be -- outdoors on the sidewalk, in the dairy aisle of the grocery store, in a muddy patch in the park -- he doesn't discriminate. In fact, he typically selects the dirtiest, most trafficked destinations!

What is the best way to handle these meltdowns? My four-prong approach of getting frustrated, yelling, threatening "time out" and standing there mortified didn't seem to be working. After consulting with several parents, I realized I wasn't alone. I decided to host a parenting seminar at Kidville to help parents like myself tackle the toddler meltdown dilemma.

Parenting counselors Jessica Kramer and Susan Richman provided sound advice on managing and preventing these meltdowns, including the following tips:

1. Remain calm. I know, easier said than done. However, when a parent gets upset and loses their temper, it only escalates the meltdown. If you are at home and have to walk away to compose yourself, then walk away!

2. Identify the cause of the meltdown. Meltdowns often occur because our little ones are trying to communicate a frustration or request. Are they hungry, tired, anxious about separating from you, or simply vying for your attention? Take note of the cause. Even if it's too late to stop the current meltdown, it will be helpful in preventing a future one.

3. Wait it out. Once a meltdown has begun, you will have to let it run its course. Children often have to cry it out and become calm on their own before you can step in and start to make them feel better. Our counselors also recommend not removing the child to "time out" but letting them meltdown wherever they are in the moment.

4. Addressing the public meltdown. If you are out in a public place, the first step is to make sure your child is safe. If the child is not creating an unbearable scene, then let him or her cry it out and even walk away until he or she calms down. If you do walk away, make sure that you and your child can still see one another. It will only add to the child's anxiety and further the meltdown if your little one is scared or feels abandoned in an unknown place. If the meltdown is too severe for a public setting, then the experts suggest picking up your child and leaving the establishment all together (even if that means leaving a full cart of groceries behind). Once the child has calmed down, you should explain that you left due to his or her behavior. Again, much easier said than done -- who wants to leave the grocery store mid-shopping? However, according to the experts, that is the most effective way to end the meltdown and prevent another one from occurring in the future.

During our seminar, the counselors also confirmed my suspicions: The grocery store is a notoriously difficult place to take a child prone to meltdowns. It is filled with stressed-out shoppers, overstimulation and too many temptations for children. When you put all of those factors together, you are practically begging your child to meltdown!

I've started to use many of the tips from our seminar and the meltdowns are becoming more manageable. I've learned that I can't control my little one's tantrums or prevent them from happening, but I can control how I react to them. Hopefully the grocery store will become less daunting!