Just ignore it

Just ignore it, we’re told as our previously placid little darling transforms into a screaming monster.

Just ignore it, as they throw themselves to the floor and beat their heels.

Just ignore it, as they violently push you away and refuse to cuddle.

For parents who have just got this feeding, sleeping, moving gig worked out toddlerhood can be a bit of a shock.

And just ignoring it is actually pretty good advice, so long as you know what you are ignoring.  Because there are two completely different interpretations of this common trick, and I’d argue that both can be useful at different times but absolutely disastrous at others.

The most common interpretation is to ignore your toddler.  Toddlers are little attention addicts, and if they feel they aren’t getting enough then they are quite capable of putting on a show to get more.  They are like junkies not caring if it is good or bad attention, just as long as they are at the centre of the world.  This is definitely a time to ignore them.  Doing anything, even yelling, threatening or any of the other things you might fantasise about, will just make it worse, because then it becomes a tactic that works.  They got your attention!  So that’s the time for calmly putting them on a rug or even in a bare room where they can’t hurt themselves or anything else, and quietly going to fortify your nerves for dealing with them when they finish.  Chocolate works well.

But that isn’t the only reason for tantrums, and in fact I’ve only seen that sort of tantrum in older toddlers, so what about the others?

Toddlers have no idea of what they need or what is good for them, they only know what they want.  So if you say no, a tantrum is a potent weapon to beat you around the ears and ankles until you change your mind in self-defense.  In this situation, ignoring the tantrum can work wonders.  If you can, hide whatever it was they wanted so it isn’t in their face reminding them they are angry, then you keep talking and interacting with your screaming, red faced child as if they are the smiling, cooing delight they normally are.  I find going outside an almost certain winner, not only do my kids love it, it stops the screams from echoing so much.  And there are so many distractions to offer, when one is indignantly pushed away there’s always something else.  And if all that fails, there are lots of jobs I can start that they can help Mummy with.  Giving them a handful of pegs and walking off to the line either works or gives me some space.

And then there is the third type of tantrum, which I don’t really think is a tantrum at all.  It is the sheer built up frustration of having so many things to do and say and not being able to get them across.  Of desparately wanting to be grown up but not able to get the pen to work properly, of being so tired of trying to get your message across to adults whose telepathy just isn’t working.  Of being tired full stop!  And the only thing that can help in a situation like that is a good cry.  Think about it – we all have a cry (or at least feel like a cry) when it all gets too much, and we don’t call it a tantrum.  We recognise that sometimes you just need a cuddle while you let it all out.  So when that happens to a toddler, they need the same thing we do.  Plus baby sign language.  (Personally I also go for the chocolate again, but that’s probably not a good idea with a hyperactive little person.)

So when your laughing, charming little bundle of joy transforms into the devil child, maybe you should just ignore it.  But first do a check of what you are ignoring and why.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by notagod on August 17, 2009 at 8:25 am

    Thankyou 🙂 Going through the terrible twos right now, combined with “I can’t remember the last time I slept through”, it’s nice to be reminded. Sometimes, it’s hard being down in the middle of the onslaught, trying to remember what you were trying to achieve.


  2. One of the reasons I wrote it was to remind myself of what I was supposed to be doing! It’s much easier to write calmly about how you should deal with tantrums than it is to actually do it 🙂


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