Are You a Single Parent Dealing with Toddler Temper Tantrums?
By Linda Ranson Jacobs
“You heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for
help.” Psalm 31:24
The reason most preschool children throw temper tantrums
is because their little minds work faster than their
verbal skills. Basically they don’t have the words to
express what they want to do. Plus they are very self-centered
and all about “me”, which by the way, is God’s design
for little humans. As a single parent these outburst
can become frustrating and thinking on the spur of the
moment is difficult.
A single parent can give the little tykes words they
need. Let’s say Jamie wants a cookie and it’s right before
dinner. You tell her she can’t have the cookie and then
most moms go on to give a long reason why she can’t have
the cookie. Before you have gotten into the conversation,
Jamie has started throwing her tantrum. First of all,
you don’t need to give explanations to preschool children.
Most kids won’t be able to hear over their own screaming
anyway. So stop with all the talking and explaining.
What you can do is simply say, “No, you can’t have a
cookie right now.” If little Jamie begins to cry you
can empathize with her, not sympathize or feel sorry
for her. You can start to give words to Jamie’s feelings.
The conversation might go something like this and in
a tender but firm voice, “Oh, you are mad because you
are hungry and you want a cookie. Your face is going
like this (mom imitates the child’s facial expressions).
Your mouth is going like this and your nose is all scrunched
up like this.”
Mom is simply describing what the child is doing. The
child will more than likely look to see what your face
looks like. You aren’t making fun of your child but describing.
“Jamie is hungry and she wants a cookie. Is that right
Jamie? I know, it’s tough when you want a cookie and
I tell you no.” At this point the child should begin
to start calming down. You can then say something like,
“Jamie, use your words and tell me I am hungry. Say it
like this.... (with a lot of drama, mom says “I am hungry!”)
Yes, that’s right Jamie is hungry. Look at you, You did
it! You said, “I am hungry”. Me too. I am hungry too.
Come over here and help me sit the table so we can eat
dinner. Put the plates here and the cups here.”
As a single parent you have no one to turn to when your
child decides to go ballistic. Also keep in mind that
your child does not get to see interaction between two
adults in the home. Single parents have to work harder
to help their children develop problem solving skills
and good interaction between people. This is especially
true if there has been a lot of arguing and fighting
between you and the child’s other parent. Children are
great imitators and they will more than likely model
the behaviors they see more than they will do what you
tell them to do.
Adding empathy to a child’s tantrum helps the child
understand there is not going to be a fight. You are
in control. Giving Jamie words helps her learn to describe
what she wants or how she feels. You can also use feeling
words if it’s appropriate. Giving empathy doesn’t mean
you are going to give in and give little Jamie the cookie.
You are merely letting Jamie know you understand. Then
you distract Jamie with having her contribute to the
world instead of taking away from it with her tantrums.
Make sense? If the child has good verbal skills, you
can even add something like, “When you help me, I can
get dinner ready faster and then we can eat quicker.”
It helps the child learn that you have needs and feelings
With preschool age children, simple demands work well.
If you give in just one time, you have set the pattern
and taught the preschooler, “If I hold out long enough,
I’ll get what I want!” If little Jamie continues to scream
and cry after you have had the empathy talk, then pick
her up, take her to her room and leave her with NO audience
to watch. Say, “When you stop screaming, you can come
back in the kitchen.” and turn and walk away. Some of
these smart little tykes can scream for a l-o-n-g time.
They can outlast you, the parent. But while they are
screaming they shouldn’t have an audience watching them.
Too many parents do way too much talking. We get good
at telling kids what not to do but we don’t tell them
what we want them to do very well. Also replace the word
“no” with “stop”. Stop is an action word. When little
Jamie takes off running toward the street or doing something
she shouldn’t, you need to have an action word you can
say immediately with emphasis that Jamie will understand
to “stop”. No is an answer to a question, not an action
If at all possible work with the other parent and encourage
them to do the same when the child is at the other parent’s
home. I realize it may not be possible to work with the
other parent. Kids are pretty perceptive and they will
learn what is acceptable at your home and what they can
get away with at the other home.
Empathy, distraction, labeling of feelings and giving
words to actions will help any preschool age child. After
all of that, take away the audience.
After all doesn’t God do that for us? “The Lord is close
to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed
in spirit.” Psalm 34:18
Linda Ranson Jacobs
Single Parent Family Ministry
© 2008 by the author
This publication is protected under U.S. Copyright laws
[© Linda Ranson Jacobs, 2008] However, it is also a ministry
to those who need it ... so, while you may pass along
this article freely, please check before reprinting anything
in another publication. In most cases, all she requires
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IMPORTANT NOTE: Nothing in this or other emails or materials
from Linda Ranson Jacobs should be considered as psychological
or legal advice. Linda is not a psychologist, psychiatrist,
therapist, or lawyer. These suggestions are simply suggestions
and not guaranteed solutions to your particular problems.
Linda offers this information because she was a single
mom for years and ran a child care where the majority
of her children were from single parent families. She
offers support, encouragement, and suggestions to help
you succeed as a single parent.