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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 also.

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 word.

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 is proper credit.

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.

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