Gentle Parenting Success Stories and Suggestions #8

November 4th, 2010 by Dionna | 12 Comments
Posted in Carnival and Special Series, Gentle Discipline Ideas, Successes, and Suggestions, Gentle/Positive Discipline, natural parenting, Respond with Sensitivity

Today’s post is a gentle parenting QUESTION (aka “suggestions”) post – please read to the end and give this mama some feedback on how you have handled toddler tantrums in a gentle way.


Hi mamas, I need some help! My 14 month old has started throwing tantrums. Big ones. He is not yet at the age where I can talk him out of it. He does not talk at all yet either. What can I do?

To make matters worse, he is cutting his back teeth, which makes the tantrums infinitely more intense. We do teething gel (Hylands), teething tablets, ibuprofen, and I’m on the hunt for an amber necklace.

The tantrums happen when he doesn’t get his way. I try to talk him down, but he is so little and really doesn’t get anything I say. I try hugs and kisses, but he arches his back and pushes me away. Distractions seem to work momentarily, bit I don’t just want to distract him from the way he’s feeling, I want him to learn to face his feelings. He’s also started screaming/shrieking/screeching all the time now. I wish I could nurse him through it, but I was never able to breastfeed.

I work with my parent’s company, so my son gets to go with me to work every day. We have lots of toys there for him and we take him outside a few times a day to run around. There are only four of us working there and everyone loves on my son all the time. I’m also a single mom, but his father and I are still the best of friends. Please help, I’m on the verge of losing it!

There are two resources that have been the most helpful to me in my own gentle parenting journey. First, reading about others’ experiences: real-life examples of challenges met with respect and compassion can be both educational and inspirational. Second, when I face a challenge of my own, I have always been able to turn to my local AP group for a fresh perspective and creative ideas.

I’d like to provide a resource like that here at Code Name: Mama, so I’ve introduced a series that will feature your stories and questions. In particular, I’d love to feature stories that build on consensual living principles or the techniques and ideas discussed in books like Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids; Playful Parenting; Unconditional Parenting; and Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves.

I am not looking for stories about parenting techniques such as time-outs, negative consequences, coercion, or punishment.

If you have a gentle parenting success story or a question on how to gently handle a challenging situation with your toddler or preschooler, please read the contributor guidelines and contact me. Let’s not go through this journey alone!

12 Responses to:
"Gentle Parenting Success Stories and Suggestions #8"

  1. kadiera   kadiera

    I’m a big fan of sign language for toddlers. It helps with situations where your child can’t talk yet, but needs to tell you what he is upset about. The fact that it allows other types of communication is a plus too, but for us, cutting down on the tantrums of our non-verbal 2.5 year old is priceless.

  2. Kristin

    I have a few thoughts about this. First, I don’t think he’s old enough yet to face his feelings and deal with them like an adult or even an older kid would. It takes a long time to develop that kind of emotional maturity, and I think the best you can probably do at this age is to help him start learning words for his feelings. I do this a lot with my 18mo. “I can see you’re angry because I won’t let you color on the library books.” Or, “You’re upset because you want Mama to stop washing dishes and play with you instead.” After I say something like that, then I either pick her up and comfort her, or I try distraction and redirection. (“We’re not going to color on the books. Here is some paper you can color on.”) And for what it’s worth, I think distraction is an important strategy for emotional self-regulation that we all use all the time, so there’s nothing wrong with using that strategy with your little one.

    I guess the other major thing that helps in my house is noticing the situations and times of day when my daughter is more likely to throw a huge fit, then figuring out ways of heading off the tantrum before it gets going. For example, she used to get really mad when I would try to cook dinner. She would always want me to pick her up, but I couldn’t cook dinner with one hand. So I did two things: I got her a Learning Tower so she could see what I was doing and even “help” me, which made her a lot happier. And I also noticed that the late afternoon was the worst time of day to try to cook, since that’s her fussiest time of day, so I started doing dinner-related tasks at other times of the day. Preventing the tantrums works a lot better for me than trying to stop one once it’s already happening.

  3. Laura

    Get inside your child’s mind and figure out why he is doing what he is doing. What sets him up for mischief? Is there a pattern to the misconduct? Is he tired, bored, hungry, overloaded, or in the wrong place at the wrong age and time?

    Model nonaggression, encourage more gentle play: “Hug the bear,” “Pet nicely” “touch Mom gentle” If he hits or bites show him the nice way to use his hand or mouth, I take my daughters hitting hand and show her how to gently touch my face and hair.

    If you let him know you understand how he feels empathy causes the kid to click into a more rational mode and express his feelings.

    I know your child is only 14 months but this is a big time to begin showing him how to deal with his feeling, even if he is hitting you and trying to get a way from you he still want you to comfort him because he is going through a lot and doesn’t know exactly how to express his feeling.

    Sometimes the best solution is to just put him in a sling and carrier and give him extra close mom time, this can sometimes make everyone happier.

    I would say if you can distract him don’t feel like you aren’t teaching him how to deal with problems. When I am really mad occasionally I need to walk away or go do something else. This is perfectly fine to distract him especially if it makes him quit throwing a fit!

    Stay Calm and take a ton of deep breaths, if you find yourself starting to crack. Remember he won’t be this little forever!!

  4. Laura

    We’ve had several periods where our daughter seemed more prone to tantrums (she’s 23 months now). Around the age your son is now, hers seemed to stem from us ‘doing’ things ‘to’ her. We were able to prevent a lot of tantrums once we started asking her permission or asking her to do things for herself, that we had been doing for her before because she couldn’t.

    At first, it feels weird asking if you can wipe her nose, or help her up, or change her diaper, but it respects her feelings and I think helps cut down on how many tantrums even start. Of course, you can’t ask permission for everything, because there are things you need to do whether or not he consents. For those, some warning and a basic explanation. “I’m going to put your seatbelt on because we always ride buckled up in the car.” They understand a lot more than they can communicate right now.

    Since you’ve got him at work, it may be that there are just too many fun things that are off limits. The more you can say yes, the fewer tantrums. Even so, there will times you have to say no or take something away. That is a loss to a child that young and very important to them.

    Once the tantrum starts (and they will, no matter how much warning or permission you get) just be there for him. I offer hugs, but don’t force them, and try to name her feelings, like Kristin said. If she doesn’t want to be touched, I don’t. I stay with her and provide love as soon as she’s ready for it. When she calms down, I let her know it’s ok to have big feelings and that I still love her.

    Now that she’s getting more verbal and understands she can throw tantrums to get what she wants (or rather, that other kids can throw tantrums and get what they want ;), I ignore her completely until she calms down. Then I pretend like it didn’t happen and we go back to whatever it was we were doing. (Although a change of scenery soon after isn’t a bad idea if there’s some frustration going on.)

    The basic rule of thumb is ignore if they’re using words and comfort if they’ve lost control (you can’t speak if you’re truly upset because different parts of the brain are activated). Err on the side of comforting if there’s any question, but don’t give in if you were denying something prior to the tantrum.

    It’s no doubt a rough phase, but I think as long as you realize it will end eventually and that he’s not doing it on purpose to upset you, it’ll help you be a little more patient while it’s happening.

  5. shannon synclare

    i am pretty sure this is totally normal. my son started throwing some tantrums at the same age. i used the “happiest toddler on the block” method of mirroring his feelings.
    “you want you want you want to _______”. once he sees i know what he is feeling he usually calmed down and then i would finish with something like “we arent going outside right now, but we can play with a puzzle”. just know that just like that phase at 12 months where they freak out when you put them down, leave the room, etc it will pass. then they will start something else!

    • shannon synclare

      oh and i almost forgot from 12-14 months he threw fits when i would try to cook dinner daily. i dont know how you feel about tv, but i would save tv time for this time and put on some signing times video so i could get dinner going. also i would try to start getting things ready earlier in the day so it took less time at dinner time. i agree that preventing tantrums is easier HOWEVER i just had a second baby (my first is 21 months) and i am realizing now that some of things i have been doing are not going to work anymore. for instance i always keep snacks and drinks ready for car trips because he always hated the car…well now it is alot harder to remember all that stuff and whenever i get something for myself he expects to have some, well i plan on having more kids and they cant all get something everytime i go to starbucks and i cant deprive myself of a sweet coffee sometimes!

  6. kaila

    I like what Kistin says about helping him identify his feelings with words. Even if he isn’t talking much yet. It’s been said so many time but I’ll repeat, prevention! I find prevention to help out when it comes to tantrums! The basics; hungry? sleepy? over stimulated? bored? needing extra connection?. Once you have identified his needs, you would be able to more easily handle the tantrum. ” Oh, he doesn’t hate me and want to make my life difficult, he just needs ____”.

    At 14 months, I have seen a lot of desire for independence starting to come out from my children. I really try to empower them and give them lots of opportunities to do things themselves and make choices for themselves which I believe can sometimes lower the amount of daily tantrums.

    I think tantrums are normal! We all have them. Children, particularly toddlers, are just not experienced enough or equipped with the tools for dealing with them yet. Other than screaming, crying, hitting. Ride it out. Help your toddler identify those feelings and find positive ways to express them!

  7. Krista

    I actually had to stop to remember if I wrote this last night when I was tired but realized my son is 16 months, not 14. I can’t offer suggestions because nothing is helping but I can say that you’re not alone!!!

  8. I’d just like to say that at 14 months he probably understands an awful lot more than you give him credit for, so do keep talking him through it, even if it seems pointless.

  9. Sally

    Thanks for the support and ideas, everyone! :)

  10. Misha

    Our girls are ages 4yr and 6yr now, so I’m casting my memory back…

    We tried to anticipate their needs in all situations to prevent a melt-down. Are they going to be hungry, tired, hot/cold, etc?

    Baby sign language was excellent way for our girls to communicate their needs with us. It was amazing how quickly they picked up on basic signs.

    Offer choices (that you agree with) for most everything. Toddlers want to have control over their life, just like the rest of us. Even, “which shoe do you want to put on first? This one or that one?” You get his shoes on, and he got to be in control of how it got done.

    Also, some of the “Happiest Toddler on the Block” tips were really helpful. Little ones feel things very deeply.

  11. Jennifer   leangreenmama

    So many good ideas have already been shared (giving choices, asking permission, etc.). I also wanted to mention that I often find just being with my son and letting him be upset is all that I can do, and it seems to be all he needs. You might also want to look into whether your child is “spirited” — there’s a book called Raising Your Spirited Child that might be helpful from a “diagnostic” standpoint so you can see if your child is more intense than others (not that there’s anything wrong with spirited kids, but it might be useful info for you anyhow). I don’t follow much of the disciplinary advice whatsoever in that book, preferring to validate, hug or give space as needed (hugging only works when the child wants it — sometimes just being there and saying “mama’s here and loves you” is more helpful than hugging with a child who doesn’t want affection when mad), help my son learn the words he needs to express his feelings verbally (now that he’s a bit older — at your child’s age, it wasn’t viable, though I still did the talking in simpler terms and saw some comprehension) and generally just show him it’s OK to be upset. (I’m spirited myself — more so than my son, actually — so it’s actually not as stressful for me to deal with his tantrums because I really get them since he’s wired a lot like me … with the brain development of a toddler, of course!). :)

    And I too have to say that anticipating and preventing situations from arising where my son is overly stimulated/tired/hungry also helps immensely. Oh, one more resource might help — The Highly Sensitive Child might also be a good one to look into. I think the website is, and there’s a questionnaire. Again, this is helpful to see if your child is highly sensitive (mine is, as am I — we’re both double whammies) :) because highly sensitive people of all ages are far more prone to overstimulation from seemingly normal situations that might have no effect on a non-HSP, and my son at almost 3 nearly always has a big meltdown if he gets overly stimulated. But it’s rare that that happens because I know what works for him now and what just is too much for him to process.

    I feel strongly about not ignoring our children when they are upset because (just my opinion!) this teaches them that it’s not OK to be upset and I feel personally that this also suggests that mama doesn’t love him if he’s upset/screaming/etc. (see Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting as a good reference on this topic). I do sometimes tell my son that I am just going to sit quietly with him until he’s able to help me figure out what he needs (after I’ve tried my usual techniques like asking questions and trying to figure out what’s wrong/get him to tell me what’s wrong if there is in fact something wrong other than his just being tired or whatever, in which case there’s often no rational reason for being upset, but he’s upset nonetheless), but I also let him know that if he needs a hug or anything else, mama is right there with him.

    Some of what I’ve mentioned is easier to do once the child is older, of course, but just being present and calm, showing love and understanding (while not condoning anything hurtful like hitting — not that a 14-month-old is really able to get that; my almost 3 year old is just now starting to get this, and this seems to be true for his peers as well) and telling him how to channel his frustration constructively (which he’ll get to some extent if you keep things simple – “we don’t hit,” “gentle gentle,” and so forth) will help, and before long he’ll have more words to share what’s going on. Good luck!

  • Grab my new badge!

    Visit Code Name: Mama

  • Visit Natural Parents Network
  • Display & participate!

    Visit Code Name: Mama

  • Carnival of Weaning

    Carnival of Weaning