How to Handle Tantrums in the Montessori Way

Crying, screaming, kicking. Your toddler has lost their patience! They’re having a full-blown temper tantrum and you’re stuck in the middle of it.

Any parent recognizes this scenario. Whether your child usually has a sweet disposition or a fiery one, temper tantrums are part of growing up. Experts agree that temper tantrums are developmentally normal, especially for children who are three years old or younger. 

Dr. Montessori encouraged parents and teachers to “Respect all the reasonable forms of activity in which the child engages and try to understand them.” To follow this advice, we need to try to understand tantrums. 

Tantrums are simply a way for children to show that they’re completely overwhelmed by big emotions. Yet, haven’t we all felt overwhelmed by big emotions? The trouble is that toddlers are unable to express themselves effectively because of their limited vocabulary. Even older children may not have a lot of practice talking through their feelings. So, instead of telling us that they’re tired, frustrated, and hungry, they yell, hit, and shout.  

To approach tantrums the Montessori way, there are three steps to follow. 

  1. Show Empathy and Sportscast

Because our children don’t have the words to express themselves, we need to model this skill for them. Sometimes this is guesswork. But, we often have a good idea of why our children are upset. 

For example, you might say:

"You really don't want to brush your teeth!" or "You're angry that I won't buy you that toy."

This helps teach your child to recognize their own feelings and identify what’s upsetting them. Eventually, they’ll use this modeling as their inner voice. It will be their guide to communicating their feelings to others when they’re ready. On that note, what you say when you’re angry, sad, or upset is also an opportunity to model socially appropriate ways of sharing your feelings. Don’t worry! If you mess up, just apologize and move on. 

  1. Stay Calm and Hold the Boundary

The next step in managing tantrums the Montessori way is to hold boundaries. Often, tantrums arise when you’re enforcing a rule or boundary with your child. It’s important not to “give in” to tantrums, as your child will learn that the behaviors can be used to get their way. As calmly as possible, hold the boundary or state the new boundary. For example:

- "You can brush your teeth or I'll do it."
- "We'll leave the store now."

Sometimes, it can help to prepare your child ahead of time to avoid misunderstandings. For example, if your child often sees items that they’d like to buy in the store, you can tell them that you’re only buying items on your list and that they can help you pick out a pack of crackers. 

  1. Reconnect with Your Child

After a tantrum, your child has expended a lot of energy and may be feeling vulnerable. While during the tantrum, some children may refuse to be consoled, eventually, they will be ready. Once your child is calmer, or you sense they’re ready, offer a hug. Or, find a game to play, read a book, or have some fun in the kitchen

Ultimately, children want to feel connected and loved. During a tantrum, they may feel misunderstood, confused, angry, or all of these feelings. By reconnecting, we can help them reset and feel positive again. 

Tantrums aren’t easy. Yet, this stage, like many others in childhood, will also pass. How do you handle tantrums? 

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Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash