Toddler Co-operation


Toddler Co-operation


The Big Three: Tantrums, Fussing and Whining

by Elizabeth Pantley

Author of The No-Cry Discipline Solution

If you ask parents to list the most frustrating discipline problems during the early childhood years, you would find that these three items appear on every parent’s list. They are so common that I refer to them as The Big Three. All children master their own version of these behaviors, some are more talented in one area over another, and they appear and disappear at various ages and stages – but every parent has to deal with them!

Controlling their emotions

Most often tantrums, fussing and whining are caused by a child’s inability to express or control his emotions. When a child is stressed in any way he’s more likely to lose control. Tiredness, hunger, boredom, frustration and other causes that ignite The Big Three can frequently be avoided or modified. The best way to use this knowledge is to watch your child carefully. When she begins a meltdown, try to determine if you can tell what underlying issue is causing the problem. Is it past naptime? Is she due for a snack? Is the puzzle too much beyond her ability level? Solve the base problem and you’ll help your child gain control of her emotions.

Handling tantrums, fussing and whining

No matter how diligent you are in recognizing trigger causes, your child will still have meltdown moments. Or even meltdown days. Children are human beings, after all. Young humans, without the experience and wisdom that will grow over time. And all children need the guidance of a strong adult to help them gain this experience and wisdom – they can’t do it on their own. The following tips can help you handle those inevitable bumps in the road along the way. Be flexible and practice those solutions that seem to bring the best results for your child in any given situaiton.

Get eye-to-eye

When you make a request from a distance, yelling from room-to-room, your child will likely ignore you, if he hears you at all. Noncompliance creates stress, which leads to fussing and tantrums – from both of you. Instead, go to your child, get down to his level, look him in the eye and make a clear, concise request. This will catch his full attention. Plus, you will know that he really did hear you and can get him to verify that he understands what you need him to do.

Tell him what you DO want

Avoid focusing on misbehavior and what you don’t want him to do. Children hear far to many Nos, Don’ts and Stops. These negative words bring more resistance from your child.  Instead, explain exactly what you’d like your child to do or say in a positive, specific way. It gives him simple instructions to follow. So instead of saying, “Stop bickering over your toys!” a better choice is, “I’d like the two of you to find a fair way to share your toys.”

Offer the freedom of choices within limits

You may be able to avoid problems by giving your child more of a say in his life. Children crave independence, yet we must remain in control of this growing need. You can do this by offering choices between two or three things that you will accept. Instead of saying, “Put your coat on  right now,” which may provoke a tantrum, offer a choice, “What would you rather do, wear your coat or bring along a sweatshirt?” Children who are involved in their own decision making are often happily cooperating without even realizing it!

Validate his feelings

Help your child identify and understand her emotions. Give words to her feelings, “You’re sad. You want to stay here and play. I know.” This doesn’t mean you must give in to her request, but letting her know that you understand her problem may be enough to help her calm down. Follow the validation with a brief explanation and instructions, “The bus leaves soon, so take one last turn down the slide before we leave.”

Teach the Quiet Bunny

When children get worked up, their physiological symptoms keep them in an agitated state. They become tense, their breathing becomes rapid, and their You can teach your child how to relax and then use this approach when fussing begins.  You can start each morning or end each day with a brief relaxation session. Have your child sit or lie comfortably with eyes closed. Tell a story that he’s a quiet bunny. Name body parts (feet, legs, tummy, etc.) and have your child wiggle it, and then relax it.  Once your child is familiar with this process you can call upon it at times when he is agitated. Crouch down to your child’s level, put your hands on his shoulders, look him in the eye and say, let’s do our Quiet Bunny. And then talk him through the process. Over time, just mentioning it and asking him to close his eyes will bring relaxation.

Distract and involve

Children can easily be distracted when a new activity is suggested. If your child is whining or fussing try viewing it as an “activity” that your child is engaged in. Since children aren’t very good multi-taskers you might be able to end the unpleasant activity with the recommendation of something different to do.

Invoke his imagination

If a child is upset about something, it can help to vocalize his fantasy of what he wishes would happen: “I bet you wish we could buy every single toy in this store.” This can become a fun game.

Use the preventive approach

Review desired behavior prior to leaving the house, or when entering a public building, or before you begin a playdate. This might prevent the whining or tantrum from even beginning. Put your comments in the positive (tell what you want, not what you don’t want) and be specific.

When it’s over, it’s over. After an episode of misbehavior is finished you can let it go and move on. Don’t feel you must teach a lesson by withholding your approval, love or company. Children bounce right back, and it is okay for you to bounce right back, too.


by Elizabeth Pantley

The No-Cry Discipline Solution (McGraw-Hill 2007)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Give your inbox a dose of delight.

Sign up to receive helpful parenting info, program updates, contests, and special offers - right in your inbox.

Let’s be friends!

Join us on Instagram for the latest Mommy Connections news, promos and updates.