Development FAQ: 12-18 months – Tantrums

Over the past few weeks my 15-month-old daughter has had several tantrums while we are out shopping. I find it so embarrassing to have her kicking and screaming and feel that everyone is looking at me. I have tried to calm her down, but this makes things worse, and it is often not clear what has set her off in the first place. What is the best way to deal with this behaviour?

Tantrums are a normal part of early childhood and most bystanders will be sympathetic despite their stares. Trying to reason with your daughter at this age will just prolong the kicking and screaming, as she will not be able to comprehend what you are saying. Although you will learn what sets her off, and may be able to steer her away from such situations, there will always be a few tantrums that cannot be explained, other than your child has got to a state where she feels unable to cope any more.

Tantrums in babies and small children are often the result of hunger, tiredness or frustration at not making themselves understood. Once you are aware of the warning signs that a tantrum may be imminent, try using a distraction to help to head it off. It is a good idea to try to arrange trips to the supermarket or shops at times of the day when your toddler is not likely to be hungry or tired. Do be aware of how long she is able to cope before she begins to get frustrated and plan your outings accordingly. At your daughter’s age, long shopping trips will bore her and trouble may start. If at all possible, it would be better to leave her at home with a friend or relative and for you to enjoy such a trip alone and in peace. If, however, she does have to accompany you, be prepared by taking a drink and small snack with you, such as a box of raisins. This should help to keep your toddler occupied while you try to finish your shopping as quickly as possible.

Getting to know the best way to handle your toddler when she is kicking and screaming may require trying different approaches. Some toddlers will calm down more quickly if they are held on your lap, from behind. Place your arms around her body and constrain her flailing limbs. It may help if you whisper quietly and calmly into her ear, as she will have to stop screaming to listen to you. If your toddler responds to you in this way, you can use it to help her get over her frustrations more quickly. Once she is calm again, give her a cuddle and then continue with what you were doing.

If you have a toddler who does not like being held, then don’t try to use this method. She may calm down more quickly if you ignore her altogether, but stay nearby to make sure that she does not hurt herself in any way. When she realises that you are not paying her any attention, she may well stop screaming and you can then pick her up and give her a cuddle.

Once you have learned how to handle your daughter’s tantrums in public places, you will not feel so embarrassed by them. Remember that they are part of her continuing development towards independence – and are not a reflection of your parenting skills! Providing she knows that she has your unconditional love, even though she appears not to want it as she kicks and screams, she will gradually learn to handle her frustrations and the tantrums will fade away. If you consult the Features list on the website, you will come across several helpful articles, which go into further detail on this important subject.

Sleeping FAQ: 0-8 weeks – Settling/Sleep Associations

How do we get our 7 week old to settle himself in the night?

My son goes to bed well at 7pm then needs to be woken for his 10.30pm feed. We keep him awake for 45-60mins when he will take about 3ozs from a 4oz bottle. He never takes any feed once the lights have gone off. He then sleeps to 3.15-3.30am. The problem is he will not settle after his night feed, although he falls asleep at the end of it and won’t take any more. When he is slightly aroused to be put down, he wakes fully and thrashes around beginning to cry. When he is offered more food or water, he rejects both. This is a very recent problem as he has been going down with no problems until about 3 days ago.

I have tried putting him down asleep, but he wakes as soon as he hits the mattress. We have a feeling he might just want some company, as when you go in to settle him he will quieten down quickly, even though he has worked himself up. He can be very rigid before calming down.
Is he too young for us to to start controlled crying? He sleeps in a Grobag, tucked in with a sheet in a crib, although I plan to put him in a cot from this weekend.
He does not settle well at his daytime naps, but does go down well at 7pm. His daytime naps can be varied depending on his wakings. He often goes straight back to sleep at 8am and sleeps until 9.15am. He is then up until his lunchtime nap at 11.30am. This is often taken in the car or pram. He happily catnaps in the afternoon for about 45mins.

At present he takes 7am 4oz, 10.30 3-4oz, 2pm 4oz, 5pm 3oz, 6.15pm 3oz, 10,30 3-4 oz, 3.15am 3-4oz. He weighed 6.15oz at birth and now weighs 9lb 8oz, putting on a regular 8ozs each week.

To try to get your baby settling better after his night feed, begin to give a split feed at 10pm. Wake him at 10pm, making sure he is really awake before feeding. Bring him downstairs into the light and noise of the TV or radio. Offer him a 3oz feed and let him take a good 2-3ozs. Let him have a good kick afterwards and let him stay wide awake for until 11/11.15pm. Then change him and offer a fresh feed of another 2-3ozs. Don’t be tempted to use the same bottle as the one given at 10pm, as the residue of milk left in the teat could begin to taint its taste. Once he has finished his feed take him upstairs and settle him to sleep. Being downstairs in the light will encourage him to take a good feed at this time.

All small babies need a time awake between 7pm and 7am, it is better to get this in at the 10pm feed rather than coping with a baby who is not sleepy in the night.

This plan may well take 3-5 nights to really take effect so keep to it consistently. In about two weeks if he is back to settling well during the night, you can begin to cut back very slowly on the time that he is awake at 10pm. Cut back on his waking by 5-10mins every few nights, until he is only awake for 30-45 minutes at this time.

The effect of splitting this feed, and your son being happier to settle back to sleep as soon as his night feed is finished, should be his ability to stay awake longer before his morning nap.

Once he is sleeping through to 7am from his night feed begin to encourage him to stay awake longer before going down for his morning nap. If he doesn’t automatically stay awake longer, begin to very gently encourage him on towards 8.45am, by keeping him up 5-10 minutes longer for a few day,s and then increasing the time again by another 5-10 minutes. To help him be happier about staying awake at this time, change his position, perhaps a spell of kicking followed by a period in his chair downstairs, whilst you eat breakfast. Change him and let him have 5-10 minutes kicking without his nappy on, whilst on his change mat.

Once he is going down nearer to 9am and sleeping for 45 minutes, you may find he is easier to settle for a full 2 hours at lunchtime. Whilst the odd trip out in the pram and car is fine, be aware that some small babies will begin to associate the motion of pram or car with sleep during the day, and not be willing to settle themselves to sleep for 2 hours on the days when they are at home.