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Ignoring your toddler’s tantrum doesn’t work, but showing compassion does

Compassion is not a reward—it is the heart of relationships.

Ignoring your toddler’s tantrum doesn’t work, but showing compassion does

Time and again, I see and hear advice to ignore children who are in emotional distress. Those who both give and receive this advice do so with the best of intentions. They love children and believe it is in a child’s best interest to “train them out of tantrums” by ignoring because they believe that anything else will reinforce or fuel this “bad behavior.”


There are several things at play here that we need to address in order to bring compassion to our responses with our children.

1. We have subscribed to the idea that tantrums are bad behavior.

We believe children have tantrums in a calculative manner with the intent to manipulate us to either give them attention or give them something they want. When we understand how the developing brain of a child works, we can quickly debunk this idea that young children (babies and toddlers) are being deliberately manipulative.

Rather, true tantrums occur when the limbic system (the emotional center of the brain) becomes overloaded and alarms trigger the lower brain, sending them into a meltdown. When the lower brain is in charge, children have little control over their actions, and screaming, kicking, and crying are a discharge of the overwhelming feelings.

Many things can overload the limbic system and trigger the lower brain, and to us, those things may seem very insignificant—silly even—and so our initial response is often dismissive. Who really gets that upset over the way a sandwich is cut? This judgment blocks our compassion because when we trivialize the emotional experience of another, we feel validated in not offering our support.

2. Tantrums make us uncomfortable.

There’s another reason we want to ignore a tantrum and that is the emotional response it invokes in our own brains. Because we humans are so interconnected, our mirror neurons are firing when we see our child in distress and it causes us to feel like we are in distress, too.

We don’t want to feel uncomfortable, so we push the cause of our discomfort (the child) away. Ignoring is basically like constructing a mental wall that doesn’t allow their pain to become our pain, and here again, trivializing their experience comes in handy because we use that “logic” (thanks to our fully developed frontal lobes) to ease our own discomfort.

3. We are afraid that compassion will reward the tantrum.

Connection is one of our most basic human needs. We all long to feel heard, validated, loved, accepted and attached, not only when we are our best selves, but also when we are our worst selves. Imagine a spouse, partner, or friend withdrawing their attention and warmth from you because you are crying, upset and in emotional distress.

What would it do for your relationship? How would it affect your emotional state? Now imagine that these people gave you a shoulder to cry on, listened as you communicated your frustration or sadness, and then, even if they couldn’t solve your problem for you, they said “I’m here for you.” Now ask yourself those same two questions.

Compassion is not a reward—it is the heart of relationships.

Psychologist, science writer, and emotional intelligence expert, Daniel Goleman says, “True compassion means not only feeling another’s pain but also being moved to help relieve it.” To extend compassion, we have to be willing to allow ourselves to feel our own discomfort and yet have the emotional stability to not become entangled in their distress but to be the lighthouse that shows them the way through the storm.

Different Kinds of Tantrums:

Thus far, I’ve been talking about the true emotional overwhelm, or what Tina Payne-Bryson calls “downstairs tantrums.” Read Upstairs and Downstairs Tantrums for a complete explanation.

Sometimes, particularly in older children beyond the preschooler years, a child will “pitch a fit” in an attempt to get you to give in. Hey, the frontal lobe is maturing! This isn’t true emotional distress, and parents can tell the difference. Even during this type of tantrum, though, you can still show compassion while standing your ground. When he realizes the fit doesn’t get him what he wants, it won’t be a tool he uses, and when you stay compassionate and calm in the face of it, he’ll learn what it looks like to show maturity.

The Bottom Line:

We don’t have to make a new sandwich and cut it the right way, buy them the toy, or let them stay up an hour later nor do we have to send them to their room or ignore them completely. Neither approach is the best for fostering emotional health.

Instead, I believe in offering compassionate, loving support while holding our boundaries and then, once the storm has passed, actively teaching children about their emotions and how they can respond when they feel upset. This approach strengthens relationships, resilience, and emotional intelligence.

Children must learn that kicking and screaming on the floor is not the way to deal with upsets, but they don’t learn how to handle those emotions by kicking and screaming alone. They learn by watching how we handle our upsets and by what we teach them before and after an emotional meltdown.

So don’t ignore! Help.


This article was originally published on Positive Parenting.


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The Motherly Shop is here 🎉 (and it has exactly what you need, mama)

We did the hard work for you, hand-picking the things you want and need and ensuring we only bring you the best—so you can take one thing off that full plate of yours.

Since the beginning, Motherly has existed to help mamas of all experiences feel seen, understood and supported. Through expert and mom-to-mom advice and information we've been here to help you along the motherhood journey.

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Stowaway Collection Maternity Becca dress

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12 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

Without camps and back-to-school plans still TBD, the cries of "I'm bored!" seem to be ringing louder than ever this summer. And if you're anything like me, by August, I'm fresh out of boxes to check on my "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys.

With that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite wooden toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

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Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

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Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

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Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

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Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

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Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$189

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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