The best way to prevent a tantrum might surprise you, mama

How to keep "big feelings" from taking over

prevent tantrums

Meltdowns, tantrums and sulking all signal a communication breakdown between parent and child. (Especially for toddlers who are just starting to learn how to talk.) And while staring down a kid in the midst of a full-blown tantrum is the stuff mom-memes are made of—with "it's funny because it's true" missives on felt letterboards—if a parent hasn't acknowledged the way they process and manage their own emotions and stress, it's hard for tantrum management tactics to work.

Why preventing tantrums means acknowledging your own reactions to stress

"So much of the work is before the meltdown," says Brandy Wells, a Columbus, Ohio-based licensed independent social worker specializing in childhood mental health, mom of three girls, and creator of My Motherhood Magic.

"When your child is experiencing a meltdown, you can become very frustrated...and most of the time it just doesn't come out in a very healthy way," Wells says.

There's another downside to reacting emotionally to your child's tantrum: Besides making you feel like the #worstmomever, your reaction is also teaching your child that negative attention-seeking behaviors actually work—increasing the likelihood you two will be squaring off again in the exact same way.

Breaking that cycle—or stopping it before it starts—begins with you.

Understand your own stress responses

Get in touch with how you react to stress in general, but especially in front of your child. When someone cuts you off in traffic, are you yelling and hitting your steering wheel? Are you and your partner prone to huffing and puffing when confronted with an inconvenience? Do you talk about your feelings or keep things bottled up until you explode? Kids pick up everything—and that includes these cues on expressing emotions.

You'll also want to explore if you have any past trauma around sharing your feelings—for example, a parent who ignored your tears and told you to toughen up. If you were often told "stop crying!" when you were a child, you may now find yourself replicating that pattern with your own kids.

Adults and children alike feel "big feelings." The important thing is showing your child how to deal with them.

Model what to do with "big feelings"

Consistent modeling helps your children identify their feelings and recognize the body and mind connection that happens when people—regardless of age—feel big feelings. Instead of swearing or lashing out in a stressful moment, take a breath and say what you're feeling: "Mommy feels nervous about being late for our appointment. It made me mad that this person cut in front of me. I can feel it in my stomach."

In order to show kids how to manage those big emotions, you have to do it, too: "I'm upset, so I'm going to take 10 big, deep breaths to help me calm down."

"We often sit and breathe together," says Sueann Hall, a mother of one who blogs about motherhood and raising a son with Sagittal Craniosynostosis. "When he's throwing a tantrum, I may be calm, but I'm probably five seconds away from losing it too."

Talk about emotions with your kids

It also helps to reshape your understanding of children's emotions, says Brandy Wells of My Motherhood Magic. They're valid, just like yours are.

"We dismiss kids' feelings all the time. It's very easy for us to [say], 'They're babies, they're kids, they feel either happy or sad.' Kids feel an immense amount of emotions just like we do as adults. So it's important for us to practice with them, I recognize you, I hear you, I see you."

You can make these kinds of conversations around feelings a regular occurrence in your home through reading and talking about books and playing games together.

"One of the best ways to increase a child's emotional vocabulary is through reading," says licensed clinical social worker Sarit Fassazadeh of Healing With Purpose Therapy in Encino, California. "Some great books I recommend are The Feelings Book by Dr. Lynda Madison, My Book of Feelings by Tracey Ross, A Whole Bunch of Feelings by Jennifer Moore-Mallimos and Gustavo Mazali, and What Are Feelings? by Christine Pym."

"Play therapists have known for years that games are the secret to getting kids to talk about their feelings," says Amy Rollo, a licensed professional counselor and founder of Heights Family Counseling in Houston. "One of my favorite games would be Feelings CandyLand where you share a feeling that corresponds to the color you land on. A similar adaptation can be made with Uno, or you can play Chutes and Ladders and share a positive when you go up the ladder and a negative experience when you go down a chute. Almost any game can be adapted to sharing emotions."

It's okay to not be okay

By reckoning with your own relationship with feelings, you'll be able to better help your kids navigate theirs.

"The only way that kids can keep their bodies calm is if they're in environments that are calm. If the people that are around them are calm," says Wells. "If you want your kid to calm down, the best thing to do is keep your cool."

But hey, life happens—and those mom memes about toddler tantrums exist for a reason. Sometimes we don't always have the right response ready at the right time. And when that happens, allow yourself the grace to tap out when you need to.

"A lot of times I tell parents and myself, 'Walk away,'" says Wells. "It's okay to be like, 'I'm so flustered right now, I just need to walk away.'"

As hard as it can be to remember in stressful moments, your feelings as a mother are valid, even when they feel overwhelming. Being kind to yourself is the first step in knowing how to respond to your child's emotions—and breaking the tantrum cycle.

We're so glad to live in a time when modern baby gear exists. Sure, no one is going to argue that having a baby is easy—but it can be easier with support from some gadgets designed to help your baby and put your mind at ease.

As you build your baby registry, look for products that go the extra mile to make your life a whole lot easier. For example, what's better than a bassinet? A bassinet that can rock by itself. And what's better than a traditional baby monitor? One that allows you to actually take a peek at your baby. Believe us when we say these upgrades can make all the difference.

Here are 10 baby gadgets that will make your life so much easier… relatively speaking, of course!

A bassinet to promote safe + sound sleep

HALO Innovations Bassinest Swivel Sleeper Essenta Series Nautical Net

The safest place for your newborn to sleep is in your room, but not in your bed. Thanks to the swivel function of the Halo Bassinest, you can easily tend to your baby during the night—which means more sleep for you, too. Trust us when we say that is the best gift you can give a new parent.


A smart swing for your baby

4moms mamaRoo 4 Bluetooth Enabled High-Tech Baby Swing - Classic

Believe it or not, many babies are born with strong opinions about how they want to be rocked, swung or shushed to calm down. With the mamaRoo's various motions and reclining positions, you'll be able to find a setting your baby loves when you need to free up your hands for a bit.


A complete travel system for car + sidewalk

Chicco Bravo Travel System - Indigo

No matter where the day takes you—or what mode of transportation you need to get there—getting a complete travel system for your baby will equip you for anything.


A swaddle you don’t have to wrestle

Love To Dream Swaddle UP Original

What do babies and Harry Houdini have in common? A knack for breaking out of tight constraints—which can be a headache when swaddling is the best way to help promote good sleep. Thanks to a breakout-proof swaddle that allows your baby to sleep with their hands up, you don't have to work up a sweat just to get your baby comfortably swaddled.


A nursery wherever you need it

Baby Trend Lil Snooze Deluxe II Nursery Center

During the early days of parenting (when you are feeding and changing your baby around the clock), having convenient access to everything you need with a go-anywhere nursery station can save you serious time and energy.


A little help for stuffy noses

Fridababy NoseFrida Nasal Aspirator

Up until the point years down the road when your child is able to blow their own nose, the sniffles can be a real struggle—but not with a nasal aspirator that makes it easy for you to get that snot out of their nose.


A way to keep an eye on your baby

VTech 5" Digital Video Baby Monitor - VM5251

Trust us when we say you'll sleep better when you know your baby is also sleeping soundly. That's why we're so thankful for modern-day video monitors, which allow you to check in on your sleeping baby without running the risk of waking them up when you sneak in for a peek.


A bassinet for hands-free rocking

Simmons Kids Silent Auto Gliding Elite Bassinet - Odyssey

Babies are soothed by rocking motions. But what does that mean for you if you can't rock them throughout the night? With an auto-gliding bassinet, they can comfortably drift off to sleep... and continue snoozing.


An easy way to contain diaper smells

Diaper Genie Expressions Pail

Sometimes it's the little conveniences that make a big difference in the quality of your day-to-day life. That's why a great diaper pail should not be undervalued: By containing the smell, you will save yourself dozens upon dozens of trips to the garbage can.


A white noise machine that pulls double duty

Hatch Rest Sound Machine, Night Light & Time-to-Rise

A phone-controlled sound machine may be something you never considered until now, but it will be a major lifesaver for years to come, especially as it can also function as a time-to-rise clock that promotes good sleep habits for your child.


And as for securing all these awesome products? Well, a Target baby registry is the way to do it. By creating your baby registry with Target, you will also enjoy their Year of Benefits registry program, which includes perks like a welcome kit with more than $100 in savings and samples, two 15% off coupons to complete your registry, and a full year of returns. The benefits are better than ever right now: Target just launched the Year of Exclusive Deals perk as one of its registry benefits, and this includes a year's worth of discounts on baby essentials (think diapers and formula) and comes complementary when you sign up for Target Circle.

Because while parenting may not be "easy," deciding to register with Target definitely is an easy decision. Start your Target baby registry now and enjoy shopping with a Year of Benefits featuring a Year of Exclusive Deals available via Target Circle, two 15% off coupons, a year of hassle-free returns, a free welcome kit and more!

This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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