How to deal with twin tantrums

When you’re in the trenches of twin toddlerhood, it’s completely normal to fantasize about running away and joining the circus. Here are six tips to help you weather this stormy period…

twin tantrums

A few short months ago, I thought that the pressures of dealing with my twin toddlers’ tantrums (plus my five-year-old’s demands) would be the end of me. My stress levels were through the roof and I yelled a lot more than I wanted to. It probably won’t come as a surprise to hear that shouting didn’t help at all. How can you possibly teach your children to regulate their emotions when you can’t even control your own?

So, I made a commitment to stop yelling and I adopted more effective strategies for dealing with my children’s emotional outbursts. Things are far from perfect, but I often manage to stop tantrums in their tracks and the whole family seems calmer (including me!). Here are six tantrum-busting tricks that have worked in my house.

  1. Identify the cause

Toddler outbursts often seem unreasonable and irrational. But if you stop to observe your child as they’re getting worked up, you might notice some clues that could help you identify the cause of their tantrum. Are they hungry? Tired? Feeling under the weather? Has their routine been disrupted? Try to offer a solution to their problem and you might be able to pull the kill switch on their meltdown.

  1. Deal with the neediest child first

“But what if both twins start to unravel at the same time?” I hear you cry. In my experience, there’s always one who starts to lose it first and the other follows suit because they want a piece of the action (a.k.a. your attention). Focus on the tantrum instigator first and try to console them. Once they’re out of the red zone, turn your attention to the second one (and then your other children if they’ve descended into copycat hysterics… fun times!).

  1. Soften your reactions

“But HOW do I get them to stop tantruming when they’re already in full swing?!” I hear you cry even more desperately (trust me, I get it). As hard as it can be, try not to lash out, ignore them or pull away emotionally. Remember that they’re not out to get you – they’re just irrational little beings who need help dealing with their big emotions.

Even if you don’t feel like it, offer hugs and sympathetic statements such as, “It’s no fun when our toast isn’t cut like we expected it to be. What can Mommy do to make it better?” Ask yourself if it’s worth the fight or if making another piece of toast and cutting it the “right” way will save you a lot of drama. As long as you set clear boundaries based on your family’s core values and you never compromise on them – for example, hitting is never tolerated – try not to worry that you’re letting them “win” the tantrum. They’re too young to keep score.

  1. Use the S.T.O.P. technique

Your twins have both been screaming for 10 minutes. You can feel your pulse racing and your heart beating in your throat. You’re way past magically softening your reactions in the face of this level of craziness and you need to gain control of your emotions FAST or you’ll blow up.

It used to be that once I reached that stage, yelling was guaranteed because I didn’t have any alternative tools. Then I discovered the S.T.O.P. technique and it’s made a huge difference. S.T.O.P. is an acronym for:

  • S – Say it out loud: Try “I’m really frustrated right now!” rather than statements that blame your kids such as “You never listen!”
  • T – Turn around: You’ll feel calmer and be less likely to shout if you turn away from them.
  • O – Observe the situation: Take a few deep breaths and assess the situation. What went wrong and how can you turn things around?
  • P – Praise: Give yourself a pat on the back because you managed to stop the cycle!
  1. Distract them

If you were raised the old-school way, distracting your tantruming twins with a different activity such as coloring or patting the neighbor’s cat might also feel like you’re letting them get away with their irrational behavior. But as long as you don’t fall into the trap of offering treats to appease them, distraction can be one of the strongest tools in your anti-tanty arsenal.

  1. Ask them to compromise

Most of the time, my twins fight and melt down because they want to play with the same toy or trinket at the exact same time. And then my five-year-old decides that she absolutely needs it too and all hell breaks loose. I’ve found that calmly asking the child who has the desired object if her sister can have it for one minute results in her handing it over without a fuss about 50 per cent of the time… amazing, right?! I think they do it to receive the praise I shower on them for being such good sharers.

Another technique I’ve had a lot of success with is asking them if they’re each willing to have the object for one minute before passing it on to the next child. Then, we all count loudly to 60. Amazingly, no one ever argues when their time is up!

  1. Avoid trigger situations

Plan ahead to avoid situations that lead to tantrums. If your twins lose it when you’re stressed because you’re running late in the morning, prepare everything you need the night before and set your alarm 15 minutes earlier to avoid being rushed. If hunger turns them into monsters, always carry snacks with you. Or if twin tiredness is a recipe for disaster, stick to a nap and bedtime routine that keeps them rested and happy.

But you should also accept that you can’t control all the variables and your twins will have outbursts regardless. Try to laugh it off and steel yourself for next year… if my memory serves me correctly, three-year-olds are even harder to deal with than two-year-olds!