Adventures in Drool: Teaching patience to toddlers

November 26, 2012
If your sweet little one starts to resemble a red-faced screaming monkey, it may be time to start teaching patience - both for the baby and for yourself. BY IMAGES

I hope everyone survived Thanksgiving and all the pumpkin pie, ice cream and stuffing-filled family functions. Time to get back on track - don't forget to stop back to check out Fitness Friday for quick ways to slim down.

During my family's holiday celebrations, Droolface was a complete angel. Comments were made on his pleasant demeanor, manners and spoon-handling skills.

But before you, or I, pat myself on the back, you should know that behind closed doors that same angel throws a wicked tantrum.

The sweetest child on the block can quickly turn into a red-faced screamer monkey who throws himself to the floor, wracked with unknown and angry spirits.

Is a exorcism needed? Should I call the local medicine man?

What I am likely experiencing is a toddler tantrum. Have your children gone through similar phases?

Last night, I hastened to the internet - that all-knowing and glowing source for all information.

I found three tips that I hope to successfully use to calm my screaming toddler, while also making sure the tantrums don't become something that he uses to get what he wants.

My concern is that if I give in, then he will only have more tantrums because he thinks it yields positive results. We don't want that.

We also don't want a child who will throw a tantrum in the grocery store or other public place - because we have all been there or seen it happen - and it's embarrassing.

One of the reasons for the tantrum is that Droolface is impatient. Toddlers have a hard time waiting for anything. They live in the here and now; and they want things, here and now.

Try to teach patience. It can be hard when you can't really explain what waiting means to a toddler, but I figured I would give it a try.

Here are What to Expect's tips to teach a child patience - and avoid the ear-splitting tantrum.

Avoid Waiting

While your toddler needs practice to learn patience, not every situation is ideal for teaching it. If she’s hungry or tired, it’ll be harder for her to keep it together. So skip complicated errands or doctor’s appointments too close to naptime or dinner.


Improve Waiting

Keep your bag stocked with small toys, board books, or crayons to busy your child during a long wait (and don’t forget to stash an emergency nibble). Take turns drawing or sticking stickers on a notepad, or driving a little car along the edge of a table. Flip through a book or photo album or the pictures on your cell phone. Sing a favorite song or retell a familiar story. (Hey, the time will pass more quickly for you too.)

And speaking of time, you can help your toddler learn that a minute really isn’t very long by setting a timer. She’ll be so busy watching the seconds tick away (or the sand tumble through an hourglass) that she’ll forget her impatience. A timer also gives her a sense of control — she knows that when time’s up, she gets what she’s been waiting for (so be sure to follow through when that bell rings). A timer is also handy when you’re the one waiting for your toddler — give her five more minutes of playtime before her lunch, for example. The takeaway: She’ll learn that patience is a two-way street.


Praise Waiting

When your toddler colors quietly while waiting for her burger at the diner or sits nicely with a storybook in the pediatrician’s waiting room, notice and praise her efforts. Let her know you know how hard it can be to wait patiently — your child may not even realize that that’s just what she’s doing.


Toddlers have feelings, but no words

Imagine being a toddler - really imagine it. It would be hard to constantly have thoughts and feelings, but have no way to communicate that to the adults around you. Likely you would want to have a tantrum too.

Here are some tips from's Dr. Michele Borba on ways to quell a frustrated toddler tantrum.

Before the Tantrum:

Anticipate the Meltdown

Your best defense is to anticipate a tantrum’s onset. Don’t wait until your child is in full meltdown because once a tantrum begins, you don’t have much control. Watch for your kid’s signs that a tantrum is on its way: tension, acting antsy, a whimper. Once you learn to identify your child’s “tantrum is approaching” signs you’re in the best place to defuse it.

Distract and Redirect

The second you know a tantrum is approaching, immediately try to redirect your child’s attention: say “Let’s go get your teddy,” or “I bet you can’t jump up and touch the sky!” Or try distracting your little one: “Look at that little boy over there.” Your best bet is to try to divert his attention long enough to reroute his energy. Do know the technique doesn’t always work, but it’s worth a stab.

Use Feeling Words and Calming Methods

One of the biggest reasons toddlers use tantrums is due to frustrations. They simply don’t have the words to express their wants and needs, nor the maturity to gauge their emotions, so you’ll need to be their self-regulator at first. Try rubbing her back, holding her gently, or humming a relaxing song. Get down eye to eye, and talk in a soothing voice. Put your child’s feelings into words: “Oh, you look like you’re tired. Are you tired?” or “It looks like I have a frustrated little girl. Are you frustrated?” Pose a question that your child can answer with a yes or no nod. Your calming tone along with your “feeling talk” might just help temper a pending explosion.

Give a Warning

Depending on your child’s maturity level, try giving a warning. Use a Firm Parent Voice and give a simple stern admonishment letting your child know that his behavior won’t be tolerated: “Calm down, Jack. You know mommy doesn’t like that behavior” or “Stop that now, Kelly, or you will go to the Calm Down Chair.” A warning lets your child know that his behavior is not appropriate and if he continues there will be a consequence. With some little tykes, your stern reminder is all it takes. If you do give a warning and the poor behavior continues, you must follow through and send him off to the Thinking Chair (one minute per age of the child until calm). “Warnings” and the Calm Down Chair (or Time Out) are usually effective for children who are at least three years of age; sometimes for more mature two-years-olds but never before that age. Your child must be able to understand the concepts of a warning and consequence and possess a speaking vocabulary of more than a few phrases.


During the Tantrum:

Ignore, Ignore, Ignore

Once the tantrum starts, don’t give it any attention. No eye contact, no words, do not react. Once your child learns that her outburst “works”—that is she gets her way—she’s likely to try it again (and again and again).


Don’t Try to Reason

Forget trying to rationalize with a wailing, flailing child—it’s like trying to reason with a goldfish! Once in tantrum-mode your child is beyond understanding. Also, don’t coax, yell, or spank. It doesn’t help, and you’re lible to escalate the outburst.


Ensure Safety

Check out the surroundings. If there are sharp edges, glasses or objects that could hurt your child, move him to a “safe zone.” I would not recommend restraining a flailing child unless absolutely necessary for his safety or you’ve clearly discovered it’s the only method to calm him. Restraining usually increases an outburst (and you’re likely to be hurt). If you’re out in public, stop what you’re doing and remove your kid to secluded spot or take him home. Yes, it’s inconvenient, but he’ll learn you’re won’t tolerate inappropriate behavior.


After the Tantrum:

Don’t Stress Out

It’s over! Chances are you both are plain drained. So do whatever you need to do to regroup.


Track Your Response

Collect your thoughts, and then assess your response. Were you consistent with how you handle the outburst? “Calm consistency” is a key to ending tantrums so be mindful of how you respond to your child.


Identify Triggers

Get a calendar and keep notes. Is there a pattern as to when or where these tantrums usually occur? For instance, just before naptime because he’s tired; after day care because he’s stressed; or at noon because he’s hungry? Does your child have a tough time with change and need a warning that a transition coming? Is there anything you can do to change your child’s schedule that might help reduce his outbursts?

You can find more behavior makeover tips in my book, No More Misbehavin’ or at my website,


  • Real Parents. Real Food. Real Fun.

    Welcome to Adventures in Drool! Talking about green living, getting rid of plastics and toxic chemicals in our homes and raising happy kids on a budget. Join the conversation ( and don't forget to Like us on Facebook!

    Rachel Swick Mavity, author of the blog, lives with a reformed drooler (Droolface), who at age 3 loves to get muddy, drink homemade smoothies, giggle and flirt with old ladies. Her current drooler (Birdy) enjoys spitting up on work clothes and leaving drool trails as a way of showing her love.

    Mavity previously worked as a journalist for seven years at newspapers from Pennsylvania to Maryland and Delaware. In Sussex County she worked for several newspapers, including the Cape Gazette. She lives in Lewes with her husband, Ryan Mavity, their son, "Droolface," and daughter, "Birdy."