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The Secret to Ending Tantrums

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Does it ever feel like your toddler has multiple personalities, like, say, Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde? One day, my daughter is offering to help me set the table for dinner. The next day, she's screaming bloody murder and throwing her plate across the room because I dared to cut her waffle into pieces that were "too small!"

While most toddlers resemble psychiatric patients from time to time, I'm pretty sure age 3 is too young to worry about a bipolar diagnosis. So what's with the erratic mood swings and unpredictable behavior? Some of it is just normal toddler stuff, of course. But why are some days good and some days so very bad?

RELATED: 6 Ways Changing My Perspective Helped Stop My Kid's Tantrums

My husband and I have spent months pondering this phenomenon, often blaming ourselves for our kid's nutty antics. "Maybe I didn't give her enough advance warning that we'd be leaving the park," I'd lament. Or "I wonder if she's upset that I've been working more lately."

Then, finally, we figured it out. The answer was as simple as Z.Z.Z.

If our daughter gets a full night sleep, she is an angel. If her sleep is interrupted and she's tired during the day, we better brace ourselves for an epic meltdown—it's all but guaranteed.

This probably seems obvious to veteran moms, but it took us ages to realize the clear correlation between a rough night (late bedtime, night wakings, up at dawn) and an even rougher day.

By paying closer attention to my daughter's rhythms, I'm so much better able to prevent or at least predict a tantrum.

Since I can't ensure that my daughter will always sleep well, all I can do is adjust my expectations when I know she's tired. That means scrapping any ambitious plans, like multiple errands, in favor of quiet activities at home, such as reading together or doing a craft. And if I'm going to proceed with a play date, it better be with a good friend who won't judge us for some theatrics.

I've noticed that a lot of these exhaustion-related tantrums take place late in the day, which makes sense. Moving up bedtime is a great strategy, as is truncating the bedtime routine. One time, my kid started freaking out right before bath. I wrapped up her up in my arms, turned off all the lights and lay down with her. She was asleep within five minutes—tantrum stopped in its tracks. So what if she had dirty feet?

RELATED: Who Calls the Cops Because of a Toddler Meltdown?

I'm also not above using the car to encourage a power nap or an earlier than usual bedtime. Just like when she was a baby, my kid always falls asleep faster in a moving vehicle. (Sometimes I wish we had a boat, or maybe a horse and carriage.)

By paying closer attention to my daughter's rhythms, I'm so much better able to prevent or at least predict a tantrum. Realizing that these episodes are beyond my child's control has also helped me be more sympathetic and understanding. I treat them almost as I would a boo boo: with kisses and soft words. And then we all go take a much-needed rest.

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