When Nina Weierman and her partner welcomed their second child in June of 2020, they faced a very common, and very exasperating, issue. Their older son, who was 3 years old at the time, “would scream at the top of his lungs when frustrated or angry and had some pretty epic meltdowns,” Weierman told HuffPost.
Toddler tantrums can require you to dig deep into your already depleted well of patience. But facing a hollering, fist-pounding toddler when you’re exhausted from caring for a newborn is simply more than most parents can bear.
“I starting looking for anything to help my husband and I better handle his big feelings,” said Weierman, who lives in Ohio.
One night while scrolling on Instagram, Weierman stumbled across Big Little Feelings — an account run by “toddler experts” Deena Margolin, a licensed child therapist, and Kristin Gallant, a parent coach, that features content and courses about “taming those tantrums.”
Weierman paid for their “Winning the Toddler Stage” course, which is where she learned about the “10 Minute Miracle.”
No, this is not a way to make your toddler miraculously leave you alone for 10 minutes. It actually involves the opposite: For 10 minutes, you give your toddler your undivided attention — no phone, no chores, no siblings — and let them take the lead in an activity of their choosing.
“But I spend all day with my kid,” you may be thinking. “How much more could they possibly need?”
“We may spend huge amounts of time with our children, but we need to remember that quality time is more important than quantity of time,” Sarah Roberts, a mom in Pennsylvania who also uses the strategy, told HuffPost.
Preparing food, arranging a playdate, sweeping up crumbs — it’s all the work of caregiving, but none of it fills your child’s “attention tank” like putting them front and center, according to Margolin and Gallant.
Though a 2-year-old isn’t likely to return the favor and offer to play quietly while you catch a catnap, filling up their “tank” with positive attention means they won’t have to resort to misbehavior in order to get more, Margolin and Gallant said in an email to HuffPost.
“Even if we’re with our kids all day long, carving out focused, dedicated one-on-one time is an absolute game-changer,” the toddler experts added.
What does it look like?
Margolin and Gallant recommend giving the time a special name. Weierman uses “Mommy and James time.” Every day, usually in the afternoon while her daughter naps, she leaves her phone in the other room and “we play whatever my son wants to play,” Weierman said.
In terms of how you spend those 10 minutes, Margolin and Gallant said “less is more.”
“Oftentimes parents think to reset and connect, kids need some big gesture, like an outing to the zoo or a trip, but in reality your toddler just wants you,” they said.
Activities might include toys or imaginative play. “Truly whatever your child suggests,” said Margolin and Gallant.
“We may spend huge amounts of time with our children, but we need to remember that quality time is more important than quantity of time.”
Roberts adds that her 10 minutes involve “zero criticism and no correcting.” This is child-directed play, not teaching.
Margolin and Gallant suggest using a timer for a smoother transition once the 10 minutes are up. You can purchase a visual timer that young children who don’t read clocks yet can understand. When your child asks for more time, remind them that they will have another 10 minutes tomorrow.
It’s also helpful for parents to know that the 10 minutes will be up soon.
“Playing make believe can be exhausting,” said Weierman. ”Knowing that it only takes 10 minutes of undivided attention really helps to motivate me to do it.”
How does it work?
“Toddler brains are still under construction,” the @biglittlefeelings pair said.
“They don’t have the ability to say, ‘Mama, I need you. I’m worried. I’m scared.’ Instead, in order to get your attention, they show you through physical displays of unwanted behavior.”
Many of us grew up with our parents ignoring us when we acted out, rationalizing that we were “doing it for attention.” In contrast, the “10 Minute Miracle” gives a child attention before they even ask for it.
“James seems more amicable through the afternoon and better behaved at dinner time,” said Weierman. When “Mommy and James time” doesn’t happen, she said, her son is “more moody and acts out more through the rest of the afternoon and evening.”
Jayme Yannuzzi, a mom in Florida, found that the strategy helped encourage her daughter to play alone.
“Her cup was filled, and she was more comfortable and willing to spend some time independently exploring,” she said.
One thing not to do? Don’t drop everything and commence the 10 minutes when your child starts to unravel. It should ideally be a routine occurrence that your kid can count on, not a spur-of-the-moment way to manage a tantrum.
If you’re in the middle of something and your child gets upset, you can keep doing what you’re doing and validate their feelings. Margolin and Gallant suggest saying something like, “I hear you need mama right now. I see you, and I am with you. I have to make this sandwich. I’ll be there in three minutes. You’re feeling sad. It’s OK to feel sad. I’m right here.”
Margolin and Gallant also emphasized that toddlers’ reputation is not unearned.
“Toddlers have tantrums, toddlers struggle with impulse control,” they explained. “These are 100% developmentally appropriate behaviors, and it’s not a reflection of your parenting.”
But if you can tame these behaviors with an investment of only 10 minutes a day? It may make parenting feel a little easier — and that’s a win.