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Tips for Taming Two-Year Old Tantrums

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Our sweet, little, easy-going Ezra turned two on Valentine’s Day. Recently, his two-year old switch was flipped on, and he is exploring the world of tantrums. This go-around with parenting, I am in a different place than I was 11 years ago when this happened with my oldest son.

When I first became a mother I was 25, and definitely less mature than I am now at nearly 39. My parenting philosophy in the early years was that I did not want my son to feel pain, have his feelings hurt, or ever lack security. In retrospect, this was because of my upbringing and feelings of lack. I transferred my “pain” on him and did what I could to make sure his childhood wasn’t mine.  All psychology aside, it was not the right course of action and now that I know better, I can do better. That is how life works, I do not beat myself up for past mistakes. I just get back up, dust myself off and keep on moving.

I did not “damage” my oldest son (that I can tell) 😂. It just took a longer time to establish the parent/child roles and structure that a kid actually craves. 11 years later, I do not take any of the tantruming personally, and have learned how a two-year old’s mind works, and what they are actually communicating when they lose their temper.

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The Two-Year Old Mind

A two-year old is not “terrible”, the so-called terrible behavior often occurs during the second year because their language skills are underdeveloped and their desire exceeds their ability. A two-year old does not have the ability to reason, or have any of their own wisdom to make decisions or have concern for their safety.

A toddler is equipped with persistence so they can develop into their world, and they live in the moment. They know what they desire and how they feel, but can not express with words. All they know is that they are angry. Big brother can eat a muffin? I want one too.

Know the Triggers

Knowing what sets your little one off is the first step in tantrum avoidance or diffusion. Does skipping a nap make it worse? Is bedtime a terror? Does your two-year old hate abrupt change? Is it when you are preoccupied or when you say “no”? In the store or in the car?  Having the knowledge of what the triggers are will help avoid the situation. Although, you may not be able to live 100% tantrum free, you can have yourself prepared to deal with whatever situation occurs.

For my two-year old, food and abrupt changes are his biggest triggers. He wants to eat other kids snacks, or things out of our pantry that are not being offered. For us, keeping the food out of sight (and therefore out of mind) is a prevention method, and warning him ahead of time that his activity is coming to an end is another method. It is not a fool-proof method, just an awareness we have and can make steps toward avoidance.

Parents and Caregivers are a Team

When it comes to kids, they learn very quickly how to get their way. The adults in the situation have to be a united front so that the child does not receive mixed signals about what is expected of them. If one adult “gives in” and the other is standing firm, “giving in” discredits the work of the other adult.

Clearly defining what is acceptable and agreeing on it and staying firm together keeps the child balanced, because there is no “grey” area. The grey area for children leads to confusion of what boundaries exist. Setting up the home environment for success is also helpful. When the trigger areas are less accessible, the thought to tantrum may not even occur. Keep do not touch items out of sight, have appealing play areas available, are great ways to “toddler-proof” the environment. We even keep a basket of Ezra-friendly items in the car, for one of those dreaded car-tantrums.

Do Not Take it Personally

This was my biggest mistake when my oldest son was a toddler. His tantrums hurt my feelings and I took it very personally. I would feel I “did” something to upset him rather than realizing that he needed structure and language skills to help him deal with his emotions.

When he melted down, I would feel like a failure and in a sense, meltdown with him. As an adult, and as a parent, it is our job to keep our peace in the midst of chaos. Knowing our own triggers, and being able to stay uplifted and balanced and responding from a mature place will diffuse the tantrum much quicker with less “trauma” for parent and child.

What to Do When the Inevitable Occurs

Remember that tantrums are a normal part of development, and we use these moments to guide and direct them toward appropriate behavior. This “appropriate” behavior is actually emotional recognition and coping skills that will develop well into life. If the skills are not learned, then the same behavior will be carried on later in life because it worked effectively to get their way.

Sometimes a child may need help (tantrum about not being able to do something they want to do, like get undressed), so offering help may diffuse the emotional spiral. Other times, they may need to let off steam. When this occurs, verbalize for them what they can not say. Our common one is “you are mad because mama won’t let you have that snack”. Some children need someone to provide support and security with a hug and language. Maybe offering to hold them while they are angry. This does not work with my toddler, he does not want restraint so redirection is usually our method.

Redirecting his behavior by walking outside and pointing out birds or airplanes will usually calm our little guy swiftly. Other times, just sitting beside him and reminding him that we are here and we know he is angry is another nice technique. The final method we use, if nothing else seems to be doing the trick, is to give him a time-out. For instance, if the tantrum happens at Target, we will immediately walk out of the store and go to the car until he settles down, or we leave completely. If it happens at home, we will put him in his bed and tell him we are leaving him there to cool off, and so-far this has been successfully rather quickly.

This Too Shall Pass

Having a plan, and staying calm and confident will help move a parent through the tantrum-piece of toddlerhood. Our children are rapidly developing, and over time we will see their ability to reason and make choices blossom.

Staying connected to your child, and being a safe, secure figure allows them to trust and develop emotionally and verbally during this time. Remember that “giving-in” when they tantrum is just reinforcing the behavior, so staying on top of the triggers and reminding them that no amount of tantruming will result in what they want reinforces that you mean what you say. Children catch on to this very quickly.

Have you raised a toddler? What worked for you?





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Untitled design-10My oldest son, Keenan was the first love of my life. As soon as I found out I was pregnant with him, my journey into a healthier lifestyle began to emerge. I started looking for alternatives to chemical laden cleaning products, began to think about what I ate, learned to cook, and started yoga by myself in my living room. He was my catalyst to change my own paradigm. I wanted to provide a lifestyle much different from the one I was given as a child.

My mom was a special case, by the time I was 14 years old she had checked completely out of motherhood and I had to grow up pretty quickly. At that point, I relied a lot on vending machines at school and my grandparents’ bologna sandwiches. The next year, I got my first job in an arcade and started grocery shopping for myself. My diet at that time consisted of yogurt, cheese cubes, Granny Smith apples, Twinkies, Healthy Choice frozen pizza bread, and often fast food on the weekends. I also had free rein with the candy at the arcade. My dietary choices were pretty lifeless.

The independence and desire to be different from my family started my journey toward many levels of healing and wellness. For my son, I am seeing his independence emerge– and he is the challenge point in our new dietary changes. He had a similar birth experience as his younger brother, however he rebounded quickly without any major outward symptoms. However, he exhibits minor signs of food sensitivity with near constant eczema and some digestive issues, so having him on board would be ideal. At this point in his life, status in middle school is gained in the lunch room. The “cool” kids get to microwave their macaroni and cheese in the “Eagle’s Nest” hangout, they bring Starbucks each morning, and my son’s newest obsession is to buy a box of Girl Scout cookies from a friend to share. Although, much to my surprise he did buy the gluten- free version.

Peer pressure is real. Keenan typically does a good job leading and rising above much of what he hears, although there are some moments. Food and technology are our current battles. The meltdown of this past weekend was because of a habit change. We are eating all of our meals at home, and a usual habit would be to go out to a restaurant. Keenan was craving a restaurant and had to vocalize how we were ruining his life by going lectin- free–oh, the drama ;). Ezra will eat whatever we place in front of him, and Keenan was that way when he was one.

The only thing I know to do as a parent is give boundaries, be flexible when it is appropriate, and leading by example. Hopefully, witnessing his brother’s health changes will speak to him. At least on a subconscious level. I have been playing around with recipes, adapting a few things like chicken nuggets or chocolate chip cookies to fit in our parameters so he does not feel completely deprived. I also occasionally use the changes to educate him further on why we make these choices– maybe I’ll steer him to research the poultry or wheat industry for one of his next projects. Mom tactics at their best!