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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?