When Your Two Year Old Throws a Tantrum or Two

imagesThe terrible twos may start when your child reaches the age of two but they might also begin at the age of three (which would make them the terrible threes I guess). It can be a tough time. A trying time. A time when everything seems to change overnight. And it’s tough on the parent as well.

Some kids seem to be quite determined from birth. They enter this world knowing what they want. These children go into their second year of life still determined with more words and ideas to make themselves heard. Other kids are easy-going. Then one day they might surprise you with some new moves. The screaming and the kicking come out of nowhere it seems.

Why Do Kids Have Tantrums?

As children move from babyhood into toddlerhood, their thinking process and their physical mobility improve rapidly. Verbal skills are just starting to develop however. Their brains are not adequately prepared for all the challenges coming their way. This can be quite frustrating for a young child, resulting in melt downs.

Children at that age also have a difficult time with delayed gratification. Their now-or-never thinking makes it difficult to accept the demands of a parent who might sometimes forget that this very capable little person has a lot of maturing to do.

Transitioning from one activity to another is often a challenge. Especially if it happens without warning. Imagine yourself watching a great movie. You are so into the movie that you forget space and time. Then suddenly your spouse appears out of nowhere and switches to The Weather Channel without warning. Annoying, right?

Younger children get over-stimulated, over-tired, and hungry which are all concepts and conditions that many times are too big to identify and verbalize for a two year old. Many older kids (three and a half and above) on the other hand, use tantrums as a tool to get what they want. It worked at the age of two, so why not continue? To them tantrums are the vehicle that will get them to a destination. Two year olds, on the other hand, often use an object as the vehicle to show that something else is bothering them.

So What Do You Do When Your Child Has a Tantrum?

Prevention is key. If your child seems to have a lot of meltdowns, figure out if there is a pattern. Are they more likely to occur when she is over- tired, over-stimulated or hungry?

If your child is a bit older, and you know what the usual triggers are, discuss your expectations before returning to those trigger spots: “Last time you had a hard time leaving the park. I will let you know five minutes before we have to leave but you need to listen to me once I say it’s time to go. If you do, we can go back to the park lots of times. If you don’t listen, we have to go somewhere else for a while.”

If tantrums happen during times of transition, it is  a good idea to prepare your child ahead of time whenever possible. A few minutes prior to making a transition, ask your child what she would like to have for lunch for instance.  Then tell her it’s almost time to leave. This redirects her thoughts as she begins to plan a new activity, and by doing so she will find it a bit easier to stop what she is doing.

Once you have decided that it’s time to leave, stick to your plan, and don’t give in. Your child has to be able to trust you. Losing faith in a parent is not worth an extra thirty minutes in the park even to a two year old.

Tantrums in Public

Few things are more embarrassing than your child throwing a tantrum in public. As a parent you feel judged and inadequate as you stand there with a screaming child on your hands. Try to remember that  this is between you and your child. Not between you and the rest of the world.

If the child falls apart in a public place, collect your stuff, take your child by the hand (or pick up your child if he refuses to walk) and move towards the car or towards home. Acknowledge that having to leave is tough and that you too wish you could stay longer. Arguing and reprimanding a child under the age of four, on the other hand, is less effective. The less power and energy you give the situation, the less likely she is to behave the same way next time.

Tantrums at Home

If the tantrums happen at home, acknowledge your child’s feelings. Sit down, stroke her back and say: “I know you’re upset. I hope you feel better soon.” After that, walk away. This is a good time to vacuum, dust, pay bills, or fold laundry. You’re in the vicinity but you’re not making a huge deal over the fact that she is upset.

If your child doesn’t stop, carry her to her room or to a specific spot in the house. Simply explain that she is making a bit too much noise. Act like it’s no big deal. Just tell her to come out when she is done. Leave, but leave the door ajar to show her that she’s not abandoned.

After a Tantrum

As your child becomes quiet, sit down next to her and talk about what happened. Helping her label feelings with specific words will add to her emotional vocabulary, which will lessen future tantrums. Discuss what it’s like to feel disappointed, sad, hurt, hungry,tired  Discuss options, and alternative endings and solutions. Discuss your expectations but don’t shame or embarrass your child.

When to Seek Help

If your child seems to have frequent tantrums while interacting with one specific person, see if there is a way to improve the relationship. I have seen adults provoke young children into full tantrums. The children are then reprimanded for acting up. If this scenario sounds even a tiny bit familiar, please seek help through books, a parenting expert or a therapist specializing in family dynamics.

Also, if your child reaches the age of five and is still having frequent tantrums, it might be time to seek professional help, starting with your pediatrician.

For most kids, this stage will pass by the time they turn four years old. As suddenly as the tantrums appeared, they will be gone and a verbal, loving little person will appear in front of you. It’s your child. Enjoy her company and her wisdom.