The terrible twos are fraught with toddler tantrums. As a parent, what is the best resolution?
Little Luke is two years and six months old. In general, he is a good natured toddler. He has a big smile that charms everyone he meets, relative, friend or stranger. He is smart, and is learning to do things on his own.
Rose, Luke’s mother, faces one big challenge. When Luke does not get what he wants, he throws a massive tantrum. Rose is aware that this happens at Luke’s age, but she worries that he is too temperamental. And, if not managed, she fears these tantrums might lead to future behavioural problems.
Take dinner time, for example. Luke can be sitting happily in his high chair. But then he sees that his older brother is on a little chair at his own special table. The sort of helpful response Luke needs to learn is to indicate, verbally or through signs, that he wants to join his brother. Instead, he starts screaming and kicking out, banging on the high chair and messing his food.
And when Rose takes him shopping, he sees and reaches towards things that he wants. When Rose does not let Luke have them, he screams and stamps his foot, and lies down on the floor refusing to move. Sometimes he tries to take the desired object anyway, and makes a mess in the store.
Rose’s response to the toddler tantrum
Rose recognises that Luke needs to learn two lessons. The first is that he cannot always get what he wants. The second is that a tantrum is not an acceptable response to being told no.
There are three responses that she tries.
When Luke one day has a tantrum at the store, Rose picks him up and hugs him, trying to calm him. She shows she is there for him, without giving in to his whims. On this occasion, this tactic works. Luke gradually stops crying, emitting hiccups before calming entirely. Later on, he has “forgotten” all about it.
Rose knows that boundaries are important. She knows that Luke needs to learn what is appropriate and is not. So when he has a tantrum at bedtime, she shouts at him. Even though she hates doing it, she wants to make it clear that this is not okay. Luke does not like this response one bit, and quickly changes his tack. He is still upset, but not making a big fuss.
At dinner one night, Luke decides that he does not like his food. He refuses to eat, and when he is encouraged, he gets angry and throws some of his food from his dish. He screams and bangs on the table, and hits out at the air. This time, Rose tries her preferred method. She sends him to his room and gives him space to calm down. She makes sure that there is nothing which can harm him and ignores his continued screams. After a while, he calms down on his own and comes back happily to his mother.
Don’t give in!
When it comes to toddler tantrums, it’s important not to give in. If Luke had gained from his tantrums, he would have learned that this is a way – maybe even the best way – to get what he wants. This can cause behavioural problems at home, at school, and in his future social interactions.
Around two and a half years old, toddlers will no doubt have frequent tantrums. They’re difficult to deal with, because they can really be powerful. The important thing is to remember that while placating the toddler can be a nice quick fix, it may cause trouble in the future.
We all know someone who gets what s/he wants by throwing an “adult” tantrum. They shout and bully until their opponent either gives in, or walks out on them. This is a learned behaviour, which is harmful to the person in question, as well as those around them.