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What Is The Best Way To Deal With Two Year Old Tantrums?

by Marina
(Los Angeles, CA, USA)

Dear Annie,
My 2 year old daughter is very sweet, but occasionally she has a temper tantrum when she does not get things her way. She falls to the floor and cries.

What is the best way to deal with that?

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Dealing with Two Year Old Temper Tantrums - Part One
by: Annie Desantis

Hi Marina
Tantrums are something that are difficult for parents to cope with, when a child is totally out of control, it can be embarrassing and a bit frightening.

Tantrums are pretty normal in a two year old. Life can be pretty frustrating sometimes, they are just learning to communicate verbally, though they understand a lot more than they can talk. In actual fact, having a child who is determined to let the world know what she wants or when she is unhappy, is a great thing. She will do very well! Of course we hope our kids learn more productive ways of getting their needs met as they grow older!

I'll cover several aspects to tantrums and that will give you some ideas of how you can manage them better.

A two year old has no rational capacity, the connections to the rational brain is something that has to actually grow. A baby is operating from the reptilian brain, which is the prehistoric part of us that is all about survival. All the little pathways to the part of the brain that can rationalize, have to actually grow, and that comes slowly with experience. (actually some adults do not have well developed pathways to the rational brain!)

Sometimes little ones will have a meltdown out of frustration at trying to get us to do something, or to say what they want. Just validate their feelings - "I know it's so hard trying to get Mommy to understand. I'm trying to figure it out, let's just see if we can work out what you want." Or if they are getting frustrated because you are not quick enough to respond to them, then try to help them to learn patience (VERY hard!) - "Whoa, - wait a minute, I'll get your milk soon." Then burst into song or counting to distract them for a few minutes!

It is a waste of time trying to explain or rationalize anything to a child who is already out of control. You have to wait until they calm down. Even then, don't go into big lectures, just say I know it's hard sometimes when Mommy makes you get dressed, but sometimes we just have to get ready to go out.

Part Two Follows:

Dealing With Two Year Old Temper Tantrums - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

What do you do if your child is already having a full blown Tantrum? Keep calm! Let them have their feelings, say very little, except maybe acknowledge their feelings - "I can see you're really cross right now," or "that makes you so mad."

Make sure they are safe, some kids totally loose control and can hurt themselves, or others. You can contain a child but holding them from behind, pinning their arms. That way they can't kick you and can't hit anyone. This will make them madder for a while, but just keep calm and say I'll let go when you calm down a bit. And just quietly say, shh shh, or hum - just calming noises.

If the tantrum is a bid for attention, (and there is nothing wrong with a child seeking attention) you don't want to reinforce them getting attention through bad behavior, rather say quietly, "when you have finished, we'll sit and have a story, or play a game." So you are rewarding them getting control again.

Ignoring the drama is also a good way to let it run out of steam. Particularly if it is a demand for something unacceptable, say a meltdown over a cookie demand. Just stay calm and centered (easier said than done I know!) and say, "sorry sweetie, no more cookies today, but you can have a banana instead."

Never punish a child for a tantrum. Time out can be useful as a tool to regroup, but I don't agree with the idea of a child being isolated and made to feel bad. Better to help them to take time out to take a deep breath or cuddle time on the couch. Or lets just go outside for a few minutes to settle down - or have a big yell!

Many tantrums are actually set up by the parent! We often have unrealistic expectations for our kids, and we expect them to comply with what we want assuming they will accept our agenda is best/most important. Of course our kids have their own ideas about what is most important to them, and don't always have the capacity to switch gears and go along with our plans. If you are aware when the tantrum risk times are, you can often head them off.

Time pressure is often a huge factor, if we don't allow our kids enough time to transition from one activity to another then the odds are they are likely to have a meltdown. You can manage transitions by having little routines that get familiar to the child that brings their attention to getting ready to move to the next activity. If you child regularly has a meltdown when it is time to get ready for bed, You can have a piece of music that gives the signal it is time to quieten down, or a song you start singing. Changing the energy from excitement to something quiet and more mellow will help to calm the way.

Part Three Follows . . . .

Dealing With Two Year Old Temper Tantrums - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

If your child is more likely to have a tantrum because you are rushing to get her out the door, then allow more time, and give lots of short simple preparation statements, like "nearly time to get your clothes on" or "we're going in the car soon". The trick is to start to make the next activity sound way more exciting than what they are doing. Kids are motivated by what makes them feel good in the moment, and to learn to think ahead and anticipate is actually a skill to learn. Rushing a child is often counter productive, if they have a tantrum, then you end up taking longer anyway.

If your child is likely to have a meltdown in the supermarket, or in public, first of all TOTALLY ignore anybody else. Too bad what others are thinking, if you buy into that you will make the issue worse as then we tend to try to control or shut the child up and get angry ourselves. Make sure you don't end up going shopping when your little one is tired and hungry or you are likely to set yourself up for problems. Always take goodies with you, little packets of sultanas can keep little fingers busy for a while. Get the child involved, "Find the red packet; Can you see Daddy's cereal? Which is our Yoghurt?"

You can start counting games, or singing rhymes to head off a tantrum and gain cooperation. Marching Marching where have the shoes gone? Tip Toe Tip Toe Tip Toe, (whisper) where are the pajamas hiding? You can role play the teddy saying, "I'm so tired, I want to go to bed, where's my jammies?" Or, "Peppa Pig wants to brush her teeth, come on Peppa, lets see how many teeth you've got."

Part Four Follows . . . .
Don't give into tantrums. Your aim is that your little girl will learn to get control of her feelings herself. If you give in and let her have her way, then you are actually reinforcing the repilian reactionary brain. BUT, on the other hand, take stock and think if you are being unreasonable. If you are trying to make a child eat something when they have clearly indicated they have had enough, or you have set up a situation that has become a battle, then switch gears. Come up with a compromise, such as OK, I can see you are not going to do this right now, lets just sit over here until you have calmed down. If it is something you HAVE to get done, then offer a bribe! Don't try to explain or bribe while the tantrum is happening. Wait until the energy has calmed, then you can offer a compromise. For example, when you've brushed your teeth, then we can have a story. Or, you can wear your Micky Mouse Tee Shirt to bed, but we have to take off your shoes first.

Dealing With Two Year Old Temper Tantrums - Part Four
by: Annie Desantis

Ask yourself how important are the things you are trying to make the child do. We often have a sort of rulebook in our head that says you have to do XYZ before bed. But if you have a child that is exhausted and having a meltdown, does it really matter if they skip brushing teeth?

Just be careful not to make a habit of giving in. Rather than give in, try to change tactics - you are the one in the driver's seat, not your two year old. But respect their right to think their needs are more important than yours, and that they have a right to be cross when us big people impose our rules on them!

I have a page on Toddler Development you might find some other useful ideas of what to expect in the next year!

Hope you find some useful ideas,
Most of all, enjoy your little cutie, it is such an exciting age, the world is opening up for her!

Annie Desantis

Major Meltdowns!
by: Karen

I am so glad I found this, I have a two year old too, and her meltdowns are out of this world! Scary even! I couldn't believe how out of control she can get, she is absolutely shattered at the end of it all, and often falls asleep.

It was really helpful to learn how to hold them, my daughter has hurt herself really badly a couple of times, and I have found it so hard to try to restrain her.

I think the hardest thing for parents is not to get angry back, trying to calm them down. By the time she gets to that stage she is way WAY beyond reasoning.

She can go from being a little angel to being a fair little devil in the blink of an eye - but I am going to see if I can try more distracting, I think I can see I often make it much worse.

Thanks for this, really helpful.

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