Written by: Joanne Lowe
The terrible two’s is a testing phase for most parents. Some children coast through with nothing more than a few sulks when things don’t go their way. Others crash into it head on overnight with an almighty scream throwing themselves on the floor wildly at any opportunity. I think most children would probably fall somewhere in between on the tantrum scale. But what can you do when your toddler chooses to express themselves by yelling, and kicking when they can’t have the chocolate bar placed annoying close to the supermarket checkout? Now I am not a child psychologist, but I am a mum in the middle of this stage right now, so here goes.
Stay Calm, Stay Strong
When a tantrum starts it can be easy to lose your patience especially if you are stressed. Children seem to know when you are at your most vulnerable and have no mercy for you. They don’t care that you’ve only had three hours sleep they just want that toy, that sweet, that anything! Staying calm and level headed can help to diffuse the situation. If you raise your voice too much or shout back the child will probably respond by shouting louder. Try to stay strong and stick to your decisions. If you’ve said that they can’t have something or told them off for throwing their bottle at the passing shop assistant, then stick to your decision and explain why. If you cave in at the first sign of a tantrum you are teaching that bad behaviour gets them what they want.
Ask What is Wrong
You’d be surprised how many tantrums can be avoided if you ask what is wrong. It shows you are willing to listen to the child’s needs and may head off a screaming fit. If they don’t want to go into their car seat explain that they can’t go to visit Grandma and Grandad unless they do, and they may have a change of heart. It sounds obvious, but how many of us really listen and take the time to understand why our small people are having a meltdown, and how many of us just tell them to stop?
Spot The Warning Signs
It pays to learn what situations trigger tantrums in your child. Being tired, hungry and bored are all at the crux of a lot of displays of emotion. If your toddler rubs their eyes and is still in a pram offer them a drink to relax them and encourage sleep. If it’s past their lunch time and they haven’t eaten offer a snack until they can have their meal. If they are bored of a situation change it as much as you can. If you are at home go into another room or play another game. If their emotions are just too much to handle I think it is usually a sign that they are just very, very tired. Take them for a nap whether they want it or not, you’ll usually find they wake up happier and more at peace.
Slow, Simple Speech
This is something I’ve started to use with my youngest daughter. I read somewhere (I really can’t remember where) that responding quietly and slowly calms children down as they have to lower their voice and stopping screaming in order to hear you. This has definitely worked. You can also use really simple commands like, “Stop kicking,” or “Don’t scream,” to help lessen the ferocity of a temper tantrum. Repeating this in a calm, low voice really can encourage a child to stop. Another soother is to tell your child everything is ok. My two year old sometimes doesn’t know why she is upset, telling her everything is alright, and that she is loved can sometimes make everything better.
This can really help to put the brakes on a longer tantrum. Placing your child on the naughty step or in time out diffuses the situation, especially between two children. It reaffirms that bad behaviour is not acceptable, and it also gives you time to regroup and weather the storm.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
Try not to give yourself a hard time if you get it wrong. You will get it wrong. You will not be able to head off every tantrum. Some will not stop no matter what you try. Some will wear you down until the child decides it is time to stop. Sometimes you won’t have the patience to withstand a tantrum. Sometimes you’ll shout, roll your eyes with frustration, or just walk off and hope it will end. All you can do is learn from each situation. Keep the tactics that work, and discard the ones that don’t. And try to remember that when your little person throws a bowl of mash in your face because they can’t have what they want, they aren’t always being naughty, they are usually trying to deal with a bellyful of emotions and frustrations that they just don’t yet understand.