“Terrible Twos” seemed like a term that was haphazardly thrown about among tired parents. A myth that doesnt’ truly exist, or at least would never plague your beautiful bouncing baby. However, the day comes when every parent is painfully aware that this is not only a very real developmental stage in every baby’s life, but that this period begins much earlier than 2 and lingers past 3 years. This phase should more accurately be termed “Terrible Toddlerhood.”
But before you start to panic, remember that every moment in your munchkin’s life is memorable–each day with its ups and downs. Watching your toddler triumph over the daily victories of walking, talking and exploring their ever changing world is breathtaking. Seeing life through a toddler’s eyes brings back innocence and curiosity to the hurried pace of parents’ days.
So when you experience those more challenging toddler tantrums, try to stay calm and remember that this is a necessary part of your baby’s development. Be mindful that your munchkin is in the middle of experiencing their emotions and exploring their environment.
Boston Babies recognizes that this can be a difficult time for parents, as they navigate this new stage in their baby’s life. Carol Celaro, Boston Mom of a 2 year old boy, shares her experience and best practices with you regarding toddlers and their tantrums. Carol has a M. Ed in Child Development and Early Childhood Education from Wheelock College and teaches at Isis Parenting in The Prudential Center.
At around 10-13 months, children reach a cognitive milestone of “goal-oriented play.” There is intention behind their behaviors. When parents interrupt this process, children will start to show displeasure.
For example, when children are engrossed in play and parents simply scoop them up off the floor from behind without warning–crying, flailing and screaming is bound to happen. Though this may be worrisome (your always loving, easy going baby all of a sudden has a personality!), it is normal and healthy.
All that is required is a little adjusting on your part:
- Respect your toddler’s play and give him/her warnings (“in one minute it is time to go change a diaper, be ready. Ok here I come.”)
- Or if you can wait until whatever they are deep into is over–even better. This, however, is NOT a tantrum.
Toddler tantrums are a normal part of toddlerhood. It typically starts at around 15-24 months when the WANT for Independence arises but the NEED for parental support is still there. This balance becomes a constant struggle in a toddler’s life.
Tips to Toddlerhood and Tantrums:
- Remember it is a normal part of childhood:
…And as a phase, it will pass.
- Empower the toddler:
Find little things that they can do on their own as a “job.” Chores that we, as adults, do are way more appealing. But don’t force toddlers to do it if they don’t want to. IE: feed the pet, turn on/off the lights when entering home or rooms, open or close the dishwasher, ring the door bell, put the letters in the mail box etc. I know that for us adults these are not even considered chores as we do them as second nature but they mean the world to a toddler!
- Adopt a “why not” mentality:
If you are constantly saying NO, the days turn into a never-ending battle. Toddlers are by nature persistent, which means they will stretch your patience to the max. So, before saying NO to something, stop and think: “what is the harm in that?” If it is not life threatening or completely inappropriate it is a YES. If they cry long enough are you going to change your mind? Then it is a YES. When you relax and provide a YES environment the toddler stops feeling that he/she is loosing all the time, hence stops having the need to wage war to feel powerful. Also, if you save NO for what really matters, they are more likely to comply since they win so much more throughout the day.
- But when a tantrum does happen: ignore at first, soothe later:
A first time ever research on tantrums (http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2011/12/05/143062378/whats-behind-a-temper-tantrum-scientists-deconstruct-the-screams) reveals a tantrum has 2 parts, first anger (kicking, screaming, hitting, spitting, head banging, etc.) followed by sadness (crying, whimpering, sobbing, etc.) The recommended way of dealing with a tantrum is not intervening during the anger phase as anger cannot be soothed, it needs to be dealt with from within; pass on its own. The more parents try to sooth or rationalize with an angry child the angrier the child becomes. When the transition from angry to sad happens, parents can step in to help calm down and help the child understand what just happened.
Sometimes a child will thrive on the attention a tantrum gets them. So acknowledging their feelings (“I see you are very angry, but right now we can’t have a cookie, so when you are all done come find me and we can have some fun”) and ignoring the drama is the best policy. Don’t be surprised when a child follows you around the house crying and screaming. A tantrum without an audience is no fun!
The second the screaming stops, jump right in “it sounds like you are all done, let’s go play!” and move on. Sometimes the time and space to talk about what just happened may be there if the age is appropriate. If so take the opportunity to matter-of-factly disapprove of the behavior, if not just know that your response was a positive learning experience to help prevent future outbreaks!