Let’s face it. Nothing can push your angry button faster than when your child throws a temper tantrum. Common tantrum behaviors include:
- Crying and refusing to cooperate
- Whining, clinging or “melting” when picked up
- Screaming and yelling
- Hitting, kicking and biting
- Stubbornness and insisting on getting her own way
Why Does My Child Act This Way? At age two, your child isn’t able to control her emotions. This is normal. The old saying, “She wants what she wants when she wants it,” expresses perfectly how a two-year-old handles her immediate needs. Her time frame is now and not later. Only with experience and age will she develop the tools that will bring her emotions under control. Your child doesn’t hate you or want to manipulate you even if you think she is capable of this behavior.
Here’s what you need to know so you can help her grow beyond her tantrum behavior:
- She hasn’t learned the concept of time; she understands only now. You are going to help her understand that she can wait for things and that, in the long run, immediate gratification will not make her a happy and a satisfied child.
- She hasn’t learned that her choices have consequences. She will learn that some choices are more beneficial than others and that different choices have different outcomes.
- She doesn’t understand the adult world. This includes complicated language, responsibility, money, time management, self control and family dynamics.
- She doesn’t understand the range of emotions she is experiencing.
- She has limited language to help her to explain how she feels, which creates confusion and frustration.
- She is easily frustrated by the physical, intellectual or psychological limitations, which prevent her from doing the same things as older children.
- She hasn’t learned the rules of acceptable social behavior.
- She hasn’t learned how to handle failure.
What Should I Do When My Child Has a Tantrum?
First of all, remember that you are the adult! You need to remain calm and not imitate her behavior. It will only make the situation worse. Make this a learning situation for her. The rule of thumb is: Discipline posture with a loving heart.
- Immediately correct the bad behavior and be consistent.
- Use each experience as an opportunity to teach one of the lessons from the previous list.
- Strengthen the bond of your parent/child relationship through building her trust and love by letting her know that you love her but aren’t happy with her present behavior.
Use a method from the list below, which you can think of as a “tool box” that will not only fix the problem, but also help your child learn self-discipline and emotional control.
How Do I Carry Out These Suggestions?
Here is your tool box. Each time your child has a tantrum, use one or more of these tools:
- Remove your child to a quiet place where you can communicate. Get down to her level, and look her in the eye. If she is embarrassed or if it interferes with her cultural ways, she may not look at you. That is okay. Speak with a firm voice but with loving eyes. Be positive and speak in short sentences that she can understand. Don’t label her with names such as “bad,” “stupid,” etc.
- Help your child calm down by singing or telling a short funny story about something she did. This may be a time to hold, rock and tell her that she is “good” and only her behavior is “bad.”
- Empathize with how your child must feel. She is trying to figure out her place in this complicated world. Help her understand how she feels and fits in. Put yourself in her shoes rather than thinking she can act like an adult. She is a child. She needs time to develop her thinking skills.
- Name your child’s emotion. (e.g., “I know you are feeling frustrated and I want to help you.”)
- Don’t step in to save her. Let her experience failure as long as her actions aren’t dangerous to others and won’t harm her. This will teach your child reorganization, redirection, problem solving and delayed gratification.
Is There Anything I Can Do to Avoid Tantrums?
Yes! While you can’t prevent tantrums altogether, there are a number of strategies you can use to decrease the number of tantrums and the severity of those tantrums that are unavoidable.
- Prior to running errands or making other trips outside the house, predict if your child could get hungry, bored or tired . Prepare for these times by bringing along a packed bag of favorite toys or food for distraction and redirection.
- Have family rules that are consistent. (e.g. bedtime, mealtime, bath time, sharing and individual time, chores. etc.)
- Establish daily routines, and help your child follow them.
Tell your child ahead of time what is expected of her for the next day, afternoon and hour. This prepares your child for a transition and she is learning the sense of time. If she is engaged in an activity and you see that it could turn into a tug of war for her to leave, use an alarm clock, egg timer etc., so your child will have a clue to what is going to happen next. (e.g., when the bell rings, it is time for bed.)
- Prepare your child for changes. If you know that something will cause a change in your daily routines, talk to her about it ahead of time.
- Develop a discipline strategy. Here are some recommended books that address this issue in detail.
-The No-Cry Discipline Solutions by Elizabeth Pantley
-You Are Not the Boss of Me by Betsy Brown Braun
-Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina
Kathy has 35 years of child development experience and is the author of the My Baby Compass series. She is certified by the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA), holding both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in speech and language pathology. She gained her clinical expertise working with children and adults with a full spectrum of communication disorders.
Working for United Cerebral Palsy in an inclusive child development center, Kathy provided therapy in the classroom and facilitated educational, nurturing relationships between parents and their children, which inspired her ideas for My Baby Compass. Her down-to-earth, approachable style makes this program accessible for all parents and caregivers. Kathy and her husband live on a farm in Weddington, North Carolina, where she is completing the last book of the My Baby Compass series. These books can be purchased on Amazon.com.
Above is Adapted from Book 2, My Baby Compass