They call it the ‘Terrible Twos’ for a reason. Your once happy, calm and content toddler has barely finished blowing out the number two candles on their birthday cake when suddenly, the tantrums appear out of nowhere! Full-on meltdowns, stomping of feet, shouting when they don’t get their own way and a new favorite word – NO!
Whilst it can be a really challenging time, especially when it arrives unexpectedly, there are some practical ways to cope with the ‘Terrible Twos’. Here are our tips to help you understand toddler tantrums and how best to deal with them.
Understanding your toddler
To help tackle toddler tantrums, it’s important to understand why they might occur in the first place.
At the age of two, your child is not only going through some impressive physical development, but their mind is going through some huge development leaps too. Your child is becoming increasingly independent, learning that they can do things without your assistance and beginning to understand their own mind – recognizing their own preferences, likes and dislikes.
Your toddler will be wanting to learn more about the world around them and explore it on their own terms. Try and stop them in their tracks or prevent them from doing what they want and the inevitable meltdowns occur.
Why does my toddler have a tantrum?
Just like our own mood swings as adults, toddlers often respond to frustration and disappointment throughout the day. With less experience on how to manage their emotions than us grown-ups, a physical reaction is the most frequent way to share how they are feeling.
When things don’t go their way (e.g. being asked to go outside or brush their teeth when they don’t want to) your toddler can experience feelings of frustration, anger and confusion. Not yet old enough to fully articulate how they are feeling (and often with limited vocabulary choices), a tantrum or a strong NO, is the most common response.
Toddlers also have a very limited understanding of patience, risk and danger, so whilst you are being a responsible parent and keeping them safe, they may feel you are holding them back or preventing them from having fun.
Why does my toddler tantrum more some days than others?
There are a few reasons why you may be seeing more tantrums than usual;
- Is your toddler tired? – Have they missed a nap? Is it past their bedtime? Being overtired can make a toddler’s emotional reactions more extreme and as such, only a small frustration can trigger a tantrum.
- Are they hungry? – Have you ever heard of the term ‘Hangry’? Just like adults, toddlers experience this too. Sometimes a cuddle and a healthy snack can be enough to snap them out of their mood.
- Has your routine changed? – Toddlers are often creatures of habit, if you have gone outside of your normal daily routine, gone somewhere new or done something differently from usual (e.g. walking rather than using the car), this can sometimes trigger confusion and upset.
- Arrival of a new sibling – the arrival of a new baby can be a strange time for your toddler, with parents attention diverted elsewhere perhaps leaving them feeling a little left out of abandoned.
Toddler tantrums can at times be a little embarrassing, particularly if they occur in public. Here are some practical ways to help with tantrums.
- Allow some independence where it is safe to do so – Whilst yes it may be quicker to put your child’s coat or shoes on when you’re in a hurry, they may actually want to do it themselves. Sometimes allowing your toddler to do a few safe activities independently and ‘help’ with day-to-day tasks can help them feel important and in control.
- Give your toddler some choice – Whilst in reality the toddler can’t determine what the exact plan for the day is, making them feel like they are calling the shots can help keep those tantrums under control. For example, rather than telling them a fixed agenda, give them two choices e.g. Would you like to walk or go on the scooter? Would you like beans or cheese with your jacket potato? That way, your toddler feels like they have made the decision and is more likely to buy in to your choices.
- Distraction – If you aren’t able to appease your toddler, distraction is often a welcomed approach. Change the environment or divert their attention to something else to break the chain of frustration. With a relatively short attention span, something as simple as a change of scenery can often do the trick.
- Try not to bribe or threaten – For example “if you do that one more time then we won’t go to the park”. Unless you are prepared to follow through, empty threats can cause more damage in the long run. It’s also recommended to avoid letting them always get their own way. Just because they have had a tantrum, doesn’t mean you should give in and let them make demands. Stay firm.
- Try not to let your frustrations show – This can be easier said than done, especially if you are in public and your child is refusing to sit in the shopping cart or throwing themselves on the floor over your choice of cereal. Take some deep breaths, speak firmly but calmly and try to explain in simple language that your child will understand. If that doesn’t work, try to remove them from the situation where possible. If you become upset or angry, your child can pick up on this and become anxious or upset, which can actually make the situation worse.
- Hug it out – Don’t underestimate the power of a cuddle. Simply holding your child and letting them know that you understand their frustrations can have a really calming effect.
Whilst it’s a cliché, it’s important to remember that toddler tantrums are just a phase, usually reducing in frequency when your toddler is old enough to tell you how they are feeling and properly articulate their emotions. That said, wait till the threenager years arrive – now they are a force to be reckoned with!