Terrible Twos | Emma's Dairy India

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Terrible twos


Why tantrums happen and what you can do to avoid them

We’re all familiar with the popular portrayal of toddlerhood as a time when parents and their determined youngsters battle it out, and as your child approaches his second birthday, you may feel a sense of trepidation as to what lies ahead.

Understanding the developmental leaps that lead to your child’s challenging behaviour can help you accept his tantrums when they happen and develop strategies to divert meltdowns whenever possible.

What’s happening to your child?

As your child moves through toddlerhood, huge developmental changes are taking place that over time will open up his world dramatically, helping him to become more able and independent. He is becoming increasingly mobile, with greater strength and coordination allowing him to run, climb, and explore; his language acquisition is gathering pace; and he is starting to develop greater self-awareness.

All of these developments enable your child to indulge his natural curiosity and desire to investigate; this inevitably leads to conflict at times when he does something you don’t want him to or consider unsafe, but this curiosity is also a sign of his healthy interest in the world around him.

Why do tantrums happen?

While your child is reaching these exciting developmental milestones, there’s a flip side to all this change, which is where toddlers get their bad name. As he becomes increasingly independent, striking out on his own and exerting his will, he also senses that he is becoming more separate from you, which can be scary.

At the same time, he experiences frustration as his limited vocabulary means at times he struggles to make himself understood. He finds that he can’t quite achieve or reach everything he sets out to do and isn’t allowed to do everything he wants. When frustration sets in, your toddler’s emotions are immediate and strong; with a limited vocabulary to communicate how he feels or the ability to be rational when he’s upset, he is overwhelmed by his feelings and goes into meltdown, whether on the drawingroom floor or the middle of the supermarket!

What should you do during a tantrum?

The strength of rage during a tantrum can be startling. Your child may scream uncontrollably and even fling himself to the floor. You may be able to hold him securely while he screams, but at the peak of a tantrum this may inflame him more. In this case, the only answer is to sit it out (this isn’t the moment for reasoning), removing anything in his way that may hurt him. When his screams subside and turn to sobs, holding him close and comforting him will reassure him that he’s safe and loved.

Can you avoid tantrums?

While it’s unlikely you can avert every tantrum, there are certainly things you can do to limit their occurrence.

  • Have a consistent daily routine, with regular meal and nap times, healthy snacks, and dedicated ‘play’ time. Your child will feel secure when he knows what to expect, will enjoy being stimulated, and is less likely to become over-tired or hungry, which can be flash point moments for tantrums.
  • Give your child a degree of control. It’s frustrating to be told ‘no’ all the time, especially when you’re busy trying to exert your will. Build in controlled choices to your child’s day, for example, would he like to wear his red top or yellow one, would he prefer to eat a banana or a pear, or would he like to visit the sandpit or the swings?
  • Give your child advance warning of events. If he knows you’re going out in ten minutes, he’s less likely to get upset when he has to pack his train set away.
  • Be responsive to your child and praise cooperative behaviour. A recent study found that toddlers, whose parents responded in a positive way to their everyday demands for attention, were more likely to be cooperative and less likely to display negative behaviour. When your child collaborates with you, recognize this and reward him with plenty of praise.
  • Check your own behaviour. Evidence suggests that when parents are quick to anger, toddlers display more negative behaviour and have a greater number of tantrums. Being firm while remaining calm sets a good example to your toddler, showing him how to regulate his own emotions and behaviour.
  • Offer a distraction. Toddlers are remarkably fickle, so if you sense a tantrum is brewing, try diverting his attention with a distracting game or toy, or make him laugh by pulling a funny face. It’s surprising how often this works.

Other ways you can help

Above all, try to understand your toddler’s world. Talk to him about his feelings so he starts to understand basic emotions such as excitement, anger and sadness. Provide stimulating opportunities each day for him to play creatively with toys, books and puzzles, and experience appropriate physical challenges.

Let him have a go himself at new activities and be there to step in when he gets stuck so he feels supported and develops the confidence to try new things. With stimulation, love, encouragement, and clear boundaries, you can pick your way through this sometimes tricky period and enjoy watching your child flourish and blossom into a confident pre-school child.

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