Everyone warns you about the terrible twos. The day your innocent sweetheart turns into a raging cyclone of emotions.
What if I told you two was my favorite childhood age? Even with the out of control temper tantrums. Two year olds are just so cute! They still love to snuggle mama and it’s fascinating to watch them learn something new every day.
To be completely transparent, though I love the cute words and adorable faces, sometimes I’m not ready for the inventible temper tantrum.
I still remember the day clearly. I was about to pop with my second baby and my husband and I decided to get out of the house. There is a beautiful outdoor shopping center nearby so after dinner we went over for a stroll.
We passed the ice cream shop and our two year old daughter asked for ice cream. We told her “Not this time sweetie” and kept walking.
Well…she was not satisfied with that answer. She quickly decided she needed that ice cream and starting having an epic meltdown. The kind where everyone stops and looks at you with a startled expression.
She started screaming at the top of her lungs and went limp when we tried to hold her hand. My husband eventually had to scoop her up and carry her to the car.
It was not the evening stroll I had in mind when we first arrived at the shopping center!
We knew we had to get ahead of these tantrums because soon I’d have two screaming kids at home. But what were we supposed to do?
It was our first child and Googling how to discipline your child left us even more confused. There were so many different methods and techniques. And they all claimed their way was the best way.
So naturally, we talked with family and asked what they did that worked. Our family said something that really stuck out to me.
If you take care of these behaviors at home, they won’t happen in public.
Was it really that simple?
I thought yeah right and if I’m being honest I responded a bit defensively.
What do you mean? I thought we were taking care of it at home!
The next week I took a step back and evaluated our situation. I soon realized there were numerous times when my daughter whined for something and I didn’t address it or I caved and gave her what she wanted without giving it a second thought.
It was true! I wasn’t addressing the misbehavior at home.
So how does this relate to public temper tantrums? Are you saying there will never be a tantrum again?
Yes and no. As a school psychologist I quickly learned tantrums are normal for this age. It would be unrealistic for parents to think their children will never push back.
When a young child is frustrated they don’t have the verbal skills or cognitive ability to appropriately express their feelings. Have you ever met a toddler who said calmly “I’m feeling frustrated. I really wanted ice cream.” Only in my dreams!
Instead, toddlers do what they know. They pout, cry, scream because that’s how they know to express themselves. And because they may realize it gets them what they want.
Even for adults, it’s not always easy to understand emotion and express frustration in appropriate ways. So how can we expect two year olds to do this without some coaching?
We may not completely eliminate tantrums, but here are things we can do to limit the number of tantrums from occurring.
Tip #1 To Avoid a Tantrum:
Do not give in to the two year old tantrums! This is probably the most important step.
When our daughter was screaming for ice cream if we gave in and bought it for her she may start to think Wow, if I want something I just need to throw a fit and scream. Then mommy and daddy will give it to me. Kids are smart!
This is vital to understand. I love this resource from the National Association of School Psychology (NASP) because it gives parents and teachers practical tips for handling temper tantrums. Download the handout here.
NASP points out that regardless of verbal ability children may engage in a tantrum IF they have learned that tantrums are an effective way to get help or get what they want.
A child may have the ability to say “Mommy can I please have ice cream,” but they may choose to scream and demand it instead because they know their tantrums work.
Trust me, I get it. It’s not easy to be in public with a screaming child. Sometimes we want to give in to avoid the embarrassment. But in the long run this won’t work. This only reinforces bad behavior.
I’ll say it again, it is very important not to give in to the outburst!
Address the little and the big behaviors at home. If your child consistently whines every time they ask for a snack, stop giving her one until she asks nicely!
Tip #2 to Avoid a Tantrum:
Prepare yourself! I love so many things about two year olds, but I always have to prepare myself for this stage. I don’t love confrontation so I noticed with my first child I often gave in, to avoid the meltdown.
In the long run this was not helping her develop good behavior and instead she developed some bad habits.
It’s hard! I know. Especially when you have a thousand other things to be doing. How can we possibly correct every single little behavior?
We have to try our best and we have to be intentional about parenting. Take time each night to stop and reflect. How did you handle the whining today? Were there moments where you stood your ground? Celebrate! If not, what can you do better next time?
With practice, it gets easier to stand up to the tantrums and stay firm.
Tip #3 to Avoid a Tantrum:
Teach your kids coping skills! As I mentioned at the beginning many two year olds lack verbal skills. They don’t understand what “angry” feels like and they struggle to verbalize “I need help” or “I am frustrated.”
When dealing with a negative behavior, you can correct them and validate their feelings. So if your child throws his toy because you told him to clean up you could say “Tim, you cannot throw your toys. This could hurt somebody and we don’t do that in our house. I understand you are frustrated. Let’s take a few deep breaths.”
Instead of just reprimanding them you teach them how to cope. Give them a way to get the anger out and help them identify the feeling they are experiencing.
I love building kid’s social emotional skills with books. Here is a collection of books I used as a school psychologist to reinforce identification of feelings and positive behavior.
Take a deep breath mama. You can do this!
You may be skeptical like I was at first, but give it a try. Be consistent and every time your child whines have a plan on how to respond.
Now I understand nothing in life is guaranteed. But I truly believe if you nip the bad behavior at home and during the terrible two stage it will GREATLY reduce the number of tantrums in the future!
How do you handle the terrible twos?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Also be sure to sign up for our newsletter so you can receive the latest parenting tips and encouragement from Inspired Motherhood.