How to Deal with the Terrible Twos

If you’re a parent with a child between the ages of one and three, then you’re probably experiencing what many parents are experiencing — toddler tantrums and difficult child behavior. The American Academy of Pediatricians perfectly describes this phase in your child’s life.

Strong emotions are hard for a young child to hold inside. When children feel frustrated, angry, or disappointed, they often express themselves by crying, screaming, or stomping up and down. As a parent, you may feel angry, helpless, or embarrassed. Temper tantrums are a normal part of your child’s development as he learns self-control. In fact, almost all children have tantrums between the ages of 1 and 3. You’ve heard them called “the terrible twos.”

As every parent knows, this behavior is very stressful and it can affect your relationship with your child and your spouse. Fortunately, there are solutions. Much of the difficulty we experience with our children is related to how we communicate with them. Often times, we are frustrated with their non-compliance, and much of what we say in response to our children may make sense to us at the time, but is totally ineffective.

Terrible Two Tips

Avoiding and Preventing “Terrible Two” Temper Tantrums

  • Provide Limited Choices — Just like adults, children prefer having a choice. In the child’s case, you may not be offering them great choices, but having a choice (any choice) can mean the difference between a complete meltdown versus an ornery child. A good example is when a child won’t move. You can give them the choice to go on their own or to be carried.
  • Regular Routines — Most children thrive from having routines in their life. When daily life becomes random and chaotic, children will often act out and throw tantrums. Routines help make children feel safe and under control. Not having routines in your child’s life is like walking around with a behavioral time bomb.
  • Lead by Example — You may not recognize it yet, but your children observe your behavior intensely. Sometimes they mimic you (without you even realizing it), while other times they test you. How you react and handle situations has a direct impact on how your own child will deal with stressful situations.
  • Positive Reinforcement — What’s the best way to train animals? Through positive reinforcement. Your kids might be human beings, but as you already know, they’re also animals (in every sense of the word!). Children will respond to consistent, proper positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement can be as simple as a compliment for good behavior, or as big as a new toy for behaving well for a significant period of time. Over time, you won’t have to always provide positive reinforcement, because the behavior will become a good habit.
  • Encourage Some Independence — If you’re trying to have complete control over your children, then you’re doing it wrong. A parent’s job is to prepare their child for adulthood and independence. Independence is also exactly what your child wants (separation anxiety excluded). Therefore, your parenting style should include a gradual push towards independence, and it all starts when your child is capable of making the simplest of choices. Allowing a two-year-old to do some things on their own — without your interference or correction — can go a long way towards avoiding tantrums and enabling them to feel independent.
  • Healthy Eating — Having your child eat healthy food can be a difficult problem in itself, but you can take steps towards the foods they have access to. Food can have a direct impact on blood sugar levels, their emotional affect, and how they respond to stressful situations. Eating well can go a long way towards your child behaving more appropriately.

Dealing with “Terrible Two” Temper Tantrums

  • Enforce Reasonable Consequences — If your child throws a temper tantrum, then there should be a reasonable consequence. For example, taking away a toy for a period of time, or physically removing them from the situation, are reasonable consequences for bad behavior. They will learn over time to better control their behavior if they have to consistently suffer the consequences.
  • Don’t Give In — Whether you like it or not, temper tantrums are grudge matches. They are also a test of your parenting resolve. The moment you give into a tantrum, the child knows they can get their way in the future by exhibiting that behavior.
  • Stay in Control — It’s incredibly easy to get sucked into the out-of-control behavior that’s exhibited when your child is throwing a tantrum. Depending on the situation, you can feel any number of emotions, like embarrassment, anger, and frustration. The problem occurs when you start to take their behavior personally, because you exit the parenting role, and engage them with the same negative energy. The best way to approach your child’s temper tantrum is to separate yourself from the behavior emotionally. Instead, look at them as the child they are. Try to understand what they might be feeling, and what led to their eruption. Then use that empathic knowledge to influence how you should deal with the situation. The key to staying in control is to not take their behavior personally.
  • Remove from Public — One of the most embarrassing things a parent can experience is when their child throws a tantrum in public. If you’ve exhausted your options, like giving your child choices, then you should take your child to a private place. That may be your car, a room in a home, or even a dressing room (if you’re in a mall). The key is to reduce stimulus, remove them from having an audience, and to calm them down. When they do calm down, discuss what happened, and talk about behavior alternatives.
  • Be Consistent — Being consistent is probably the number one rule in parenting. When it comes to children throwing temper tantrums, be consistent with your reaction and the consequences you assign as a response to their bad behavior. Every situation is unique, but if your child knows that every time they throw a tantrum there will be a consequence, it will make them think twice before throwing a tantrum again.

When trying to prevent and deal with tantrums, it’s important to remember that behavior doesn’t change over night. It usually takes many months before a child’s behavior starts to dramatically improve. If you find that you’re not seeing any changes in behavior, experiment and try different approaches to behavioral consequences. Just make sure you aren’t changing your response and trying new things every time they have a tantrum. Be patient and be consistent.