Tantrums – Can I Throw One?


(pleading adult voice)  


(more pleading from the tired grownup) 

This is my two-year old son in his gymnastics class today.  I can hear them as I am sitting in the waiting area for the parents.  I feel bad for the coach.  I knew it was going to one of those mornings.

You know how you just know on some days that your child just woke up on the wrong side of the bed?  Everything is a battle.  From changing clothes (“I can’t dooooo it!”) and then to brushing teeth (“I don’t waaaant to!).  Eating breakfast is a mini-Congressional debate.  “Eat your oatmeal, you said you wanted oatmeal.”  “I want pancakes!”  “You told me you wanted oatmeal, now you have to eat it.” “I want pancakes!”…. and so on.

The “terrible twos” start somewhere around fifteen months and end around age 4.  This is a normal part of development and can be very trying for most parents.  Your cute, adorable sweet baby has turned into a seemingly stubborn little monster.  Tantrums are a normal part of this.  It’s caused by your child’s need for independence and inability to harness feelings that they are having. 

Approximately 20% of toddlers have at least two tantrums a day.  And most will have at least one a week.  They are emotional outbursts that help children express the feelings that they are having.  For young children, they revert to primitive behaviors that express their feelings – yelling, crying, hitting, kicking, and even biting.  Luckily, most are short-lived and children recover quickly from them once they are distracted.   

How to handle tantrums? 

1.)  Ignore them.  Tantrums require an audience.  Has your child ever thrown a tantrum when no one was around to watch?  Children naturally want attention, especially from their parents.  So, when you are paying attention to them because they are screaming and throwing themselves to the floor, you are just reinforcing to them that “Hey, this is a great way to get mommy to put that computer down (or that baby , or that book, or those dishes, etc) and, by the way, I should remember to do this again in the future.”

2.) Be sure your child is safe.  If the tantrum is happening somewhere unsafe (as you are crossing the parking lot), pick your child up and move to a location where they can flail and cry and dramatize the end of the world because you wouldn’t buy the toy that they suddenly need.  

3.) Avoid the tantrum.  If at all possible, avoid your child’s triggers.  Hunger, tiredness, overstimulation are common triggers for kids.  Make sure they are well fed, that you are avoiding activities during naptime or late afternoon, and that your child is prepped for the activities to come.  Every child has a different temperament.  If your child gets a little crazy every time you go into a crowd, it may be too much stimulation for him/her.  Go to the festival or the museum when there aren’t so many people around.  It will be better for all of you.

4.) Take deep breaths and count to ten in your head.  It’s easy to throw the adult version of a tantrum when you are frustrated with your child or embarrassed by your child’s behavior.  Losing your own temper in front of your child just teaches them that yelling is okay.  Spanking is a grownup temper tantrum , hurts your child, and teaches him/her that hitting is fine.  Don’t be surprised if your child hits or “spanks” other kids when they think the other child has done something wrong.  Child abuse happens commonly when adults lose their patience.  If you need it, make sure that your child is safe and give yourself a time-out. 

Well, apparently, this coach knows how to handle cranky frustrated two-year olds, because my son is now happily working his way through the mini-obstacle course in the gym.