Tantrums and the "Terrible two's"

Tantrums are most common in 2-year-olds, if children learn how to solve problems in other ways, they can be less common in years 3 and 4.

Tantrums start when toddlers are becoming more independent. The "Terrible Twos" often refers to a time when your child is more uncooperative, demanding and stubborn. It is not just a phase, and children usually don't just "grow out of it."

Being a parent to a child starting to have tantrums, it's your job to teach your child how to express emotions in appropriate ways and how to manage frustration. Doing this now, prevents much bigger problems as your child grows.

Children learn to continue having tantrums if they get what they want. They learn to escalate their behaviour to make people give into their demands. If a tantrum works, it's likely to happen again, and again.

Tantrums are when your child has fits of screaming, crying, falling to the floor, stomping their feet, and can last anywhere from 30 seconds to hours. They happen when children feel strong emotions that they just haven't learned how to deal with yet. Toddlers having tantrums usually are frustrated because:

  • For no obvious reason at all
  • They were told no.
  • They do not know the words to say what they want
  • Things didn't go the way they want
  • They are overtired
  • A task may just be too difficult for them

How to avoid tantrums

  • Try to avoid saying "No" and "stop" too often. (Try to say "yes." Ex: "Mom, can I have a cookie?" "Yes you can, after dinner."

  • Have necessary and realistic rules. ("If you throw your food on the floor, that tells me you are all done and you leave the table.")

  • Keep your child busy with activities, especially in situations where you know your child will be bored.

  • Decide if your child's requests are reasonable before you say yes or no

  • Stick to your decisions

  • Try to keep the same routine for mornings, meals and sleep times

  • Watch your child and praise them often


When a tantrum happens what can you do?

If your child is under 2 years old, you can use planned ignoring.

Ignoring usually isn't the best method if you're out or have visitors/other children over.

Planned ignoring means ignoring your child completely. Do it look, speak or touch your child. Walk away and pay no attention to your child until the tantrum stops. When the tantrum stops and your child is quiet and behaving well, praise them!

For tantrums in older toddlers you must stop what you are doing immediately, walk over to your child and get down to their level. Calmly and firmly tell your child what to stop doing and what to do instead. ("Sam, stop screaming and talk to me with your inside voice.")

If the tantrum does not stop, sometimes children (like adults) just need a quiet moment to have some space, to breathe, and collect themselves.

Quiet time, means taking your child away from the situation where a problem has occurred and having them be quiet for short period of time.

It's often handy to have a timer your child can see. (Count down on your phone, an egg timer.)

Tell your child what they have done wrong, explain that they are to be quiet for one minute or until the timer stops, but it doesn't start until they are quiet. When your child stops screaming or crying, the. You can set the timer, and your child can watch.

When your child has been quiet for a minute, always return your child to the activity where the problem occurred in the first place. Let them rejoin in the activity or find them something to do and then praise your child for behaving well, as soon as they are.

You may need to repeat quiet time a number of times before your child learns to manage frustration.

Tantrums become a little trickier when you are out in public.

If a tantrum occurs when you are out, you can use planned ignoring. If it's not possible to use planned ignoring, you can use quiet time. Find a safe place to sit with your child, a park bench or your car. Pick your child up and move them somewhere safe, tell your child they must sit quietly. And then you wait beside them, without talking until they have been quiet for about 30 seconds. If your child does not quiet, as a last resort pick them up, go home and take them straight to timeout. Try again next time.

It's always helpful to help your child understand how they are feeling. Children are only just starting to learn different emotions and how they go about dealing with them. It's best if you can help your child understand by giving their feelings names but never naming it for them. For example; your child has his arms crossed and a big frown on his face. You can help by asking if they are mad? Disappointed? Sometimes it's helpful to stick a volcano chart, or facial expression chart to your fridge for your child to use and point at, so you know just how your child is feeling.