Nurture Article | The Portland Hospital Parenting Magazine
Autumn Issue 2012 | Lucy Elkins
One of the childhood milestones most likely to fill parents with dread rather than excitement, is the onset of the so-called terrible twos.
Everyone’s witnessed a two-year-old tantrum – when a child throws themselves prostrate on the floor in a fit of pique. It can be embarrassing for parents, not to mention disruptive. So why do they do it and can you prevent it?
“It happens because children reach an age when they want to exert their independence", says Rachel Waddilove, a parental adviser and author of The Toddler Book – How to Enjoy Your Growing Child.
“During this period their language and communication skills are only just starting to develop so a lot of the time these tantrums are nothing more than symptoms of frustration.”
The terrible-two period does not necessarily strike once a child reaches their second birthday – it can be earlier or later for some children.
“Sometimes children who aren’t walking start having them at around 15 or 16 months and this can be a sign of frustration as they have the urge to be up and about but not the ability to do it,” says Rachel.
The tantrum stage normally lasts a matter of months and often improves as a child’s ability to talk comes on.
However, with some children, it can last longer - but the good news is there are ways to help with those meltdown moments.
We know every child is different and what works for some doesn't work for others. Here are some suggestions that you can try.
How to cope with a tantrum
1. One of the best ways to deal with a tantrum, is to distract the child. “Try suddenly pointing at something interesting out of the window or ask them a question about a subject that interests them. “They have very short attention spans at this age so, if you switch their attention, they can calm down in an instant as they forget what they were so upset about,” says Rachel.
2. If it does develop into a full-on meltdown, then remove them from the room especially if other children are present. “Children hate being taken out of a situation – they feel as if they are missing out,” says Rachel. Talk to them and tell them that their behavior is unacceptable. “Remember a toddler understands far more than they can say,” says Rachel. After you have explained why their behaviour is unacceptable put them in their bedroom or cot and tell them that they should think about what they have done. “Ideally they need to be calmed or calming down before you return,” adds Rachel.
3. The naughty step can help but normally only for children aged three and over. “It’s very hard for a younger child to sit still on a spot – they are likely to run off which will just make the situation worse,” advises Rachel.
4. The hardest tantrums to deal with are those that occur when you are out and about - visiting friends, family or even in the supermarket. “Tantrums are common on shopping trips as children often find shopping dull. At the first sign of trouble, try to involve them by giving them something to carry or look for. This can distract them out of the tantrum,” says Rachel. “If you are visiting someone where it is hard to remove them to another room, then quietly talk to them and tell they will lose a treat later in the day unless they calm down.”
5. If there is a flashpoint that regularly sets off a tantrum, then offer a treat if they can manage that situation without having a meltdown. For example, if you can get round the shop without having a tantrum, then you can have an extra story tonight, a little sweet or whatever it is that works as a rewards for your child.