The District in Tustin

Untangling The Terrible Twos

First of all, be assured that some mad scientist hasn’t 
switched your darling babe with a bad-tempered clone.
Nor are you in the midst of a karmic reckoning for a 
transgression you committed years ago, say the time in high school when you stayed out till three a.m. and 
nearly gave your poor mother a coronary.

No, none of those scenarios account for the mood 
swings that can send your toddler into a tizzy in the 
blink of an eye.  It’s just that at the age of two, your 
darling babe is undergoing the necessary developmental step of beginning to strike out on the path of becoming an individual.

Your two year old might tell you if she had adequate language skills, “Gee Mom, it was great spending nine months floating all comfy in the warm bath of your uterus and yes, the infant stage was kind of cool with all those people constantly making a big fuss over me, but it’s time to move on.  I can’t stay a baby forever. I’m a big girl now.”  Well, not quite big, but moving in that direction.

Part of the process of becoming an individual is asserting one’s independence.  That requires testing boundaries and pushing the envelope to see how far one can go and how much one can get away with without getting into trouble.  And as you’re discovering, your darling two-year-old can react violently when the envelope pushes back and things don’t go the way they want them to.

Tantrums are the most common behavioral issues that you’ll face with a toddler. They usually rear their ugly heads at age two and begin to taper off at age three. Any parent, as well as anyone who’s been in the company of a tired, cranky toddler, knows that a two-year-old tantrum is a thing to behold:  the screaming, the wailing, the sobbing, not to mention the hitting, biting, and the ultimate dramatic effect, throwing oneself on the floor in a raging puddle of woe — in short anything to express the frustration of not getting what they so desperately want.

Don’t let it rattle you; the tantrum stage is something almost every child goes through. It’s important to understand that your two-year-old isn’t trying to be a brat when she wails like a banshee because you won’t let her play with your cell phone. She just doesn’t have any other way of expressing her frustration.

At this age, the best method for dealing with a tantrum is distraction and redirection.  Remove the cause of the tantrum (the phone) and replace it with something else: a toy or a snack.

If little Julia is wailing because she wants to open the cookies in the grocery basket, remove them from her field of vision and distract her with something like “Let’s go pick out the veggies for dinner tonight, or “Let’s see if we can find your juice boxes.”

No matter how angry and frustrated you get, never resort to yelling, spanking and threatening.  These tactics will only make things worse. The tantrum will abate more quickly by ignoring it than by exacerbating it with threats and an angry voice, which a child at this stage of development has no capability of understanding.

On the opposite end, many parents fall into the trap of becoming so undone by a tantrum that they immediately give in to the child’s demands just to quiet them down. This tactic shows your toddler that throwing a tantrum gets them what they want and reinforces their bad behavior.

Sometimes nothing will calm the storm and you just have to let the tantrum run its course.  If the child becomes violent, (hitting, biting, or throwing things) you may need to hold them tightly to keep them from hurting themselves or others. Once the storm has passed, move on without punishment, which isn’t appropriate at this stage.

Make life easier on yourself and your child (and the general public!) by taking note of situations that are tantrum-prone and avoiding them until your toddler is old enough to handle them better. If you and little Justin have been out running errands all morning and he missed his nap, don’t be surprised if he has a total meltdown at his play date if that’s next on the agenda.

Use these tools to minimize the ‘terrible’ part of this developmental stage, which certainly has its lovely points as well. And last but not least, make this your mantra:  “These twos shall pass!”

Oh, the joys of parenting!  You might have muttered that phrase through
gritted teeth at the grocery store while your two-year old screamed his lungs out because you refused to let him experience the joy of hurling a box of pasta onto the floor – for the third time.

Oh, the horror.  That sweet little cherub who used to be such a charmer has crossed the line into the terrible twos and is morphing into a monster right before your eyes.  What’s a parent to do?