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The Terrible Two's and Their Temper Tantrums

Children fight for their independence from ages 1-5.
Children fight for their independence from ages 1-5.
Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

When a child becomes two years old they go through a normal stage in their development that many refer to as the terrible twos. This is characterized by the many mood changes and temper tantrums along with the word “no” being used by the toddler. The terrible two behaviors begin when the toddlers begin to struggle amongst their reliance on an adult and their craving for their independence. They will cling to their parent and then all of a sudden they are trying to run in the opposite direction. The terrible twos are challenging for parents and caregivers however, it is important to keep in mind that the toddler is undergoing important intellectual, social, emotional and motor skill changes in this stage of their life. Their vocabulary is growing, they are enthusiastic about doing things on their own, and they are beginning to realize they are being expected to follow particular rules. A two year old is still unable to move as rapidly as they would like to, they cannot communicate their needs as clearly as they would like to nor can they control their feelings. They become frustrated and misbehave because of this which is where the term terrible twos comes from.

When a child is in their terrible two stage it is to be expected to occasionally lose your patience with each other, this is normal for both of you. Do your best to remain calm. When your child displays their temper tantrum it is best to ignore the behavior but offer comfort. Limit your usage of the word no and use other forms of discipline by redirecting your child or by using humor. Avoid challenging situations by deciding to take your child shopping during their nap time. They will be tired and it will provoke the terrible two behaviors. When you give the toddler control over simple things it can help to give them the independence they are seeking and can ward off a tantrum. Offer them simple choices such as choosing between 2 different things to drink or by giving them a choice as to when they should brush their teeth by offering to do it before or after they take their bath. Make sure to keep things that you do not want your toddler to have access to out of their sight. By controlling your home environment whenever possible can prevent a tantrum. Your child has a very short attention span at this age and it is easy to distract them by offering another object to them or by beginning a new activity to replace their frustration. Just by changing their environment can help too by taking them outside when you are inside or just by taking them into another room of the house can help as well. Choose your battles and accommodate your child when you can. Learn your child’s limits if they are too tired do not plan to keep them out longer by running one more errand. Your child sees you as their example. Do not hit or spank them during a tantrum. The physical maneuvers send your child a message that using force and physical punishment is Ok and will result in an increase of negative behaviors from your child. You need to set an example of self-control for your child instead.

It is important to try to understand what is causing the tantrum. If your child just had a big disappointment then you may need to provide them with comfort instead of ignoring the tantrum. If your child refuses something and has a tantrum it is best to ignore their behaviors as long as your child is not a threat to others or putting themselves into harm’s way. Do not pay attention to your child but remain within sight. Never leave them alone. If your child is in danger of hurting themselves or others during their tantrum they need to be taken to a quiet and safe place so they can calm down even if you are in a public place you need to do this as well. If you give into your child while they are having a tantrum you will be teaching them that they get their own way when they have a tantrum. Make sure to praise your child for regaining their control. When your child is calm you can give them a hug and reassurance that they are still loved no matter what. Make sure that you praise your child when they are displaying appropriate behaviors. It is important to accept your child’s changes that they are going through and show them love and respect this will help your child make it through this difficult stage in their life with confidence. Tantrums are not cause for concern and typically stop on their own as your child matures developmentally and is able to understand themselves.