David Coleman: My child's tantrums are out of control – what can I do to stop them?
Published 16/07/2013 | 05:00
My DAUGHTER is two years old and extremely temperamental! She can go into a complete meltdown at the slightest thing.
Yesterday, morning she wanted toast so I put some on for her; I had just made some for myself with jam on it.
I took a bite of mine – well, that was it, she started screaming at me and throwing herself on the floor.
I tried to explain that her piece wasn't ready yet and that was my piece I had eaten but she just wouldn't listen.
Quite a few times we have had to leave shops or restaurants because she has what we call, one of her 'meltdowns'. She can be very violent and aggressive at times.
For example, she walks up to her four-year-old brother and pulls his hair or scrapes him or thumps him. Whatever her brother has, she wants. Food or toys, I have to get two of everything.
My husband and I just don't know what situation is going to make her mad. We find ourselves, at times, shouting or even slapping her as she just doesn't seem to listen to us and we both hate doing that.
We have tried the 'time-out' corner but she just screams at us and won't listen and we have to keep returning her seven or eight times. She usually ends up there for a long time because she won't listen.
She got herself so upset the other morning, because I gave out to her for hitting her brother, that she got sick.
Is it just something we have to learn to cope with until she grows out of it?
The temperamental nature of two-year-olds is indeed something to which every parent has to accommodate. For the toddler, this is a period in their lives where they have an increasing sense of their own independence, a bit like a mini-adolescence!
However, this is also a very instinctive and unconscious process for toddlers. They live entirely in the moment and experience everything in a very concrete, bodily way by touching, tasting and manipulating things.
The concept of delayed gratification (waiting for something you want) doesn't really exist for toddlers. They also experience and express their feelings in a very unfiltered, direct manner.
So, typically, they show their frustration, distress, disappointment, upset, joy and so on in dramatic tantrums, tears or hearty belly laughter.
Your daughter may have a different temperament to her brother and so perhaps this is the first time you feel so challenged. Her behaviour seems very surprising to you.
Consequently, you and your husband might need to re-evaluate your parenting approaches to your daughter.
At the moment, it is slipping into a very negative pattern of interaction.
For example, slapping her will never work. All you teach her, by slapping, is that when you are very cross and someone doesn't do what you want, you hit them. Your daughter is already mirroring your behaviour by thumping her brother, too.
A "time-out corner" or "naughty step" approach to behaviour management is a terrible affliction for families and is a very inappropriate way to deal with toddlers.
Toddlers do not need to be punished for their misbehaviour. They simply need to be stopped from the misbehaviour and shown (often repeatedly) what is the right way to behave. Being very firm and directive, but kind, to toddlers is the best way to approach them.
When we punish them, they usually feel hurt. Because of their young age, they then go on to express this hurt by having a further tantrum, leading, usually, to more punishment.
The possibility for this to turn into an increasingly negative cycle of misbehaviour and punishment is quite high. You want to try to avoid this.
Instead, think about how you structure your home for your toddler. Be aware of her and what she is doing, or trying to do. Anticipate times when she might need some help (to avoid her getting frustrated). Distract her with something else if she seems very stuck in a situation.
Make sure to keep an eye on her energy levels. Food and sleep are really important for toddlers, as they get cranky quickly when they are tired and/or hungry.
Timing of outings, for example, may need to fit around her naps, meals or snack times.
Most importantly, though, try to refocus your parenting into a relentlessly positive one. Always be alert to opportunities to catch your daughter being good so that you can praise her positive behaviour. She will get older and wiser (in due course) and your aim is to continue to have a really positive relationship with her by that time.
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