28 February 2013, by Mandy Loh
Cristan’s now 20 months old, and in the recent months, he’s been practising his throwing. Tantrum throwing, that is. Yes, it seems the dreaded “Terrible Twos” do not suddenly start when the child turns two years old, but can happen anytime during a toddler’s second year.
According to several resources, toddlers throw tantrums because they have reached a developmental stage of asserting their individuality and independence. They are also frequently frustrated by their limited communication abilities, and coupled with a lack of ability to delay gratification, inevitably results in a meltdown of colossal proportions.
In my experience so far, Cristan usually throws a tantrum when he is:
- being told to stop, or is physically stopped from doing something;
- unable to communicate his needs/ wants effectively;
- tired or hungry, or worse, a combination of both.
I’ve found that being able to identify such triggers helps me to prevent his tantrums from escalating, or at least mentally prepares me for the screaming and crying that is about to come. I’ve also learnt some effective ways to deal with his behaviour, and I thought I’d share them with you! (Of course, every child is different, and what works for Cristan might not necessarily work with your child, but nonetheless, here they are!)
1) The Art of Distraction
When we have to stop Cristan from doing something, or take something away from him, it is almost certain that he will launch into a full-blown tantrum. (For example, stopping his Elmo video when his daily quota of video time is up) Thus, we have learnt to distract him quickly, by offering him a toy, or singing a silly song or two. This works extremely well most of the time, as he’ll get caught up in the next activity and forget about what happened before!
2) Showing Empathy and Love
It is important to acknowledge the feelings and emotions of our toddlers, young though they may be. This is especially so when a tantrum erupts because of the toddler’s inability to communicate effectively. For example, Cristan might get upset when he feels thirsty but is unable to tell me that he wants a drink. Instead of losing my cool in response to his tantrum, I’ll speak to him in a gentle, calm voice, telling him that I understand that he is frustrated and upset, but that he should still try to explain what he wants. Then I start giving him multiple choice answers, and when I hit on the right answer, his tantrum will evaporate almost immediately.
However, if the tantrum gets worse, I find that a cuddle works best. You may think that this is rewarding bad behaviour, but when a toddler is in the midst of a terrible tantrum, they are actually scared because they have lost control of themselves. This is precisely the time that they need to feel safe and loved, and a loving hug would effectively calm them down and stop the tantrum.
3) Skilful Avoidance
The best defence is avoidance. In my case, I already know that Cristan gets cranky when he is tired or hungry (hmm…much like his Dadda, to be honest). So as much as possible, I would avoid those situations. This might mean planning the day carefully to ensure that Cristan has enough naptime, and having some snacks stashed in the diaper bag in case meals are delayed for any reason.
One time, Cristan decided to have a mother-of-all tantrums in a crowded restaurant because he was sleepy AND hungry (his lunch time was delayed and it was getting close to naptime). Tough as it was, I ignored the stares and glares of my fellow diners, and focused on calming Cristan down before quickly feeding him his lunch. From then on, I made sure Cristan always has his meals on time!
I’d just end off with a word to all fellow Mommas out there: Dealing with tantrums is an acquired skill. It takes time to understand what triggers a tantrum, and what the underlying cause might be. But not to worry, your darling tot will make sure you have plenty of practice, haha! 🙂