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The “Terrible-Twos” Tantrum Roadmap

The “Terrible-Twos” Tantrum Roadmap

“A two-year old is kind of like having a blender, but you don’t have a top for it.”

  • - Jerry Seinfeld

  • I was never really a Seinfeld fan, but this quote was just too amazing to pass up … it perfectly sums up the current state of my existence in a single sentence. Having a two-year old is like no other chaos I had yet to experience in my lifetime, and I gave birth to her at age 32, so I wasn’t exactly a young mother!

  • My husband and I are officially six-months in to this adventure colloquially known as the “terrible-twos”… and I can say without hesitation, there’s nothing colloquial about it … this stuff is real. It’s an emotional hurricane in an alternative universe where “no” means “yes” and “up” means “down” and the only forms of communication are whining, screaming, screeching, and throwing one’s self on the floor. So, how to survive this little detour through paradise island on your voyage through parenthood? Well, first, develop some patience … trust me, if you don’t already have it, you’ll learn it. Second, you need a roadmap through the most difficult part of this rollercoaster ride … the tantrum. For a step-by-step guide, read on.

  • She gets to be emotional, because she’s two … I get to be rational, because I’m the adult
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  • I never considered myself to be a particularly patient person. In fact, I get frustrated quite easily – it’s something I’d always meant to work on, but I never really found the right motivating factor to force a change… until I gave birth to Olivia. She was the reason. Now, I can honestly say, that at least in regards to being a parent, I’m a pretty patient person. Figuring out how to set up or use electronic devices … well, that’s a whole different affair, but I’m working on it!

  • Now, having patience is great, but actually putting it into practice each and every day takes work… in regards to parenthood, IT IS the moderating force between reason and pure, raw emotion. So, here’s the secret … you, as the parent, must use patience to remain calm and rational … At. All. Times. Your child is two… the part of her brain that regulates emotion is significantly overdeveloped in proportion to the part of her brain that exercises logic and reason. She’s truly incapable of controlling her feelings … so, it’s your job to control yours. You have the tools and the capability to remain calm and rational while your little one rides out the storm. The worst thing you can do when the tantrum begins is to throw yourself into the chaos. Your child deserves better … she deserves a caring, understanding, and steady hand. Her world is upside-down, and it’s your job to turn it right-side up. Don’t let your frustration override reason. No matter what she does or how angry you feel, just remember, she can’t control her emotions, but you can control yours.
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  • Step I -- Meet Her at Her Level
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  • When your child enters the tantrum stage, her emotions are on overdrive, she’s lost control. She feels misunderstood, frustrated, and worse, she does not have the language capability or sophistication to identify and communicate her feelings. Put yourself in her shoes for a moment. What would you want? More than anything, you’d want to be understood. And nothing will communicate your understanding more so than getting down to her level. Bend down, meet her at eye-level, and talk to her. This won’t resolve the issue that led to the blow-up in the first place, but it will go a long way towards de-escalating the situation.
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  • Step II -- Talk, Reason, Repeat
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  • Now talk! Reassure her that you hear her and that understand she’s upset. Ask her what’s wrong. Encourage her to use her words to articulate what’s bothering her. In some cases, she’ll be able to tell you, in others she may continue to cry or get angry. No matter how she responds, keep calm, continue to remind her that you understand she’s upset, and keep encouraging her to communicate. If you’re able to make progress and break through the emotional fog, there may be an opportunity to begin teaching her the art of reason! In that case, proceed to Step III. If, on the other hand, she continues to cry or lashes out at you further, move to Step IV.

  • Step III -- Present a Choice
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  • Now that she’s somewhat calm, it’s time to attempt to resolve the underlying issue. Perhaps you’re on the way to the park, and she spots the ice cream shop on the corner … and she wants a treat … NOW. And she’s not taking no for an answer. Calmly present her with a choice: she can either calm down and go to the park, or she can continue to cry and go home instead (no park today). This will likely be a back and forth negotiation, so now’s the time to put those patience skills to use. Keep calm and convey understanding, but stand firm. Remind her that it’s not time for ice cream (because she just had lunch, you don’t want to spoil her dinner, she already had a treat that day, etc.), and then reiterate the choice: stop crying, behave, and continue on to the park, or keep crying/whining and go home. Generally, if Olivia was open enough to calming down in the first place, she’s open to reasoning through the choice I give her. More often than not she, although begrudgingly, relents, and we go on about our day. But, on rare occasions, she returns to full meltdown mode, and we move to Step IV.
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  • Step IV -- Distract or Ignore
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  • Whether to distract or ignore, for me, generally depends upon where we are at the time the hurricane hits. If we’re in public, I can’t very well put her in a corner and ignore her, so distraction is the name of the game. I find I have the most success when I seek her help in these scenarios. You need to give her a task, something to pull her out of the emotional turmoil and into the present. I’ll ask her to help mommy carry something, or help mommy find a bird or a flower… it can be anything, just ask her to help you do something. The request for action yanks her to the present, and the request for help makes her feel needed and valued.

  • In regards to the ignoring tactic, this is generally reserved for exceptionally difficult times, and only when we’re at home and I’m confident I can put her in a safe place away from me or anyone else for a short period of time (a minute or two max). If nothing else seems to work, it may be the only way to short-circuit the emotional overload. As always, remain calm, pick her up and put her in a safe place -- for me this is usually the corner of an adjoining room in our home, just far enough away where she can’t see me – remind her why she’s being put in “time out”, and tell her that once she stops crying she can come back out. Yes, this is of course a gamble, you don’t want to keep a two-year old in time out for hours because she won’t stop crying! In my experience, Olivia stops within a minute or two. However, on the rare occasion she won’t stop, I go back into the room after a few minutes to (1) reassure her that I’m still there, and (2) remind her that she can come out once she stops crying. Then I leave the room once again. After a few reminders, she’ll stop.

  • And there you have it … your roadmap for navigating the infamous terrible-two tantrum! If you have any other recommendations for dealing with this exceedingly difficult age, please feel free to comment … after all, I’m only half way there – I’ve got six more months to go, and I need all the help I can get!

Kristin C Follow

Multi-tasker.  Eskimo kiss-giver.  Billable-hour warrior.  Expert waffle maker.  Avid diaper changer.   Kristin resides in northern Virginia with her husband, Jacob, daughters, Olivia and Emmeline, and Siberian Husky, Roho.  She practices commercial litigation in Washington, D.C. by day, manages her blog, the crisp little look book, by night, and spends every waking moment seeking balance and simplicity

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