What’s so Terrible about the Terrible Twos?

If you are a parent of a two year old you know exactly what this means. It’s tantrums that make the twos terrible. But tantrums are not exclusive to  two year olds. It just starts showing up at two because this is when the child actively starts interacting with the environment and becomes aware of his likes and dislikes. Even adults throw tantrums. Eckhart Tolle , a spiritual teacher, calls the adult tantrum a “pain body”.

To begin with, what is a tantrum? I would say a tantrum is the reaction of a child in response to a situation in which his ego is hurt. Here by ego I mean the feeling that the child is an individual and she wants to do what she wants to do when she wants to do or he wants what he wants when he wants it.

To begin with, what is a tantrum?

It’s the reaction of a child in response to a situation in which their ego is hurt. By ego, I mean the feeling that the child is an individual and she wants to do what she wants to do when she wants to do it.

To help a child who is throwing a tantrum, we have to first understand the nature of a tantrum. It almost always begins with the child wanting something and the adult refusing. This is the point when the child’s ego gets hurt. After this, the child and the adult both want to get their own way and this results in a battle. A lot of time is spent in dealing with these battles when young children are part of our lives. I hope this piece of writing enables  one to handle tantrums in a better way.

Children who are four years of age and below do not yet have the cognitive abilities to understand the reasoning behind the decisions made for them. State the reason for denying the child what they want, but don’t waste your time on explanation. If a child wants a toy he just wants it. He feels, when he wants something, it should be his. So there is no room to understand that there are many such toys at home or it is too expensive.

The most important thing is to understand that during the time of a  tantrum there is already a reaction from the child’s side. He feels like a victim and strongly feels he is wronged. If the adult also feels that they have been wronged by the child not listening and reacts too, then that results in an unpleasant situation .

When handled amicably the child and adult should feel understood and leave the situation with some learning for future use.

So when a child is throwing a tantrum  the points to keep in mind are as follows:

  1. Allow the child to be, unless he is harming himself or another: Usually all tantrums have a beginning, a middle and an end. It is very important to allow this process to take its course for the well being of the child. You can say something towards the end or after it is done. Any talking done during the beginning and middle is futile and may aggravate the tantrum. Just be present  with the child.
  2. Be calm and non reactive: It is important to practice breathing at this point and refrain from allowing it to trigger our pain body. When we are aware of our breath and are completely present we will automatically know what or when  to say or do something.
  3. Once the tantrum is done we could discuss the situation and give the child suggestions for a better way to express themselves.

Some suggestions to reduce tantrums:

  1. Awareness: Show the child how to be aware of his feelings by talking more about how he feels and giving it a name. It is very important not to deny or control negative feelings. Show him how to express himself using words.
  2. Clarify expectations: Don’t make a decision randomly without the child’s knowledge and expect him to follow through without a tantrum. He is a living being and has his own plans and expectations too. For example, if you are at a playdate and plan to leave at a particular time, you have to prepare the child by reminding him periodically. Even after that, if a tantrum is thrown, just follow through with the plan calmly and quietly allowing the tantrum to take its course.
  3. Follow through: Don’t get carried away or intimidated by the crying. Stay calm and always talk in a calm, firm voice and in a respectful manner, to the child. Also don’t say it if you are not going to do it. Once a consequence is stated then you have to execute it.

Here are some examples of tantrum situations and the verbalization that could be used when a child is throwing a tantrum.

Example 1

Situation: The child is throwing a tantrum in a store because  he want a toy and refuses to leave the store till he gets it.

Child: I want that toy (cries and refuses to leave).

Adult: Let us plan on buying this toy another day. We are not going to buy it today . If the child asks, “why” just state and don’t explain for eg “It is too expensive, not on the list of things to buy or there is one already at home.” If the tantrum continues, then say – “You have 2 choices. You can stop crying and walk out of the store with me or I carry you out of the store . It is your choice.”

If the child refuses to stop crying and is not making a choice. Then

Adult: “I will give you 2 mins to choose what you want to do and if you still don’t choose, I am going to have to make a choice for you.”

If the child continues to cry and does not make a choice, then

Adult: “Since you chose not to make a choice, I am going to carry you out of the store.”

Example 2:

Situation: You go to your child’s friends house for a play date and your child wants to take something for their house with him when it is time to leave.

Adult: Rohit, it is time to leave

Child: I want to take this car to my house

Adult: No you can’t, leave it here and come let’s go.

Child is crying and refuses to leave.

Take a look at this conversation

Adult: Rohit it is time to leave.

Child:  I want to take this car with me.

Adult: I see how much you like that car. I will give you 2 mins to play with it. After which, we will leave the car here and go home. We can come tomorrow again to play with it. It belongs to Adit and it needs to stay here with him.( This is stating the fact. An explanation would be  Adit is going to feel bad, would you like it if someone took your toy……..)

Now if the child does not want to come after 2 mins , the adult says “ You can come with me  after you have given the car to Adit  or I can help you give the car to Adit and carry you home. It is your choice.”

Giving a child what he wants every time he throws a tantrum, only teaches the child  that every time he wants something, he needs to throw a tantrum. This learning could continue into adulthood and tarnish his relationships with people.

Dealing with tantrums, keeping in mind the above points, will teach the child to express what he wants, wait for it and then be grateful for it  . Immediate gratification is not possible in many areas of life. So we are teaching the child an invaluable skill by dealing with tantrums in the above way. Saying ‘No” for the right reasons  is very important for the unfolding of the child.

I hope this blog helps you and your child emerge happy, understood and loved after a tantrum.