“9 Strategies on surviving not so terrible twos”
Having a child is one of the most magical, precious, scary and intense experiences a person can have. No one can prepare you for what’s to come: the tiredness, the pure joy and happiness, the frustration, the worry, the pride. Yes, it’s a roller-coaster of feelings.
I’m the kind of person who likes to be prepared. So, for every milestone, I diligently read everything I could online or talked to friends that have older kids and have been through that particular period.
One common thing that my friends told me was somewhere along the lines: “Hah, you think this is difficult? Just you wait till the terrible twos hit!”
The Internet is also full of “encouraging” stories surrounding this age. So, naturally, I was quite anxious as my son was slowly but surely approaching two years old.
As much as I dreaded this period of my son’s life (which is a bit unfair if you ask me) I survived it. Not only that but I have to say that (for the most part) I enjoyed it. I got to see how my little human’s personality was developing. He is funny, clever, caring, creative and yes, sometimes the world is overwhelming, so he gets upset. Labelling this wonderful period in our children’s lives as terrible tends to erase all the amazing changes that they go through.
I don’t deny that the tantrums can be intense but there are strategies that we can try to make them easier or, ideally, avoid them altogether.
In this post, I am going to share with you the strategies that I’ve used with my son that helped us navigate through the flare-ups.
1. Have a consistent sleep schedule
“Oh, come on, just half an hour more. Nothing will happen if he’s in bed at 9:30 pm instead of 9 pm” my friends would say. Really?! That half an hour meant a tired toddler which meant an irritable toddler which meant that I was opening the door to a potential meltdown. I got some of the most intense tantrums when, for whatever reason, I pushed his nap or sleep time a little later than usual.
So, if you want to avoid having an outburst on your hands, make sure that you are consistent in your child’s nap and sleep time every day.
2. An empty tummy = an upset toddler
Similar to the sleep schedule, skipped or delayed mealtimes can cause a tantrum. It certainly did for my son. I made sure that he had his meals and snacks at the same time. I tried to anticipate any delays and pack some food in case we didn’t make it home on time.
3. Remove known tantrum triggers
Keeping off-limits objects out of sight will make meltdowns less likely. If, for example, you know that your toddler will ask for a cookie from the jar on the kitchen counter when he’s not supposed to have one, try putting the jar out of sight.
Of course, this can be a little trickier outside the home where you don’t have a lot of control over the environment.
4. Give them control over little things
As parents, we know what’s best for our kids. We decide what they wear, what and when they eat, when they sleep and so on. From a toddler’s perspective who is just discovering independence, this can be frustrating resulting in tantrums.
We can avoid some of the outbursts by giving them some control (well, at least the illusion of it). By giving them choices, for example,” Do you want to wear your red t-shirt or your orange one?”, “Do you want to play with your dinosaurs or your submarine in the bathtub?” they will feel that they have control over their schedule which will (hopefully) make them more cooperative.
5. Distract and conquer
This was one of the strategies that often worked with my son when he was upset. Luckily for us, toddlers have a short attention span which means that you can easily shift their focus from one thing to another.
Try starting a new activity to distract him from the forbidden or frustrating one, replace the object that is causing tantrums with another one or simply changing the environment might help.
6. Create a visual schedule
A visual schedule is a sequence of images or texts that illustrate what a person is expected to do. It is a great tool as it gives the child a visual representation of what is expected of him/her throughout the day.
To make it even more effective you can decide together on what activities to do and when to do them. Thus, there will be a lot less frustration when the child knows what to expect and more than that s/he was the one that created the routine.
7. Choose your battles
Is having that cookie before dinner really going to hurt him in the long run, what will happen if he has a shower in the morning instead of in the evening? Carefully consider whether your toddler’s request is outrageous or perhaps it could be done.
8. Have you tried pressure hugs?
Deep pressure therapy is used successfully for people with autism spectrum disorders. Studies have shown that stimulating the touch sensory system promotes a feeling of calm and well-being in the body.
So, if possible, when your toddler is having a bad moment, hug him tight and just let him know that you are there. No need for talking, just a good ol’ bear hug.
9. Name those feelings
Imagine having all these big feelings but not being able to verbalize them. This adds to the frustration. So, help your little one by naming these feelings. “I can see that you are sad because…/ I understand that x thing made you angry and it´s OK”.
Give them the words and they will soon start using them. I love how my son can now tell me exactly how he feels and what upset him. Makes things so much easier.
What to do during a tantrum
Even though these strategies may help avoid some of the tantrums, the truth is meltdowns will still happen. Remember that this behavior is not personal rather born out of frustration, fear or an unmet basic need. It’s just a little human learning to handle big emotions.
When a tantrum happens try remaining calm as difficult as it may be sometimes. Losing your temper will not help the situation, more than that, it will fuel a behavior that you are trying to avoid.
The first impulse is to explain why they can’t have something or why they have to do something. I’ve learnt that reasoning with a toddler during a tantrum is like washing your car during a sandstorm. They simply can’t hear you. Instead, be there for them and if they allow you, give them a hug.
As to ignoring a tantrum…I guess it depends on the cause of it. If the root of the tantrum is tiredness or hunger, of course, you will take action and put the child to bed or feed him. But if the cause of the meltdown is some candy that s/he’s not allowed to eat, then you might not want to give in. Setting clear boundaries is important.
The stage between 18 months and 3 is definitely a challenging one but so are other stages in our kids’ life. There is nothing terrible about a toddler who is learning how to deal with strong emotions. We are there for them and no matter how difficult it may be sometimes we are going to survive it. We’ve got this!
Cristina and Monica are moms, teachers and the voices behind What Does Mamma Say, a blog born from the desire to provide parents with the information and activities to help young children flourish. Connect with them on Facebook or Instagram.