Tantrums are normal

Parent Connection

February 17, 2010 

My inbox, ears and eyes continue to tell me that parents with toddlers are often concerned about their little tempers and fits. No, not the parents' tempers. These little guys can throw some big time fits. Lately, I hear from those who are concerned that the tantrums being thrown by little Bradley or Susie just aren't normal. The intensity of these fits has mom and dad worried.

The first thing to remember is that toddlers throwing tantrums is a normal stage, and temporary is the key word to remember. Tantrums should begin to diminish when the toddler stage changes into the preschool to kindergarten stage. Most parents have heard and follow the principle of ignoring tantrums as much as you can, making sure your child is safe, but not becoming upset yourself.

This does not mean you passively ignore all unpleasant behaviors that go with an angry toddler, but tantrums often begin by resembling a tornado, but ending like a spring shower. Today, I want to discuss tantrums that mimic a category four hurricane.

Readers have described this to me, and I can feel their emotion and desperation as I read through the e-mails. Parents want to believe their child's tantrums are normal, but the intensity and duration of the fits leaves mom or dad in doubt.

Many millennium parents do whatever it takes to avoid any type of confrontation with their children. Two-year-old Bradley may demand that dad "sit here," refuse to be still while mom struggles to tie his shoes, or throw the bowl of warm cereal down to the kitchen floor. What happens? His parents try to keep the peace by ignoring any and all of it. Mom and dad don't want to address these behaviors because they feel that confronting the situation will simply add troubles to these terrible twos. The problem is, parents may very well be setting themselves up for behavior that will only get worse as the child gets older.

Emotionally healthy, well-adjusted, and yes, happy children need limits. Limits provide a framework of teaching appropriate behaviors and give young children a sense of security. Setting limits will not hinder this sense of security for your toddler, but will greatly enhance it. Here are a few things to keep in mind while taming the terrible twos:

Be patient and remain calm yourself, even if your 2-year-old is throwing the fit of the new millennium. You have to act older than 2 yourself in order to be the parent. You can remain calm and still be firm. Tell your toddler specifically what not to do. "Do not hit your little sister," or "do not yell at mommy for more drink." Then show them the correct behavior if applicable.

Make sure you have clear and fair expectations. You never want to address normal 2-year-old behavior as if it is misbehavior. Two-year-olds will not be little soldiers, nor should they be. Target those demanding, confrontational behaviors from your toddler and deal with those swiftly and consistently.

Time out is a good intervention if things do not get better. Use good judgment here. A few minutes in a time-out chair, but within your eyesight, for safety, is appropriate for 2-year-olds. Avoid giving your child any attention during time out, and move on to the next activity once it is over. Never act grudgingly toward your child after time out.

Provide a little time out for yourself. Do you have some good friends who have already been through this stage with their own kids? A mentor, who can lend an ear, a few helpful hints and the reassurance that this stage will pass, will do wonders for you. You and your spouse should get a reliable sitter and go out regularly as well.

No, you probably won't turn the terrible twos into the terrific twos, but you can get through this stage without running away from home or making the big mistake of wishing your 2-year-old was 17. Deal with this stage firmly, but fairly and your toddler will continue to develop a healthy sense of self, as well as his special place in your family.

Bryan Greeson, a nationally certified school psychologist residing in Gastonia, N.C., answers your questions. E-mail him at parentconnection@hotmail.com.

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