The Terrible Twos: How to Help Your Child

You remember shopping at grocery stores as a young adult and hearing young children throw tantrums. “Why can’t their parents keep them quiet?” you wondered. “They’re annoying everyone in the store!”

But now, you are the new parent of a two-year-old, and your two-year-old is the one crying and screaming in the grocery store. You’re angry and frustrated, and you don’t know how to help her quiet down. Everyone else is watching you—and, you assume, judging your parenting skills.

Don’t worry; nearly every child goes through what’s affectionately known as the terrible twos. Other parents have been through the same situation with their children, and they understand your frustration. There’s not much you can do to stop your child’s tantrums completely, but there are some simple coping strategies you can use to help your child navigate the terrible twos.

Why Do They Act Up?

First, it’s important to understand why children often act up between 18 months and 30 months of age. They don’t throw tantrums because they want to annoy you as much as possible, although it may seem that way.

In reality, children are dealing with a lot of physical and emotional changes during this time. Part of them wants to stay a baby, completely dependent on your care, while another part yearns to be independent. Although they desperately want to do things on their own, their own inability to do so frustrates them.

When your child throws a tantrum, his own desires and emotions are overwhelming him, and he’s probably just as frustrated as you are!

Staying Calm

When your child throws a tantrum in a public place, you’re desperate to stop the tantrum as soon as possible. This might cause you to lose your temper, yell, and punish your child, but this only makes the situation worse. The situation could turn into a power struggle, causing your child’s behavior to escalate.

Instead, stay calm and composed. Take your child to a quiet area and talk to her softly. Wait until she calms down before talking about the situation.

Expressing Love

When your child acts up, what he needs from you most is love. If you withhold your affection, you’re telling your child that your love is conditional. Remember that tantrums aren’t just about misbehavior; they’re the only way your child knows how to express his anger and frustration. You can hold him and hug him to show you’re there for him.

Distracting Them

You may explain to your child why she can’t have ice cream right now or why it’s not time to go home yet. But logic doesn’t always ease your child’s frustration, and her temper tantrum might continue. Instead, distract her with her favorite toy, a game, or an art project. When she has an option before her for an activity she enjoys, she might eventually calm down and forget her frustration.

Instructing and Encouraging

It might help to explain to your toddler how they should behave instead of throwing a tantrum. Tell him that next time, he should use words rather than emotions to say what is bothering him. But remember that your child is still learning, and might not have the vocabulary yet to describe his full range of emotions. Keep encouraging him, but don’t lose your temper if he continues to throw an occasional tantrum.

Not Giving In

If your child throws a tantrum because you won’t give her what she wants, don’t give in. Giving in teaches your child that she is in control and can get whatever she wants just by making a scene. Provide options, though. “You can’t have ice cream right now because you’ve already had enough sugar today,” you might say. “But you can have a bowl of apple sauce when we get home.”

Preventing Future Tantrums

Exhaustion, hunger, and boredom all lead to tantrums. Make sure your child has a regular nap schedule, gets enough food, and has options for different activities throughout the day. As you get to know your child, you might recognize signs he gives you that he feels tired, hungry, or bored. Watch for these signs and try to prevent them before his emotions overwhelm him completely.

Choosing a Good Daycare

A good daycare will help your child learn to work and play on her own and to get along with other children. When your child first goes to daycare, she might feel overwhelmed by all the unfamiliar people, the new routine, and the time away from Mom and Dad.

Make the transition easier by choosing a caring daycare. Individualized attention is important; the daycare should have at least one staff member for every three to four children. The daycare should also provide plenty of time for unstructured activities so your child can learn and explore. Additionally, the staff should practice loving—not harsh—discipline.

The terrible twos are a difficult time for children, parents, and caregivers. Remember that what your child needs more than anything is love and support. Use these coping strategies as you help your child grow and develop during the terrible twos.

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