“Tantrums” “Meltdowns” “Terrible twos”

For many parents, the most dreaded of all childhood phases. What is happening at two years old that many parents feel the need to label their child as “terrible”?? Let me explain what should parents do when their two year old is having a tantrum.
To know about what to do when a one year old appears to have a tantrum, read this.

First, realize that tantrums are entirely normal. Most kids will have tantrums between the age of 18 months and 4 years. Tantrums are just an expression of intense feelings; a young toddler feels overwhelmed, scared, or angry with something and doesn’t know how to cope with their intense feelings. These intense feelings get an outlet in a tantrum or meltdown.

So for example, a toddler is out shopping with dad. She spies an ice cream and wants one right now! If dad says no, you cannot have one right now, it becomes a power struggle and ultimately she feels frustrated that she didn’t get it. Now at 18 months she does not have the vocabulary to say “I am annoyed because I really want an ice cream but I am not getting one”. This intense feeling of annoyance or anger or frustration then manifests as a tantrum.

Children do not tantrum to manipulate parents.  However if parents keep giving in to their demands, children will learn that throwing tantrums will lead to getting what they want. When you say “no” to the demand make sure you can stick to it.

2 year old tantrums

So how do we know cope with meltdowns without giving in to the demand of the child? There are two aspects to this.
1. Minimize tantrums
2. Cope with a tantrum once it is happening.

Some ways to minimize tantrums:

1. Go back to basics. A hungry or tired child is more prone to tantrums. Make sure your toddler is offered food every 2 to 3 hours and is adequately rested. Simply doing this will prevent many meltdowns.

2. Pick your battles. This is very very important. Try to say “yes” as much as possible. Does it really matter if toddler wears mismatched clothes or wants to change the cup in which you offered them milk? Make sure that the home environment is set up to minimize “no”. And once you say “No” stick to it.

3. Keep your expectations age appropriate. It is not developmentally appropriate to expect a 2 year old to keep quiet or sit down for long periods of time. If you are going to a place where quiet is required, get some quiet activities or expect to leave early.

4. Make sure you talk to your toddler about your behavior expectations, while keeping in mind their age and development. For example, do not expect a long trip at the store to be easy with a 2 year old. Have snacks or other small distractions at hand. Keep store visits short. How short will depend on your particular child’s temperament. Some children can sit still in the cart, most cannot.

5. Make sure you give your child focused, distraction free attention every day.

Some tips to cope with a tantrum once it has started:

1. Keep your cool. Remember your child is not doing this to manipulate you, your child is having a meltdown because that is how they communicates their intense feelings. Your child needs you to stay calm and collected for their sake.

2. Do not try to reason, explain or otherwise ask the child to stop crying or fussing when they are in the middle of a meltdown. Be there for your child, in a way they like. Some children can be held or picked up when having a meltdown, some need to work through it alone. Make sure that the child does not end up hurting themselves.

3. Empathize with your child without “giving in” to their demand. One way to do this is by naming the emotions experienced by a child. Say “you felt frustrated because you really wanted some ice cream but didn’t get any or you were angry because you wanted your sister’s toy and she did not share it with you”. Naming the emotions helps our children learn that those big feelings they experience have names. Over time your children will learn to express themselves with these words.

At the same time, do not give the child the ice cream or the toy. This is what is called “giving in” and over time it will teach your child that having a tantrum gets them what they want. Remember, it is not our job to keep our children happy at all costs. It’s normal for all of us to feel angry, frustrated, and helpless at some point. It is our job as parents to help our children manage these big emotions.

4. Above all, do not be afraid of your child’s meltdown. Almost all children will have meltdowns at some point in toddlerhood; try not to take it personally. This is a phase and it will pass.

To end, I would like to say that sometimes tantrums or meltdowns can be abnormal too. If your child is having aggressive, self injuring, prolonged (more than 25 minutes), very frequent (10 or more tantrums, more than once a month) then call your child’s paediatrician or get in touch with a child psychologist. Most children though will grow out of regular tantrums by age 4 or so. Till then,

Happy parenting.

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All comments (4)
  • Sejal
    September 30, 2015 at 5:22 pm

    Did you mean to say one month or one day in the last paragraph?

  • Rajani
    December 27, 2016 at 7:38 pm

    thank you for the very well explained "terrible 2". i have a question. how do you deal with sensitive kids when u dont want to give […] Read Morethank you for the very well explained "terrible 2". i have a question. how do you deal with sensitive kids when u dont want to give in. when my 19 month old asks for something and we say no,sometimes he cries with lot of pain. this happens most of the times during meals. all of a sudden in the middle of meals he demands for jaggery or some.sweet and refuses to eat his regular meal. if you give in or dont, it doesn't work either way as he wouldn't eat his food anyway. otherwise so far he has been an obedient kid. your response will be appreciated. Read Less

  • Utsav Bhatt
    October 24, 2017 at 11:07 am

    Thanks for the guidance , i will take steps as suggested... I think i have found where i was wrong or say both of us (my […] Read MoreThanks for the guidance , i will take steps as suggested... I think i have found where i was wrong or say both of us (my wife).. Thank you so much Read Less


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