How to Stop Tantrums (Sometimes); Or, When You Say, “Terrible Twos,” Does That Generally Include The Whole Second Year of Life In Its Entirety? And About How Long Does It Last Beyond That, Would You Say?

by anna on November 11, 2008

At 18 months, and as yesterday’s post suggests, Mini has decided to begin his Terrible Twos. I have been assured that, though it seems unfair that he is starting so young, this is pretty common, and hey, I was always an overachiever myself, so I’m a little touched that he wants to pursue the advanced placement track just like his Mommy. Sniff.

We knew that he was starting a new developmental phase because of his sudden obsession with The Whereabouts of Mommy At All Times. And, shortly thereafter, the marked concern with The Tendency of Daddy to Go to Work in the Morning. Mini has heretofore been a fairly relaxed kid, and has not suffered from excessive separation anxiety.

Lately, however, if you could only be a fly on our wall! You know, the kind of fly that can hear and pass judgment, but not actually see, and therefore has to guess as to what is actually going on? If you were that kind of fly on the wall, you would assume that I make a habit of trying to remove Mini’s heart from his chest with my bare hands from the noises he makes when I try to leave a room. The first time I heard this reaction was when we were in the grocery store, and I was going to wait in line while Mini and Mr. Right-Click went over to the deli to pick something up. Bad idea. I heard the blood curdling scream from all the way across the market, and though it would be rather easy to just pretend like it was somebody else’s toddler, I knew this wasn’t going to work. A few seconds later, Mr. Right-Click came back with Mini, who stopped crying the second I held him.

One morning last week, Mini was trying to move around a 12-pack of Diet Coke. Yes, I have 12-packs of Diet Coke just sitting around my house. (Not usually. But last week we were having copper repiping done and so the house was not in its usual babyproofed state, since many of the cupboards had to be emptied and the walls carved into. Incidentally . . . copper repiping is cool. Having holes in your walls, not so much.) So, back to Mini. He’s trying to lift a Diet Coke 12-pack, and I’m like, “Dude, you’re not going to be able to pick that up.” And he’s getting more and more pissed off, because of course he cannot pick it up.

Eventually, I just take the 12-pack of Diet Coke away from him, because the whining is unbearable. So then he really let me have it. Cry, shriek, outrage, outrage, cry, shriek, accusatory-eye, accusatory-eye, tears streaming down face, stompy-foot! STOMPY-FOOT, I SAY! And oh dear lord the NOISE. And I thought, “Hey, this must be one of those tantrum things they are talking about.”

So I whipped out my proverbial tantrum toolbox as provided to me by The Happiest Toddler On the Block. First order of business, bang feet and shake fist, doing my best impression of an irate elf tyrant toddler, and saying things like, “NO NO NONONONO NONO NO MINI wants to move the Diet Coke 12-pack! YOU want to move it. YOU want to MOOOVE it!” And I was rolling on the ground, pounding my fists, really going for it, and Mini continued to shriek and pound his fists for two minutes. After about two minutes, he started looking at me like, “Dude, are you crazy?” Because of course, I was continuing the “Oh, I get it. I totally get it, buddy,” routine, and though it didn’t make him happy, he was sort of distracted by it eventually. After that I was able to talk him down, and have him sit on my lap and calm down a little bit.

It worked. Whew. But since that one time, I haven’t been able to get it to work again. I have used other diversionary tactics, like distraction or solving the problem for him when it is possible. I also learned to distinguish when he’s throwing the tantrum out of frustration, versus when he just wants me to do something. But man, it’s challenging. Particularly when we were renegotiating the bedtime routine the other night, and I saw on the video monitor that his adreneline fueled rage had allowed him to hoist himself onto the side of the crib, and before I could make it into his room to catch him, I heard a giant crash noise, followed shortly thereafter by the sound of tiny toddler hands fiddling with a doorknob. We are currently shopping for a twin bed for the little monkey child.

Fortunately, Mini is a good sleeper, and after that one night of renegotiating the terms, plus the addition of the nightlight, he seems to have accepted that 7pm is his bedtime. But what do I do about the other times?

If you’re not familiar with the techniques outlined by Harvey Karp for dealing with toddler meltdowns in The Happiest Toddler On the Block, they are (in heavily simplified form):

  1. “The Fast Food Rule,” where you basically repeat back to the kid what it is that is pissing him off, only in “toddler-ese,” as the person operating a fast food drive-thru window is theoretically supposed to do. Viz., “NO, NO, NO, You want the jar full of screws. No TAKE. NO MOMMY TAKE,” etc. His theory is that picking up the toddler and saying, “It’s OK,” will just piss him off more because WHY DON’T YOU GET IT?! IT IS SOOOO NOT OK!” You are supposed to repeat the message that you are hearing from the kid, and use your body, face, gestures, etc. to convey that you get it.
  2. Using Toddler-ease to communicate. This consists of short phrases, repetition, correct tone of voice (mirror his feelings), and facial expressions and gestures. This part is hard, because you feel like an idiot, but also Mini just doesn’t buy it from me most of the time. Or, I should perhaps say, I don’t sell it to him, because Mr. Right-Click is pretty good at it.
  3. Know when these techniques won’t work, so you have to walk away for a while. He goes on to explain various situations in which the techniques of talking the toddler down won’t work, and how to deal with it then, such as giving a hug, solving the problem (if this is possible), or ignoring.

What do you guys think of this technique? Are there any people who have tried it out there? Any other tips on how to deal with frustrated drunken elf tyrants that I’m missing?

{ 12 comments }

Michele November 11, 2008 at 8:09 am

This book wasn’t out when I had toddlers at home. We had Dr. Spock. Which BTW, I never read though my MIL must have given me 3 copies. Do you think those were hints? Anyway, my technique for toddler tantrums was to walk away. I didn’t acknowledge the tantrum. If the child in question followed me around the house in full tantrum mode I usually just said that mommy can’t talk to you until you stop what you are doing then walk away.

This must have worked because the terrible twos only lasted about 3 months per boy at my house and they don’t seem to be terribly maladjusted.

Good luck. Tantrums are hard.

goodfather November 11, 2008 at 9:32 am

Yup, tantrums are really, really hard. I haven’t used the toddler-ease talking technique, although I’ll have the opportunity in a year or so. BUT, I have used the age-old venerable tool of DISTRACTION with success – find or use something (stuffed toy, hand puppet) the toddler likes, and give it a life (voice, animation). For my kids, it usually works. Even on the seventeen-year-old. Sometimes. :D

goodfather´s last blog post..Spin Cycle: I can relax when…

Jim November 11, 2008 at 9:54 am

My son was clingy beyond belief. You can give the techniques a try. I could never get them to work. I’ve found that comforting for a few minutes is the best route for my son. If that doesn’t work, I walk away. When he realizes he’s lost his audience, he usually gives up.

Jim´s last blog post..The Blood Test

Amy November 11, 2008 at 10:07 am

When the cats misbehave I lock them in the bathroom. I’m guessing that doesn’t work for toddlers.

Amy´s last blog post..Before & After

AKD November 11, 2008 at 10:56 am

Oh! If cat wrangling techniques worked on toddlers, I am so set. Have you tried spraying him in the face with water?

Christine November 11, 2008 at 12:33 pm

We did not have a bad case of terrible twos, but oh the terrible threes with my third child!! I still have a touch of PTSD from thoses days. I tried what the books suggested including acknowledging his feelings and not taking it personally, but sometimes that didn’t work, so I ignored him. I’m talking no eye contact, humming to myself,talking to the other kids as if nothing unusual was going on, and, used sparingly, that worked. Good luck!

Christine´s last blog post..Ursus Non Grata

KerrySS November 11, 2008 at 1:20 pm

My oldest started that about 20 months. I was pregnant with #2, and I got put on bedrest about that time, so what I did is lay upstairs in bed listening to my husband try to deal with it. She would wail until the walls shook, and then suddenly, she’d stop. After I had #2 and got off bedrest, I learned that the reason she’d stop is because he’d give her pudding. The kid was trained to eat pudding for dinner every night. Guess who got to break her of that habit?

That mirror-tantrum thing never worked for us. Honestly, what worked was that she was in daycare, and the fantastic daycare teachers taught her what a “time out” was (I had tried but was not very good at it). Those worked and usually still do (she is 3.25 now). We might just be lucky though.

Baby #2 is now 14 months, so we are about to start this again…only I’m a SAHM now, so we don’t have the help of the fantastic daycare teachers, so my lack of parenting skills will be exposed. Yay.

Cat November 11, 2008 at 1:57 pm

Crap! I use the foot-stomp, accusatory-eye, shriek maneuver! Is it that transparent? Must return to sulk, sulk, pouty-lip, eye-roll I guess.

Cat´s last blog post..My Scarlet Letter

Mary Anna November 11, 2008 at 4:08 pm

I use empathy whenever possible, “I know it hurt your feelings that Mommy took the Furi knife away, but you can’t juggle $65 Rachel Ray-orange knives. I don’t like when people take stuff away from me, but sometimes grown-ups have to.” This works to an extent. I do a lot of “Mommy can’t talk to you/play with you/eat with you when you act like that. I’m going in my room and when you calm down, we can play again.” I also do time-outs, no matter where I am. If we’re out and about, I call it a “sit down, time out,” and he’s sat on the floor at the grocery store, Gap, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus … lots of places around town. And, I’ve taken him home from a birthday party early once.

Mary Anna´s last blog post..Silly Pics from the Weekend

Keely November 11, 2008 at 10:30 pm

Mine must be a friggin’ prodigy, because he’s started this already and he’s only 13 months old. And of course he can’t talk yet so sometimes I have NO IDEA what he’s freaking out about. But mostly, so far, I just distract him. Or hand him to his father and walk away before I cut him up into tiny pieces yell.

Keely´s last blog post..Random Tuesday Thoughts, Revisited

Crash Commanda November 12, 2008 at 7:17 am

The more attention you give him in his tantrums the more he will have them and the longer they will last. Your attention is his reward. Hard as it is, first: 1) ignore it; 2) put him in his room/crib for a ‘time out’. You absolutely cannot reason or bargain with an angry child (the same goes whether a toddler, teenager or husband, for that matter). Someone needs to be the adult, and unfortunatly it will have to be you. He needs to learn to calm himself down.

As for the clinginess, you need to let him know when you are leaving, and talk to him about it beforehand and after. He can understand most of what you’re saying at this point, even though he can’t speak back (much) yet. I found that advance warning of going way, and big celebrations of returning tied to “I told you I would hug you when I came home for dinner, and here I am hugging you” helped my kids put our routine into a pattern in their brains.

good luck!

blissfully caffeinated November 13, 2008 at 10:34 pm

My kids are not really tantrum throwers in the classic sense. They can exhibit horrible toddler behaviors though, and Mary Anne is right. Empathy works, time outs work. For the throw-yourself-on-the-floor type of screaming fit, the best thing to do is walk away. Don’t pay any attention to it and they eventually stop and after a few times they realize it doesn’t do any good.

Know this: Terrible Two’s are a myth. It does start earlier and it comes in fits and spurts depending on what is happening with the kid. Not all kids go through it the same way and some don’t really go through it at all. I found that 3 was waayyyyy worse than 2 with my oldest, and 4 has been pretty great. So, don’t expect that Mini will go through a terrible time at 2, it may not happen at all.

blissfully caffeinated´s last blog post..Sprite’s Keeper Say Relax

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