Where Did My Angel Go? 4 Tips to Manage the Terrible Two's

A couple weeks back a visit to a store turned into a nightmare when my two year old son had his first public meltdown. He threw himself on the pavement outside the store, rolled, kicked his legs and refused to get up. It was the first time I went completely blank and felt my hands tremble. I tried to remember everything I read about tantrums and the terrible two's. I could remember nothing!

My first thought was to rush over, carry him and disappear as quickly as I could. However, I knew that would not work and he would end up screaming louder leaving me with no choice but to give in to his demand (he wanted a piece of strawberry cake). I only had seconds to think so I chose to walk away and I prayed that would work. I looked him directly in the eye, didn't utter a word, turned around and just began walking. I took a few steps and pretended as if I had received a call, took out my phone and began talking. I could see him get up and walk towards me. Bingo! I walked on. He was running now, desperate to catch up but every time I turned around, he seemed to sense my agony and would just throw himself down again. This continued until we reached home (an almost 10 minute tantrum session in full public view). The stares I received did nothing to deter me but once we were home I sat down with him and addressed his behaviour immediately. 
I learnt a big lesson that day and I would like to share four important tips that have helped me learn and cope with my son's tantrums.
1. Addressing tantrum behaviours immediately: if you've experienced a tantrum, you will know how maddening it can be. The loud crying, screaming, the head banging, you will just want it to stop. However the perfectly sane solution is to remain calm and look undeterred. It doesn't work at once and you will need to practice it on every occasion. When my son begins to throw himself down or bang his head, I show no emotion. The crying and screaming won't stop if you go over and try to pacify the child. I usually just sit on a chair and look away until he comes to me and he's ready to listen. This is the most difficult step in addressing tantrum behaviour but once my son knows that he's not getting my attention he is ready for step 2. The next step 2 is to address the child at the same eye to eye level. I either bend down or have him sit on my lap and look him directly in the eye. A very important step even if you think it will not work because you'll never know if your child will grasp what you are saying unless you keep repeating it over and over again. The tantrums will not stop but your child will certainly know what behaviour is acceptable and what is not. 
There is also the situation where my son will be upset if he's unable to do something. Recently he tried to put on his t-shirt and he struggled with the sleeves- the result? Well lots of crying and hand movements that irritated him further. In such cases, I do not ignore him but I use my own emotions to calm him. I also try to comfort him rather than let him cry and if he wants to I usually tell him it's ok to cry and wait until he's ready to address what went wrong.
It's important to identify both right and wrong tantrum behaviours and address them accordingly. All tantrums are not bad behaviour and happen because a child is still learning ways to express emotions.
2. Parenting on the same page: this is the most important when you're dealing with tantrums and meltdowns. If one parent let's their guard down and tries to console the child, the purpose is defeated and the child will manipulate the situation. Whenever my son throws a tantrum at home, he is strictly ignored by both my husband and I. He has tried to manipulate by seeking solace usually from me first but I do not fall for this behaviour. Once calm, we talk to him about what he did wrong and explain why neither of us approves it. The cuddles and hugs come later, only after the behaviour has been addressed. It's important for the child to understand that the bad behaviour will not be accepted by both parents.
3. Identifying triggers: I have found that paying attention to certain triggers can prevent a tantrum escalating to a full blown meltdown. My son's tantrums usually start when he's missed a nap, is hungry, bored and in extreme cases, when he wants something and we refuse to give it to him. Here's what we have learnt to do when we think a tantrum might break out.
  • I carry several snacks, juice and plenty of water whenever we are out. If it's a long walk or drive, I usually offer him a couple snacks in the beginning and space them out accordingly. I keep the most attractive or tasty snack for the end when a tantrum is most likely to happen and I'm quick to offer it as soon as I sense his discomfort.
  • I'm always equipped with crayons, coloring book, picture books and picture cards. The crayons are a good distraction at restaurants (he sometimes gets to color the disposable placemat). The picture cards are helpful during long drives because we try to look for the object on the card or just let him talk about the image. Picture books are the last resort and then of absolutely necessary rhymes on my mobile.
  • Naptime is never missed and this is tricky. As much as possible I try to schedule all activities after naptime but on many occasions I switch naptime to ensure at least an hour's nap before any outdoor activity.
  • Shopping is the biggest tantrum trigger. I have never had a completely successful experience but I've learnt to get the important shopping done first and then focus on anything else. It's  also a good idea to have a plan in case you find yourself caught in a full blown tantrum. Thinking ahead can actually make it a lot easier but whatever you decide just ensure you are not rewarding the tantrum behaviour. If not, you'll experience the same problem over and over again.

4. Choose your battles: as toddlers begin to develop their independence and learn to express themselves, it's important to give them control in certain areas so that they feel supported. My son loves closing doors, opening drawers, pouring water on himself and so in. If I choose to do it for him, he gets upset and because he's still learning to express himself he gets angry and it escalates into a tantrum. It can be trying especially when you're running late and you have a toddler screaming because he wants to dress himself. I usually let him try and when I know it's never going to happen, I offer an exciting alternative (like: if you let me put your t-shirt on, I'll let you tie your shoe laces). It always works and this is the best way to teach a child to deal with their emotions. Just ensure that the alternatives you offer are not offered as a bribe like candy, toys etc. but are similar to the task at hand and as exciting.
The 'Terrible Two's' can certainly be frustrating and leave you with a sense of helplessness at times but tantrums are a child's way of expressing frustrations and disappointments as they learn about being independent. As parents it's our sole responsibility to address their behaviour in the most positive way we possibly can.
Thank you for taking the time to read. Mom's would love to hear your feedback and suggestions on how you deal with this phase of your child's development. If you enjoyed  my article, do share, like and follow my page "The Blogger Mommie" on Facebook.
Picture courtesy Google Images.