Just when you think the worst is over and the terrible two's are looking like a distant memory the toddler tantrum's hit. Why is this and what can we do to restore the peace? Becky Pugh looks into the Toddler Tantrums.
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Last week, I found myself peacefully wandering the aisles of a shiny new superstore without either of my children. I was having a lovely time, perusing the home-wares, rifling through the clothes and debating the merits of one washing powder over another. Calmly and with pleasure, I was ticking off a lengthy to-do list.
Suddenly, the piercing screams of a little girl obliterated my Zen-like state. The girl shrieked, wailed and grabbed at her mother’s coat like a wounded animal. She wiped her snot with the back of her hand and started to pummel her mortified mother with her fists. The crying didn’t cease. The girl’s elder brother looked as though he wanted the superstore to swallow him whole. Then the noisy recriminations began. For this was neither an infant nor a toddler – this child was around four years old and she sure could talk.
“I want the Peppa Pig pyjamas. I hate you. I want the pyjamas. Let me have the Peppa Pig pyjamas. You are so mean. I hate you.”
On and on echoed the list of woes around the shop’s lofty walls. I felt for her mother, I willed the child to stop – and I thanked God that, for once, it was not my problem.
It was a classic, if horrific, post-toddler tantrum. One of the greatest misconceptions about parenting is that temper tantrums are the preserve of two year olds alone. Many are the parents who long for their offspring’s third birthday to dawn, just so that those random meltdowns in the street, on buses and behind the closed doors of home will at last be a thing of the past.
However, according to my extremely well thumbed copy of What to Expect in the Toddler Years: “The ‘terrible twos’ are a terrible misnomer. Though the worst of toddler behaviour is often concentrated between the second and third birthdays, the normal range is actually a lot broader.
“Tantrums are a fact of toddler life, a behaviour that’s virtually universal among members of the sand-pit set – beginning for some as early as the end of the first year, peaking for most sometime in the second year and continuing in many children until beyond age four.
“Inborn temperament can explain, at least in large part, why the terrible twos last longer in some children – high intensity or ‘type A’ personalities, for example – than in others. Tantrums are often a necessary release for bottled-up mental energy in these children.”
So, the good news is that it’s perfectly normal for a pre-schooler to have a hissy fit – but the question remains: what should we do when one does? Experts agree that how we, the parents, handle these tantrums is crucial.
It is worth considering why a child might have a tantrum in the first place, so that we can try to prevent them happening at all. What to Expect in the Toddler Years describes the reasons thus: the need to release frustration; the need to express feelings, needs and wishes; the need to assert themselves; lack of control over their lives; lack of control over their emotions; hunger, exhaustion, overstimulation, boredom; too many choices, too few limits or vice versa.
If we cannot see off an outburst of rage, we should respond in as calm and ordered a manner as we can. We should not try to reason, as a caterwauling kid is likely to be beyond reason. We should express as much empathy as possible. We should try holding them tightly to us. We should attempt suitable distraction techniques. We should kneel down to the child’s level. We should see if ignoring the tantrum has any effect.
Finally – though this may seem counter-intuitive to the parent who has long run out of patience – it is important to let the subject go once the tantrum is over. It is generally wise not to bang on about it in the immediate aftermath, not to demand explanations and apologies, not to fire off punishments. Hugs, praise (where it is due) and canny diversion are far more likely to minimise future flare-ups.
The random tantrums of a pre-schooler are infuriating, embarrassing and deeply stressful – but your children won’t be children for long. If all else fails during the apex of the most violent tantrum, I urge you to remember the following mantra:
“This is just a phase. This too will pass.”
I so badly wanted to say that to the wilting mother of the screamer in the superstore last week.