Many of the emotional meltdowns children experience between about 9 and 30 months old bubble up from the frustration of not being able to communicate. So, the“terribletwos“ can be much less terrible the more children learn how to get across their intense and conflicting thoughts.
You can fairly easily prevent tantrums (or, as I like to call them, “emotional storms”) by understanding them in context and following some easy tips for becoming a “toddler-whisperer.” And, clearly this advice isn’t exclusive to dads, but sometimes it’s nice to have some secret tricks up your sleeve to show off what an awesome parent you are. Just don’t keep it secret too long – it’s great for everyone to know how to help ease the frustrations of your child!
First, let’s get some context by trying to understand your child’s perspective. Children in the developmental stage known as the “TerribleTwos,” or “FirstAdolescence,” increasingly become aware of all the choices available to them and as a result become angry or frustrated when they are powerless over those choices. This frustration can quickly escalate into a full-blown storm.
Consider the grocery store — as an adult, you can choose whether or not you want to go to the grocery store, when to go, what products you’re going to buy, and which products you won’t. Your child has no control over any of these choices. To make the supermarket situation worse, there are cleverly-designed packages up and down the aisles that scream, “Buy me! Buy me! Buy me!” To a large extent we are able to tune that out, but for a small child who is just learning to make choices, it’s like going to a deafening rock concert. Visually they are overwhelmed by high-decibel choices. They are compelled to start wanting some of these attractive items. And, when they can’t have what they want, they dissolve into tears and worse — deafening screams.
While you can’t avoid tantrums altogether, you can do an awful lot to help prevent them and reduce how many you and your child suffer through.
Here are 3 simple tips:
1. Be proactive. Children are most susceptible to storms when they are tired, hungry, uncomfortable or bored, so be attentive to avoiding these physical states.
2. Interact with your child. Whatever you’re doing, talk (or whisper) to your child. If she knows enough words, you can have simple conversations about what she thinks about whatever is happening at the moment. Even something as mundane as grocery shopping can be a delightful opportunity to talk about the world – would your child rather be a strawberry farmer or milk cows to make yogurt? If your child is still in the early phases of speech development, you can ask her to point to things that are the color red. Or, you can use a free app like KidGlyphs, which uses graphics, spoken words, and text to help children communicate beyond their verbal skills – an invaluable tool to help prevent tantrums!
3. Let your child make a couple simple choices. Remember the situation from your child’s perspective: you are going along in this world making choice, after choice, after choice, but when he tries to make a choice, he doesn’t get what he wants. You can see how frustrating this would be. Back to the store example, it’s often helpful to let your child pick out one or two things. A good way to do this is when a child asks for something, instead of saying, “No,” say, “Let’s write that down.” Then write it down. When your child asks for something else, write that down, too. Then when you’re all done, read back a few of the things on the list that you think would be good choices, and let him pick one or two of the things on the list. If you’re at home and it’s bath time, ask him which towel he’d like to use and if he’d rather you wash his hair or if he’d like to try himself (limiting choices is imperative). If children can make some choices, they will both learn more and feel better.
That’s it! Make these tips a habit and in no time at all, your toddler-whispering skills will be the talk of the playground. Have fun!
This post is written by: Dr. Alan Greene, MD, FAAP
Pediatrician Alan Greene, MD is the founder of DrGreene.com, WhiteOut Now, and KidGlyphs. He is the author of numerous books including award winning Raising Baby Green and Feeding Baby Green. Media appearances include the TODAY Show, the Dr. Oz Show, and The New York Times. He is the recipient of the Healthy Child Healthy World Prevention Award and Intel’s “Children’s Health Hero of the Internet” award. He is the father of four and he wears green socks.