Let me start by declaring that I definitely do NOT have all the answers. I’m only just starting to explore this developmental phenomenon. My main experience (besides babysitting as a teen, and seeing other friend’s children) is with my 22 month old son who has hit the fabled and formidable “terrible two’s” early.
As you are probably aware, if you have been reading my previous posts, I gave birth to my second son 8 weeks ago. Since that time my toddler has definitely upped the anti on the tantruming front. Not to say he was perfectly behaved before, but HIS way of adjusting to his whole world changing, has manifested itself in an amplifying of his previous tantrums. He is not directly jealous, for which I am very thankful. He hasn’t yet tried deliberately to hurt his brother. He kills him with kindness. “Kiss top head” are his three favourite words.
The tantrums happen mostly when I am unable to give him the attention he wants, within his time frame. The most common times this happens is when I’m breastfeeding or cooking or when the baby is unsettled and needs to be held (so pretty much all the time). If he wants to show me something or for me to do something with or for him and I am unable to fulfill his request straight away, he gets frustrated. We are working on learning the phrase “wait a minute please”, and although he can say it, he doesn’t quite understand the concept. But who am I kidding? It takes a lifetime to understand the concept of waiting and being patient. I’m certainly not there yet.
I’ve been told by many people that my toddler’s language skills are beyond that of most children his age, especially boys. He speaks very well, with the ability to join several words together and repeat almost anything you say. His receptive language (so my primary school teacher mum calls it) is also brilliant. He can follow more than one instruction at a time and really only needs to be taught a word once before he can say it and connect it to the correct object. I’m not saying this to toot my own horn, but to illustrate that he does understand what I’m saying and I mostly understand what he’s saying. This clarifies to me that, at least with him, the tantrums are not about miscommunication or misunderstanding. Though I’m sure this is a possible causative factor for some.
When he gets frustrated a cascade of behaviours and feelings follow. First he is impatient, then unhappy, then upset, then angry, then defiant. I try to intervene at the different stages by using distraction techniques or a reward system. When he reaches the last stage and I discipline him for his defiance, that is when the tantrums begin. When he is in the middle of a tantrum, I find that telling him to stop that behaviour and then ignoring him is the best option. He stops quicker if he isn’t getting the attention he wants. If we are in public and I cant just walk away, I speak very quietly, whilst kneeling down to his level and tell him what I want him to do. I also usually offer him food.
I have an iPhone. I have noticed that I spend a lot of time on my phone. Whether it is messaging, facebook, internet or email. I have found myself getting annoyed at my sons for interrupting me on my phone. How ridiculous! A few weeks ago I woke up to myself and realised that my children are infinitely more important than anything I could be doing on my phone. So that has reduced my son’s attention seeking behaviour, because he does not have to seek for my full attention, I give it to him readily when I am able. I challenge you to assess your situation and if there is anything you are doing that is unnecessarily taking your attention, which should be given freely to your children.
After saying all this, I do not want you to think I have an awful child. And I want you to remember that your child is not awful either. Most of the time he is excellent and fun to be around. I hope some of the techniques I have used can help people learn how to deal with their children when they are misbehaving. Remember, we all make mistakes and they aren’t even really mistakes, they are learning opportunities!