Temper Tantrums, Terrible Twos, and Taming a Toddler

Summary of suggestions on handling extreme tantrums of toddlers / 1.5 - 2 year olds...

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PSP member suggestions:


1. Look at your child's diet and allergies.

"One thing i thought of is that perhaps he has food allergies. I know that sounds really out there. but it could be something that is upsetting him physically and is aggravating him. have you spoken to your pediatrician or an allergist - I would go down that road before you start thinking psychological."

similarly, another member replied: "While it is part of the age, I've actually experienced 2.5 - 4 yrs. old being much harder of an age. It sounds like you may want to consider having him checked for food allergies. I know a couple of kids who were allergic to wheat and they went through the same thing - some grown-ups, too. The violence of the tantrums leads me to think it's food related."

And, "this may sound bizarre, but have you considered food allergies? I say this because I happen to belong to an online food allergy network (my 2 year old has serious allergies) and I've read a lot of posts about food allergies causing extreme behaviour. It's the kind of thing where the parents get called crazy for believing it, but they insist it's true. The most common offender connected with the behaviour reactions seems to be wheat or gluten.

And, "One thing that wasn't mentioned is, not necessarily allergies, but a response to certain food dyes found in such things like cereals (I think fruit loops) and candies. Ask your pediatrician, but a friend of mine's son was acting so aggressively (at about age 3) and she was becoming uncomfortable with the level of restraint force she and her husband had to use with him. When they found out about this food dye thing and eliminated these foods from his diet, his behavior significantly changed."


2. Explore getting a spectrum evaluation

"Our daughter also used to have what we called "epic tantrums." In our case, the cause of these frequent (daily) meltdowns was utterly mysterious -- we rarely knew what set her off. But her tantrums, which were accompanied by a number of other distinctive symptoms, ended up being characteristic of autism spectrum disorder, which she was eventually diagnosed with in October 2005 at 2.3 years old. I am not suggesting this is what's going on with your son, but I will list the other red flags of autism below for your information:
* Problems in social relatedness and communication (difficulty in mixing with other children; prefers to be alone; aloof manner; difficulty in expressing needs; uses gestures or pointing instead of words).
* Abnormal responses to one or a combination of senses; such as sight, hearing, touch, balance, smell, taste, reaction to pain.
* Sustained odd play (lining things up, e.g., books or CDs).
* Uneven gross/ fine motor skills.
* Not responsive to verbal cues; acts as deaf.
* Little or no eye contact.
* Insistence on sameness; resist changes in routine.
* Noticeable physical over activity or extreme under activity.
* Tantrums; displays extreme distress for no apparent reason.
Like I said, our daughter displayed most of the issues on this list in addition to her tantrums. Most markedly, she had no language.

similarly, "I know that tantrums are normal at ages 1,2, 3 but this sounds like he is out of control 2 times a day and it's controlling you. (you sit with him in his room until he falls asleep) I'm not being judgemental because my own daughter has thrown some really scary tantrums, but not 2 a day,like one really big one every other week. But I think you might want to consider getting help sooner rather than later if you think he's beyond the typical range of tantrums. I know that these parents in my class express all the time that they wish they had addressed it sooner because now he has socially stigmatized himself at school, other parents don't want their kids to have playdates with him. The NYU Child Study Center might be a good place to get introductory information just to see if you want to pursue some help, or they may say his behavior is on the typical spectrum.


3. Keep your communication with your child simple

I wonder if your son is losing it because he can't process all the information at once, and he's still trying to figure out the first part of your directions when you're already moving on to a different way of expressing the thought, still compound, but now bound up with consequences. I may be totally off base, but I'd suggest trying to keep your directions very simple, just one thing at a time, and make sure he's had time to process what you've asked before you express it differently.
As for a professional evaluation, I can't say whether it's warranted, but I always think it never hurts. You might get some good suggestions from an experienced observer.


4. Seek extra emotional support through experienced allies and professionals

""I happen to be a child/school psychologist (but still a bumbling parent too). From the tone of your message, I wonder if it would help you to consult with someone, regardless of whether these behaviors fall inside or outside of the normal range I also think teachers and others who work with young children have a good sense of the range of normal behaviors and parent-child interactions, so they may be worth a try as well. For example, an outsider might be able to help you sort out when and how to offer empathy and simply validate feelings, when to set the limit, and when to simply ignore and choose your battles. Child professionals-- whether psychologists, teachers, etc.--might also be able to help assess Henry's temperament and the fit with your needs and style. Psychologists might be able to help diagnose stuff, but hard to diagnose anything at this age--but still helpful to get a sense of a child's overall development, family history if pertinent, current stressors, and so on.
My vote: a little parent guidance to help sort out when to insist the crayons go in the cup and when to realize he's way too tired and young, then see where it goes from there. And some time for yourself where you can relax and decompress, especially as you go through your pregnancy."

"Friends have found comfort in the organization Families First, others with Parents Helping Parents, or something along those lines."

And another PSP member writes, "I don't know if I'd go to a child psychologist, but I would definitely go to a pediatrician who specializes in this sort of thing and allow him or her to make that determination themselves. I'm no psychologist myself, but it seems to me that while tantruming is normal in 2 year olds, it may be more indicative of a personality trait when the tantruming starts at 1 and grows in frequency."


5. Don't give your child's tantrums attention

"I don't know any miraculous strategies for stopping the tantrums, but I tend to need to walk away when my kids are too out of control. I usually put my older daughter in her room until she calms down and the younger one I just place in the middle of a rug when she's thrashing about. Not sure if it helps them or just me, but I usually need a minute to collect myself. And, of course, there's a lot to be said for trying to recognize when they are tired and hungry and trying to avoid situations that provoke them--completely impossible to prevent all tantrums, but I may have staved off one or two by doing that.


6. Do things to diffuse the situation

"I read the book. "the happiest toddler on the block" and it helped me a lot. I try to give my son more understanding and try to give him more power in the way of giving him a choice. When he gets stuck in his mood i try to make my self weak. i drop for example all the time a spoon and show him that i am not perfect. he starts to laugh and is no more stuck. same as having a high five with him and pretending that his hand clap is really strong and that my hands hurts in a funny way. It make him feel better and stronger then me...."


7. Understand the intentions of a consequence:

 "My son is only 1.5 but in all my reading and in my experience as a special education teacher, consequences are only helpful if they can control their impulses. At the same time, incentives don't work if something is cognitively challenging. Toddlers don't have much of any impulse control and most things are cognitively challenging. Toddlers literally can't help themselves and I'm not surprised that at the same time he can state the rules he's unable to follow them (sounds like some of my students). This is all very normal.     
Many times there are no logical consequences for misbehavior that will make sense to a toddler. You just have to set up the environment so it's harder for them to engage in the behavior. So, I'd keep him in the stroller unless it's okay for him to run away. You can say, we'll try again tomorrow or next week or whenever you feel like he can do it. You just don't want to set him up for failure. So if he can't do it, take a break. I also think that giving lots of freedom and few No's is helpful in limiting behavior that you don't like. If he has a lot of freedom, he should be more likely to accept limit setting. I also wonder if he just needs more time to run/walk/explore."


8. Stay calm and loving

"Tantrums - OY! While my son is thrashing and crying and tantruming, it helps for me to stay really calm, use a soft voice, get on my knees and start to softly sing. Softly singing while I keep Joe in a bear hug. Using a calm voice and telling Joe "You cannot tantrum. This is not ok"
The bear hug, the singing & staying calm are ridiculously difficult because Joe is a thrasher and sometimes head banger. We have a metronome (tick tock tick tock) and this also helps to calm Joe when we are at home.
Now that Joe is older (4) a choice helps to stop the tantrum. 'Calm down and tell me if you want to go home on the train or the bus" "When we get home do you want to read the bear book or Digger book?""

"The take home points are to work on connecting with the toddler and identifying / naming the emotions, and also recognizing that a lot of what seems like "bad" behavior is completely normal and understandable for a toddler so sometimes adjusting expectations is important. Being a toddler is really hard and the emotions are truly intense for them. Sometimes a hug and empathy works better than a time out. We actually got through the full-out tantrum phase pretty quickly this way without ever using time outs."

Good luck.


PSP member recommended resources:

"I HIGHLY recommend following Janet Lansbury on Facebook. She has a book and a blog as well, but honestly I got a lot out of just reading her Facebook posts. Good luck. Tantrums are so hard."

"Try the books "How Toddlers Thrive" or "No Drama Discipline." Both are written with regard to how a child's brain develops."