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Tantrums and Meltdowns–It’s Not Personal

Updated: Apr 23, 2020


When I was a young mother, I was often filled with an overwhelming feeling of joy and love that was more powerful than anything I’d ever experienced. Sometimes when I’d look at my little ones, or hold them, or sit reading to them, a feeling of intense love would flood through me–I never knew a person could love a baby this much!

That love was seriously tested when  when each child hit about 18-24 months  All of a sudden the child who cooed and gurgled at me became the little monster that threw tantrums (and other things), pushed me away, and sometimes even  hit me when he didn’t get his way.  Ouch!  My feelings were hurt! How could this little person I loved so much and did everything for, be so mean and ungrateful!

 Honestly, it seemed as though he was intentionally trying to be difficult or make me mad–it seemed really personal!

I had a lot to learn about toddlers.  I didn’t realize what  was really going on– children between 18 months and 3 years of age are experiencing one of the most important transitions of their entire life.  Yes indeed, the period so often referred to as the “Terrible Twos” is actually a really important time for kids, and understanding it is vital to helping them become happy and confident grown-ups.  

It’s also a crucial moment in the parent-child relationship--how you navigate this period of 18 months or so can make the difference between having a child who will respond to you and one who will be a constant trial.

This is nothing new–moms and dads have been dealing with two-year-olds since time began, and the understanding of how to deal with them has been passed down from one generation to the next without any fanfare and without anybody reading parenting books (or blogs!) So why didn’t I know how to do it?  And why do so many other parents have such a hard time with the same thing?  It’s because we think our grandparents’ way of doing things is outdated, and that the “experts” know better.   We resist asking anybody–even (sometimes, especially!) our own mom–what to do because frankly, we think we know better, and we don’t want anybody telling us how to raise our kids, thank you very much!

I’ve got news for you:  human nature is the same as it’s always been.  Psychology and hundreds of parenting methods later, every single person still wants his or her own way, beginning at birth.  Everybody has to learn to deal with frustration,  waiting to get what he wants,

Here’s how to teach them:

1. Be proactive.  Expect resistance, screaming, tantrums.  Don’t let these behaviors surprise you.  They’re normal, typical, and necessary.

2. Remain calm.  Remember, it’s not personal!  You haven’t done something wrong, your child is not in danger of being psychologically damaged, and you don’t need to analyze the situation.

3. Keep doing what you’re doing.  If it’s mealtime, offer another bite or calmly let them go play. (Later, you can offer them more of the same food if they get hungry.)  If they are writhing on the floor, continue what you were doing before.  Sometime later, you can designate an area, like a bathroom, that can be their “tantrum room”, and just lead them there the next time they erupt.  Tantrums will eventually become rare, or a thing of the past. If you’re in public, calmly remove your child from the area and go home.

Don’t confront, spank, demand, or get angry–it will only escalate the situation into a fight, and nobody will win–just firmly and calmly make what you want happen instead of giving them what they want.

4-Keep the long view.  Remember that this is but one instance in the long process of training your child to be a grown-up.  By not giving in to their demands, you’re giving them the opportunity to learn that they will live without whatever it is they are demanding. That is correction enough.  As this happens over and over, they’ll recognize that you mean what you say, that their needs will always be met, and that they are capable of waiting.

You know what this leads to?  This leads to dinner in restaurants without meltdowns.  It leads to adult conversations when your friends come over, without you having to constantly occupy your child.  And most importantly, it means a happier child and a MUCH happier you!

If you have questions, or comments, I’d love to hear from you!  Please respond in the comments section, or contact me.

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