It’s not just the “terrible 2’s.” Children from 15 months to 4 years old have frequent temper tantrums. They are easily frustrated by the contrast between their greater mobility and freedom, and their inadequate skills to accomplish desired tasks. Knowing what they want but not being able to communicate their desires is an additional cause of frustration. Toddlers are unsure of the rules and limits and are dealing with their new sense of independence and autonomy.
Many times parents can see a frustrating situation developing (i.e., arguing over a toy with a sibling, frustration over not being able to reach or get something, being tempted by too many new toys or candies that he can’t have, etc.). We recommend heading off these situations by distracting the child or redirecting the child’s attention.
When the frustration level builds up too fast or is unavoidable, temper tantrums occur. Giving in to either a tantrum or to whining prevents the child from learning to control his impulses and handle frustration.
Once a tantrum starts and the child is out of control, the parents should not give in, plead with the child to stop, yell at the child to stop, or use physical punishment. The last two responses tend to make the tantrum worse.
The best thing to do is to act calmly and let the child regain control. Once he has, praise him for being under control (praise reinforces behavior). As parents our roles are to be positive and calm, help our children communicate their frustrations, and help them solve the problem through compromise or moving on to another activity.
If a tantrum occurs in a public place (i.e., supermarket), again, don’t give in. You’ll be tempted to say to yourself, “I’ll just give him the candy, he’ll be quiet and we’ll be able to finish shopping and get out of here without making a scene”. You may avoid a scene that time, but you are teaching him that all he needs to do is threaten to make a scene and he’ll get what he wants.
Be willing and prepared to drop everything, leave your cart and take the child over to a quiet corner, or even out to the car, and sit him there in time-out until he is quiet. Then return quickly and finish the trip. While this will make a difficult and frustrating trip for you, you will find that if the child knows you will not give in, he will stop.