Most parents who have had a two-year-old have experienced the frustration and embarrassment of public meltdowns - probably more times than they care to remember. Temper tantrums are very common at this age, and new or overwhelming environments are a typical trigger. But, there’s no need to adopt the life of a recluse. You can prevent these “emotional storms” by understanding them in context and following three simple tips. First, let’s get some context by trying to understand your child’s perspective. Children in the developmental stage known as the "Terrible Twos," or "First Adolescence," 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. Plan ahead.
Children are most susceptible to storms when they are tired, hungry, uncomfortable or bored. When
possible, plan outings for times when your child is rested, fed, and healthy.
2. Interact with your child.
Whether you’re shopping or trying to enjoy a summer concert in the park, talk (or whisper) to your child. If she knows enough words, you can have simple conversations about what she thinks about the experience. 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 in public or at home!
3. Let your child make a couple simple choices. Remember the situation from your child's perspective: you are going along 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 that summer concert in the park, ask your child if you should sit one place or another (limiting choices is imperative). If children can make some choices, they will both learn more and feel better.
That’s it! Try these three simple tips the next time you’re headed out and you’ll be amazed at how much smoother the experience is. Enjoy!
Alan Greene, MD is the founder of DrGreene.com and KidGlyphs and the author of Raising Baby Green and Feeding Baby Green. Media appearances include the TODAY Show, the Dr. Oz Show, and The New York Times. Awards include the Healthy Child Healthy World Prevention Award and Intel’s “Children's Health Hero of the Internet” award.
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