Thursday 4 August 2016

The Terrible & Terrific Twos (6 Ways to Survive a Tantrum)

Little C is now two and a half, and I'm sad to report that the terrible twos have arrived. I heard they would come. We saw glimpses, but from what I've experienced in the past couple of weeks, they are definitely here.  All I can say is yikes.

Honestly, most of our time is terrific. Little C is hilarious. He is very affectionate. He laughs a lot; loves to tease; dances up a storm when music comes on; loves nature, animals and art; is adventurous; and is still all about the cuddles.  

Unfortunately, we have entered tantrum town. They seem to start anytime he isn't getting what he wants, which is a lot, because he doesn't like that he can't run around the grocery store like a wild child or eat cookies and ice cream for breakfast. He also likes to push the limits all the time, and can be more irritable when tired or hungry. Tantrums are tough, and involve ear-piercing screams. They really don't last long, usually just a minute or two, and he seems to recover quickly, but I don't feel like I recover well.

I think the fact that Little C isn't talking much makes it even more difficult. Some sign language and the few words that he has certainly help, but we still have some points of frustration. He can't express why he is upset. I can't even imagine how difficult it must be for him.  I try to be understanding, but it's tough when you have the little person, the most important person in your life, screaming at the top of his lungs and looking at you with such frustration, and you don't have any idea about how to fix it. 

I'm still new at this, but I have learned a few things that seem to work for us. 

1) Stay Calm: In the middle of a tantrum, whether it be at home or in public, stay calm. Calm voice, calm facial expressions, calm body language. It's really difficult, because tantrums are emotional for everyone, but I think it's important. I try to get his full attention and eye contact, and calmly ask what is wrong or what he needs or to give him a choice. I'm finding that it's also important for one person to take the lead, when handling the situation. Instead of multiple voices and faces trying to diffuse the tantrum, there is one. I think it helps the situation seem calmer and less overwhelming. 

2) Get to Know The Good Times & The Bad Times - This is a good way to avoid a tantrum before it even starts. In my son's case, I've discovered that he is definitely an outdoor kid. He needs to be outside. It really hit home one day when he was in a particularly foul mood. It had been raining for three days and he hadn't been outside enough, and probably had a little too much screen time. He had thrown about three fits before 9am, so I said, let's get our boots and jackets on and go outside! It was still cloudy and rainy, but we went for a 30 minute walk around the neighbourhood, running and jumping in puddles, and it really turned his mood around. He was happy and much more relaxed for the rest of the day. We get out for a walk or playtime everyday, regardless of the weather. Sometimes it's all about the time of day. In the past couple of weeks, afternoons have also been a bit of a tantrum hot zone, especially if we go out in public. I think he is very sensitive to being tired, and even though he doesn't always think he needs a nap, he does, and shows signs of being tired soon after lunch is over. To avoid this, we stay at home, either inside or in the yard, after lunch until nap time. By avoiding his grumpy times and making sure he gets what he needs, I feel like I set him up for success, which is critical when trying to fend off the dreaded tantrum.

3) Give Options - C likes to be in control, which I think may be a toddler thing. By giving choices, he feels like he's in control. He may want ice cream for breakfast, but if he gets to choose between cereal and a waffle, he is a bit happier. He may not want to wear what I want him to, but if I give him a choice between two outfits, he'll pick one. Sometimes, it's a choice between continuing to scream and go home, or calming down and staying where we are. I know sometimes he's not in control, but I think knowing that there are consequences are important. Putting him in control of the choice seems to help. They seem to make him feel like he has a little control.  

4) Explain the Plan - I have been using a lot of "First - Then" language lately. First, we're going to pick up our toys, then we're going to have snack. First we are going to get dressed, then we're going to go to Sobeys, then we're going to the playground. There are no surprises. He knows what he has to do to get to what he wants. He also knows that if he gets through the not-so-fun stuff, he'll be rewarded with something fun. Most of the time, I have been doing this verbally, because C's receptive language is very good, but sometimes I use pictures. 

5) Distract (But Don't Reward) - Distraction works really well. When C's ice cream fell off the cone when we were away this weekend, he looked like he was going to get upset, but then I just said, "Hey look! Now you get to eat the cone!" He was happy. When he wanted to get a movie at the corner store, I said, "On the next rainy day, we'll come to the store to rent this. Now, let's go get some milk!" He was happy. When he didn't want to leave the playground, I pointed out some flowers for him to smell on the way out. Again, he was happy. I think it's important to note that distraction does not mean giving in and rewarding the behaviour. I'm not going to say, "Want a Timbit?" to stop him from tantruming. That would probably just lead to more tantrums. Distract, but don't reward! 

6) Breathe. Seriously, Just Breathe.  - This one has nothing to do with C. It has to do with me. When a tantrum hits, I need to remember to breathe. C's tantrums don't last, but even if they only last a minute, it feels like hours when in the moment. It's even more difficult when in public, feeling the looks of others on us, while I try to wrangle a squirming, screaming toddler. Sometimes, I may feel like crying, but instead I try to just breathe. And breathe again. And again. After it's over, I remind myself that it's never as bad as it seems in the moment. My grandmother used to say, "This too shall pass." She had 13 children, so I feel like this is good advice. We'll survive. 

I'm still new at this parenting thing, and I usually don't feel like I know what I'm doing, so I'm always searching for "real" advice.  I can't guarantee that these ideas will work for anyone else. If they don't, just try to be a supportive villager. I think it's important to be understanding and supportive of other parents who are going through the same thing. It takes a village, people. And sometimes the village needs to simply ignore the tantrum or give the mum or dad a supportive comment or understanding smile. We've all been there or are currently living it. Also, remember that the toddler years are also terrific! Focus on the good parts and try your best to deal with the not so good parts. 

Do you have any other ideas? I'd love to hear them. I could use a boost to my mom skills so I can better deal with the next tantrum!

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