Two Year Olds Who Rule The World, Part 2: the pros and cons of tantrums

A much loved two year old friend of mine – let’s call her Princess – was having one of her frequent “moments”. One of her favourite tricks is what I call “the fire siren”: you know, where the wail starts, and the pitch -and the volume – goes up and up and up. Here was Princess, winding up to a marvellous tantrum over something inconsequential. A large part of the “problem” here is that most people really don’t like to say no to Princess, because of the reaction that they know will follow. Therefore, her normal reaction when faced with “no” is to have a tantrum. (Here’s a perfect example of learning through repetition: P has a tantrum, people give her what she wants.)

I, however, have no such problem… I’ve known Princess for her entire life, and she knows that I set boundaries. (Consistent and Persistent, folks.) When I say no to my Princess, she knows two things: (1) I mean it, and (2) I will explain why I’m saying no, in as simple a way as possible.

So.. here we were, with the fire siren winding up. I looked as bored as possible, told her to come and find me when she was done, and walked away. She lost her target audience: and guess what, she stopped in her tracks. The other adults who were present at the time were gobsmacked. I guess it’s one of those cases where you can explain the theory to people as many times as you like, but seeing an example speaks a thousand words. 🙂

See, when Princess wants something, she has a tantrum to get it. What she’s learning here is that she *has* to have a tantrum to get (a) what she wants and (b)attention. What she’s *not* learning is how to deal with disappointment. When primary carers say no to the little things, toddlers learn to deal with their disappointment in a safe environment. Some tantrums are inevitable; they’re part of normal two year old development. But when we give in to every little thing, a bunch of stuff happens. The child learns that his tantrum gets him anything he desires: whether it’s the best idea or not. He gets the notion, through repetition, that he must have a tantrum to get what he wants. And he learns, also through repetition, that a tantrum will get everybody’s attention.

This is how many families end up in a cycle of behaviour that is miserable for everyone concerned. If you look at how you react to your toddler, you may well find that you have the means to break this cycle by reacting in a different way. Remember that the Prince, or the Princess, expects you to react in the accustomed fashion. And remember, too , that the ferocity of many tantrums actually frighten the daylights out of the little one. Often a quiet cuddle, along with the voice of reason, helps enormously. “When you’re ready to listen I can tell you why” works well. And like most of the tweaks that I recommend to parents in how they act -and react – with their kids, after a couple of times, it *works*.
…to be continued…