Dear Mr. Dad: I love spending quality time with my 2-year-old, but occasionally he throws a tantrum that seems to come right out of the blue.
It embarrasses me in public and frustrates me at home. How should I respond to his unreasonable anger?
Answer: Welcome to the wonderful world of toddlers, sometimes known as the “Terrible Twos.”
The good news is that occasional tantrums are fairly normal at this age. The not-so-good news is that self-control is a skill that’s learned gradually, so you’ll need all the patience you can muster.
Generally speaking, toddlers have two interests: exploring their surroundings and having their needs met. If you get between your toddler and either of these goals, watch out.
Your first assignment is to keep track of the tantrums.
Do they tend to happen at the same time or in the same places? There are two effective ways to deal with a young child’s tantrum: redirect his behavior or ignore it.
• Redirecting behavior:
Point to something interesting (real or imaginary) that’s happening out the window, turn on a favorite CD, start reading a story, or get down on your hands and knees and imitate his behavior. That’s a technique that works better at home than in the frozen foods aisle at the grocery store.
I’ve also found that whispering to your child in a voice so low that he can’t hear you is pretty effective. His natural curiosity to find out what you’re saying can stop the tantrum.
Another type of redirection is to pick the child up and remove him from wherever he is.
• Ignoring behavior:
If your little one is in a safe environment, just walk away and leave him alone for a few minutes. Without an audience, he’ll calm himself pretty quickly.
If you can’t get completely out of sight, you’ll have to resort to a more in-your-face kind of ignoring. Absolutely refuse to look at or respond to your child. The tantrum will get worse for a few minutes as he tries harder and harder to get your attention.
But if you stick to your guns, the no-audience-no -performance rule will kick in. Of course, if he crosses a behavioral boundary and does anything to harm you, himself, or any other person or thing, you’ll have to get physically involved.
In cases like these, a time-out can be effective as long as you keep it to one minute per year of age.
Tell him firmly but without raising your voice that he can get up to play after two minutes. Set a timer so he can wait for the dinger to release him rather than you.
Regardless of the approach you take, once your child has returned to normal, give him a big hug and remind him that you’ll always love him.