Surviving the Terrible Twos

My 2-year old always says “No!” to whatever I suggest. And all of the tantrums! What’s the best approach to use?

DR. RUTHERFORD: We’ve written some on tantrums before and that might be helpful to read. Two-year olds are often particularly trying for parents. To every parent, it feels like a lot of energy goes into dealing with a two-year old!

It’s important to remember that this is a developmental stage that all children go through, some more intensely than others. Here are some thoughts that may help you make it through this stage.

When your kid is having a tantrum –of course, you want to be sure that child is safe and not in an unsafe environment during a tantrum– you need to basically ignore the tantrum and let it run its course. And it will run its course! It might feel like a lifetime when you’re going through it, but it will run its course. When your child is calm, and only when the child is calm, is the time to talk to him about what happened. You’ll have to recognize that the child is a two-year old and his ability to be rational will be nothing like that of an older child. And you should be prepared to go through this a number of times without losing your cool.

MOLLY: This question was asked by a parent from Boston. I can relate because I went through the same thing when my son was two. But, as a frustrated parent, how do you stay calm while this is happening?

DR. RUTHERFORD: Granted, sometimes it’s hard to stay calm. But one thing that can help you is to keep in mind that this is just a stage that every child goes through. The other is to talk to friends or other Moms (or Dads) that also have two-year olds and are having the same struggles. There is a certain sense of camaraderie between parents when they can talk together about what’s going on with their kids.  Being a Mom can be really isolating. And if the parent is isolated, it can be very difficult for a Mom or a Dad to get through this trying period of development. You want to handle it as well as you can because you don’t want your kid to continue to have tantrums at three- and four- and five-years old.

So, some time afterward, when your child is calm, you talk to him calmly and nicely about what happened.

I don’t want to be remiss, so I want to bring up possible biological issues here: sometimes children will have tantrums if they are having a reaction to some kind of food. For instance, a sensitivity to a food dye (FD&C). Often the parents don’t know that the child is sensitive to food dyes and the child eats it and then goes through a very disturbing time at some point within the next 24 hours. So if you’re puzzled why your child is having tantrums, you want to look closely at what your child is eating to see if it might be a reaction to a food or food dyes. You’ll want to investigate the psychological and  biological issues and you’ll want to remind yourself that having tantrums at age two is a normal, developmental stage.

MOLLY: I think, for me, I’ve found that I do better when I try to do some activities with other Moms or parents together with our kids so that I remember that that I’m not the only Mom going through this. I know that with my 16-month year old, when I went to a gym class with him last month and saw the other kids his age climbing over everything and always in motion, it became clear that my kid wasn’t outside the norm in his activity level. And I talked to the other parents – we rolled our eyes together at the things our kids do!– and they had some some helpful suggestions for me, too.

DR. RUTHERFORD: Also, you can get a lot of sympathy from other Moms in your same situation, and that helps your psyche.

MOLLY: That really does help.

DR. RUTHERFORD: The old adage: misery loves company.

The most important thing to remember is not to set up a situation where the child benefits from the tantrum.  If you get a few of those times in a row where the kid wins because of throwing the tantrum, the child is going to recognize right away that this is the way to get what he wants. That can follow you into adulthood –you sometimes see adults having a mini-tantrum if they don’t get their way. It’s important to establish that this is not the best method of getting your way.