Development FAQ: 12-18 months – Tantrums

Can the terrible twos begin early? My 16mth old son has begun to have tantrums already.

Can the “terrible twos” begin early? My 16-month-old son was very easy as a baby, but he seems to have changed overnight. There are times when I have to say “no” to him, as he wants to get into everything or climb on things that will fall over. He reacts by throwing a tantrum and seems completely out of control. What is the best way to deal with this behaviour? I feel as though I have to watch him constantly, whereas a few months ago he was content to sit and play on his own with his toys.

A few months are a long time in the life of a toddler. Before he could walk, your little boy had no option but to sit and play with toys, but now that he is mobile, the whole world has opened up and he wants to explore it.

If you have not done so already, remove any fragile or dangerous pieces of furniture, such as glass-topped coffee tables, to areas of the house where he is unable to access them. Some items, such as table lamps, have to remain and your son will need to learn that “no” does mean that some things are off-limits. Removing everything that is potentially harmful is not practical, nor does it prepare children for the wider world, where they must learn to respect the property of others. Decide what behaviour will and will not be allowed in the house, but try to keep the list short so that daily life does not become one long “no”.

Boys of your son’s age have endless physical energy. They can jump, climb and be on the go all the time. Provide for this at home by making a mini-adventure playground that can be tidied up at the end of the day. Use large boxes with open ends to make tunnels, or a blanket over a low table to encourage crawling. Give him old cushions or pillows to jump into. Find a large box at the supermarket and let him climb in and out of it. When he is playing well with these things, give him some praise. If he does begin to clamber on furniture or play with something unsuitable, calmly but firmly say, “No, you may not play with that” and remove him from it. Try to divert him with an alternative. If a tantrum ensues try to ignore it, making sure he cannot hurt himself on anything in his way. His frustration will subside and that is when you might give him a cuddle to help him calm down. Some toddlers respond well to being held during a tantrum, while others find it infuriating, so be guided by your child.

Most early tantrums are caused by frustration and the inability of a child to make their needs known. Hunger, tiredness, over-stimulation and boredom also play a part. Despite the “terrible twos” label, these tantrums can appear well before a second birthday. This period in your toddler’s life can seem like a constant battle, but look at the daily leaps he is making in his development. Build on what he is able to do, give him plenty of active time outside and keep his meals and naps to the usual routine. In this way, you should avoid too many meltdowns during the day. Once a toddler is able to use language and express himself better, this early tantrum stage tends to fade away.

Development FAQ: 12-18 months – Tantrums

Over the past few weeks my 15-month-old daughter has had several tantrums while we are out shopping. I find it so embarrassing to have her kicking and screaming and feel that everyone is looking at me. I have tried to calm her down, but this makes things worse, and it is often not clear what has set her off in the first place. What is the best way to deal with this behaviour?

Tantrums are a normal part of early childhood and most bystanders will be sympathetic despite their stares. Trying to reason with your daughter at this age will just prolong the kicking and screaming, as she will not be able to comprehend what you are saying. Although you will learn what sets her off, and may be able to steer her away from such situations, there will always be a few tantrums that cannot be explained, other than your child has got to a state where she feels unable to cope any more.

Tantrums in babies and small children are often the result of hunger, tiredness or frustration at not making themselves understood. Once you are aware of the warning signs that a tantrum may be imminent, try using a distraction to help to head it off. It is a good idea to try to arrange trips to the supermarket or shops at times of the day when your toddler is not likely to be hungry or tired. Do be aware of how long she is able to cope before she begins to get frustrated and plan your outings accordingly. At your daughter’s age, long shopping trips will bore her and trouble may start. If at all possible, it would be better to leave her at home with a friend or relative and for you to enjoy such a trip alone and in peace. If, however, she does have to accompany you, be prepared by taking a drink and small snack with you, such as a box of raisins. This should help to keep your toddler occupied while you try to finish your shopping as quickly as possible.

Getting to know the best way to handle your toddler when she is kicking and screaming may require trying different approaches. Some toddlers will calm down more quickly if they are held on your lap, from behind. Place your arms around her body and constrain her flailing limbs. It may help if you whisper quietly and calmly into her ear, as she will have to stop screaming to listen to you. If your toddler responds to you in this way, you can use it to help her get over her frustrations more quickly. Once she is calm again, give her a cuddle and then continue with what you were doing.

If you have a toddler who does not like being held, then don’t try to use this method. She may calm down more quickly if you ignore her altogether, but stay nearby to make sure that she does not hurt herself in any way. When she realises that you are not paying her any attention, she may well stop screaming and you can then pick her up and give her a cuddle.

Once you have learned how to handle your daughter’s tantrums in public places, you will not feel so embarrassed by them. Remember that they are part of her continuing development towards independence – and are not a reflection of your parenting skills! Providing she knows that she has your unconditional love, even though she appears not to want it as she kicks and screams, she will gradually learn to handle her frustrations and the tantrums will fade away. If you consult the Features list on the website, you will come across several helpful articles, which go into further detail on this important subject.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Tantrums

I have started having a problem with my 26 month old regarding tantrums. I have recently had a baby and she has been totally fine with it. The problem seems to be with her daddy. She doesn’t see her daddy at all during the week and so he trys to make weekends really special. The problem I have is that if I try and get her to do anything she doesn’t want to do, she has a major tantrum and clings to her daddy. This morning she didn’t want to leave a restaurant we were having breakfast in as she wanted a cup of tea (her daddy had already given her one). Normally when I ask her to do something, she may grizzle but is very good and easily diverted. Today she threw a terrible tantrum, literally lying on the floor and screaming like she was being murdered, then she wanted her daddy to carry her and wouldn’t walk; it was so awful I wanted the ground to swallow me up. I know it’s probably due to the new baby and the fact she misses her daddy but how do we stop this escalating? Monday to Friday she is a totally lovely, good happy child. At the weekend it is a nightmare…

Everyone is over-compensating the fact that a baby has arrived and she may be feeling slightly jealous. And possibly her daddy feels guilty that he doesn’t see her during the week and he possibly overindulges her at the weekend. She will be feeling jealous, but she is also feeling confused; why is she now getting away with much more than she used to? It is important that you and your husband are consistent and in agreement over how to deal with this behaviour when it occurs. She does need lots of cuddles and affection but she needs her natural boundaries restored.

As you have pointed out her behaviour changes only when her daddy is around on the weekend. Explain to your husband that it is important to take control of the situation when it occurs. If she has a major tantrum when daddy and you are trying to do something with her, don’t deny her the tantrum, she is after all very cross about something, but your husband should walk away, saying that once she has calmed down, he will come back and give her a nice cuddle.

I would not at this stage suggest daddy or you leave her entirely on her own as this will just add to her feelings of jealousy, but sit nearby until her tantrum has finished. At the end of the tantrum, when your husband gives her the cuddle it is also important to tell her why he walked away. ‘It makes daddy very sad when you scream and shout at me’.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Tantrums

My daughter, who is nearly three is having an increasing number of tantrums, especially in the morning. Just getting her dressed and encouraging her to eat her breakfast is proving challenging.

I the morning I need to drop her at her nursery in good time for me to get to work. How do I deal with this behaviour?

Your daughter’s behaviour is quite common for a child of almost three. In the morning, she has just woken up from a long, deep sleep and needs a little time to adjust to the start of a busy day.

We often emphasise the need for a good bedtime routine. It is equally important for a young child to have a calm and consistent morning routine, which allows plenty of opportunity for her to do some things for herself without feeling rushed.

To enable you to manage this, you may need to start your day fifteen or twenty minutes early. Before you attempt to wake your daughter, get dressed yourself, and make sure you are organised for your day with car keys, briefcase etc. ready by the front door. See to your needs first, (ideally while she is still asleep) so that you can really focus on your little one when she begins to get up.

She will naturally want to dress herself, and if it good for her development to be allowed to do this. Stay with her, but perhaps concentrate on tidying her room, giving her plenty of encouragement and praise as she begins to get dressed. She should then let you help her with tricky buttons and zips. If she is a child who fusses about her clothes, make sure you have laid this out the night before with her involvement.

Once your daughter is dressed, and her bedroom tidy, take her downstairs for breakfast.

It is possible that her tantrums are her way of letting you know that she feels her time with you is limited, and during the time she has with you she wants your undivided attention, so once she is awake let her spend as much time with you as possible before you leave the house.

Try to have breakfast together. Eating meals with your child is such a benefit not only to good table manners, but in encouraging her to eat up by example. It is also a nice opportunity to prepare her for her day – talk to her about what she will be doing at nursery, and tell her a little about what you will be doing at work.

If you give your daughter a little more time and attention in the morning, you will probably find it is much less likely for her to throw a tantrum.
In the contented toddler years Gina discussed the benefit of using a star chart. Your child is the perfect age to feel motivated and encouraged by a star chart, awarding her stars for getting dressed, brushing her teeth, eating her breakfast etc.

The key to any routine is being consistent and calm. You will both begin to treasure this time together if you can make it as relaxed and enjoyable as possible, while getting to work on time.

Development FAQ: 18-24 months – Tantrums

My 20-month-old doesn’t want a haircut.

I have just spent the most embarrassing morning trying to get Harry’s hair cut. At 20 months, I felt he needed to have his hair cut in a “big boy” style, but Harry had different ideas. He refused to co-operate, wouldn’t sit in the chair and ended up having a tantrum on the floor of the shop. I abandoned the idea, apologised and crept out. How will I ever get him to co-operate enough to try again?

Put yourself in your child’s shoes when it comes to the hairdressers – you may never have been there before, it’s a new experience and you would like to explore. But instead you are swept on to a high chair, tied into a large gown – and you cannot even see your hands. Looking in the mirror, you see a stranger with a pair of scissors, advancing towards your head! No wonder many first trips to the hairdressers end in tears.

Now that Harry has had one bad experience, you will need to build his confidence before attempting another visit. As you have already trimmed his hair, keep doing this for a month or two, but tell him when you are doing it, rather than snipping when he is distracted. By all means continue to trim while he is in the bath, but let him watch in a mirror. We teach children that scissors are dangerous and sharp, but this is where a lot of fear comes from as they think having their hair cut will hurt. Little children do not understand that hair grows back. If you can understand Harry’s fears, then you will think of ways to overcome them. Cut off a small piece of your own hair and let him feel it, or find a picture of yourself with longer or shorter hair, so he begins to understand that hair grows again.

Playing pretend barbershops can help, but a better idea would be a trip to watch you or his father have a haircut. In this way, he will be more familiar with the procedure. If you are anxious that Harry may not remain content during your appointment, then bring someone with you who could take him off once he has seen that haircutting doesn’t hurt.

Try also to find a hairdresser that is child-friendly. Discuss your concerns with them and schedule your appointment for a time when Harry will be neither tired nor hungry. Arrive in plenty of time so he can look at customers and equipment and talk about what you see. If Harry is still apprehensive, ask if they are willing for him to be on your lap, and wear a smock yourself. Get his hands out from under the smock as soon as it is on and give him a small toy to hold in each hand. When packing toys for the visit, don’t bring soft toys, as it will be hard to get hair off them.

If you can, plan a small treat for after the visit and tell him. ” We are going to the park/café/toy shop, but first we have to stop and get your hair cut”. Having something to look forward to should help. Dress him in old clothes for his haircut, a t-shirt is ideal, and put a clean one in your bag so he can change at the end; hair can be very itchy on the neck, so removing the old t-shirt will make him feel more comfortable. Baby powder can also make the removal of loose hair easier, so bring some with you if you wish. Finally, praise Harry for being co-operative during his haircut and, in time, visiting the hairdresser may become an enjoyable outing for both of you.

Development FAQ: 12-18 months – Tantrums

Can the terrible twos begin early? My 16mth old son has begun to have tantrums already.

Can the “terrible twos” begin early? My 16-month-old son was very easy as a baby, but he seems to have changed overnight. There are times when I have to say “no” to him, as he wants to get into everything or climb on things that will fall over. He reacts by throwing a tantrum and seems completely out of control. What is the best way to deal with this behaviour? I feel as though I have to watch him constantly, whereas a few months ago he was content to sit and play on his own with his toys.

A few months are a long time in the life of a toddler. Before he could walk, your little boy had no option but to sit and play with toys, but now that he is mobile, the whole world has opened up and he wants to explore it.

If you have not done so already, remove any fragile or dangerous pieces of furniture, such as glass-topped coffee tables, to areas of the house where he is unable to access them. Some items, such as table lamps, have to remain and your son will need to learn that “no” does mean that some things are off-limits. Removing everything that is potentially harmful is not practical, nor does it prepare children for the wider world, where they must learn to respect the property of others. Decide what behaviour will and will not be allowed in the house, but try to keep the list short so that daily life does not become one long “no”.

Boys of your son’s age have endless physical energy. They can jump, climb and be on the go all the time. Provide for this at home by making a mini-adventure playground that can be tidied up at the end of the day. Use large boxes with open ends to make tunnels, or a blanket over a low table to encourage crawling. Give him old cushions or pillows to jump into. Find a large box at the supermarket and let him climb in and out of it. When he is playing well with these things, give him some praise. If he does begin to clamber on furniture or play with something unsuitable, calmly but firmly say, “No, you may not play with that” and remove him from it. Try to divert him with an alternative. If a tantrum ensues try to ignore it, making sure he cannot hurt himself on anything in his way. His frustration will subside and that is when you might give him a cuddle to help him calm down. Some toddlers respond well to being held during a tantrum, while others find it infuriating, so be guided by your child.

Most early tantrums are caused by frustration and the inability of a child to make their needs known. Hunger, tiredness, over-stimulation and boredom also play a part. Despite the “terrible twos” label, these tantrums can appear well before a second birthday. This period in your toddler’s life can seem like a constant battle, but look at the daily leaps he is making in his development. Build on what he is able to do, give him plenty of active time outside and keep his meals and naps to the usual routine. In this way, you should avoid too many meltdowns during the day. Once a toddler is able to use language and express himself better, this early tantrum stage tends to fade away.

Development FAQ: 12-18 months – Tantrums

Over the past few weeks my 15-month-old daughter has had several tantrums while we are out shopping. I find it so embarrassing to have her kicking and screaming and feel that everyone is looking at me. I have tried to calm her down, but this makes things worse, and it is often not clear what has set her off in the first place. What is the best way to deal with this behaviour?

Tantrums are a normal part of early childhood and most bystanders will be sympathetic despite their stares. Trying to reason with your daughter at this age will just prolong the kicking and screaming, as she will not be able to comprehend what you are saying. Although you will learn what sets her off, and may be able to steer her away from such situations, there will always be a few tantrums that cannot be explained, other than your child has got to a state where she feels unable to cope any more.

Tantrums in babies and small children are often the result of hunger, tiredness or frustration at not making themselves understood. Once you are aware of the warning signs that a tantrum may be imminent, try using a distraction to help to head it off. It is a good idea to try to arrange trips to the supermarket or shops at times of the day when your toddler is not likely to be hungry or tired. Do be aware of how long she is able to cope before she begins to get frustrated and plan your outings accordingly. At your daughter’s age, long shopping trips will bore her and trouble may start. If at all possible, it would be better to leave her at home with a friend or relative and for you to enjoy such a trip alone and in peace. If, however, she does have to accompany you, be prepared by taking a drink and small snack with you, such as a box of raisins. This should help to keep your toddler occupied while you try to finish your shopping as quickly as possible.

Getting to know the best way to handle your toddler when she is kicking and screaming may require trying different approaches. Some toddlers will calm down more quickly if they are held on your lap, from behind. Place your arms around her body and constrain her flailing limbs. It may help if you whisper quietly and calmly into her ear, as she will have to stop screaming to listen to you. If your toddler responds to you in this way, you can use it to help her get over her frustrations more quickly. Once she is calm again, give her a cuddle and then continue with what you were doing.

If you have a toddler who does not like being held, then don’t try to use this method. She may calm down more quickly if you ignore her altogether, but stay nearby to make sure that she does not hurt herself in any way. When she realises that you are not paying her any attention, she may well stop screaming and you can then pick her up and give her a cuddle.

Once you have learned how to handle your daughter’s tantrums in public places, you will not feel so embarrassed by them. Remember that they are part of her continuing development towards independence – and are not a reflection of your parenting skills! Providing she knows that she has your unconditional love, even though she appears not to want it as she kicks and screams, she will gradually learn to handle her frustrations and the tantrums will fade away. If you consult the Features list on the website, you will come across several helpful articles, which go into further detail on this important subject.