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Managing the Terrible Two’s

Westholme’s helpful hints on managing the terrible two’s

Once in a while almost all young children will have a “temper tantrum”. These “tantrums” or “acting out behaviours” are a natural process of early childhood development and are displayed in response to unmet needs or desires. They may also occur with children who have limited language skills who find it harder to express emotions and seek solutions verbally.

Generally these impulsive emotions begin at the age of 12-18 months and go into the “terrible twos”, decreasing rapidly until the age of four. Tantrums can involve behaviours ranging from whining and crying to screaming, kicking, hitting, falling down and breath holding.

One way of dealing with this behaviour is not to deny the emotions but help the child learn to manage their responses to the situations. Young children feel the effect of their emotions more intensely than adults, they tend to respond more erratically, simply because they have not learnt the techniques to control their reactions. A variety of factors will determine a child’s level of impulsivity and their ability to manage emotions such as personality, early experiences and role modelling of adults. If children are tired, hungry or sick, tantrums can be worse and more frequent.

During a temper tantrum it is important that you try to remain calm. Always remember that children imitate behaviour and shouting at your child will only make the situation worse. Managing emotions can be difficult for children and they need adult support to be able to learn from the situation. If they are displaying physical activity try to hold them as they may cause harm to themselves or others. The adult should respond calmly and quietly to the situation and let the child know that they are aware that they are angry. Holding the child can be a reassuring and comforting gesture during the period of distress because although a child is behaving this way, it can scare them not having control. Some children respond well to distraction through a game or activity. Alternatively some children respond better to a quiet activity such as listening to music or looking at picture books.

For older children, ignoring them is sometimes a very effective way to end the tantrum and prevent future occurrences. If they realise that the tantrum is not getting them anywhere then they begin to realise that the effort is pointless.

After the child has calmed down, it is an important exercise for the adult to reflect on the experience and talk to them on how best to manage the situation differently next time. To try and reduce tantrums try to encourage the child to talk about their feelings and teach them words that will express their emotions. When a child does manage a situation without a tantrum, praise them for they way they handled their feelings.

Routine is also the key to surviving this time in a child’s life. Unexpected situations can be stressful for a child and can lead to tantrums. Give a child prior warning to a change in routine such as reminding them 5 minutes beforehand, this will help them anticipate the situation causing less stress for both adult and child.