First off – whoever came up with the term “terrible 2’s” needs to be punched in the face. Let’s just get this out of the way; terrible 2’s don’t exist. There are however terrible 1’s, 2’s, 3’s, and probably 4’s…etc. That was a big preconceived notion on my part though. I thought that when my son turned 2 we’d go through a rough time of him learning the world and then it would be over relatively quickly. WRONG. Call it ignorance on my part, or maybe just wishful thinking. Either way, kids have tantrums, not just when they’re 2, but from my experience all throughout the toddler phase.
So why does my kid occasionally go bat-shit crazy?
In medical terms, the frontal cortex, the part of the brain that makes decisions and judgments, gets consumed by emotions thus making the kid resistant to reasoning. In other words, the kid becomes a raving lunatic and the part of the brain responsible for telling them to stop goes AWOL.
There are several triggers though – 2 of the biggest ones being hunger and fatigue. Who would have thought? Hmmm, even as an adult who doesn’t get cranky when they’re tired and hungry? This guy sure as hell does. Ever seen the Snickers commercials… but seriously, I hate getting hungry so much that almost anywhere I go, I bring a granola bar with – my soldiers can attest to that. The old man always has food, ibuprofen and allergy medicine on me at all times. And fatigue – well that’s pretty self-explanatory. If they miss nap time, have a shortened nap, or just aren’t getting as much rest as normal they’re going to be a bit…shall we call it “sensitive”.
Frustration is another cause. Kids of this age get frustrated really easily. They have trouble expressing their feelings. They have trouble communicating. They’re just learning their way in this world and naturally want to do everything right. The fact of the matter is, they’re just toddlers and don’t know jack. But they don’t know that; they think they know everything. So when they’re playing with the legos and they’ve built a 2 foot tall tower that keeps falling over because it doesn’t have any support, well yes, they’re going to get frustrated.
The last one I’m going to mention is control. Having too many or too few controls will sometimes set them off. You can’t impose too many controls on kids this age (can’t do this, can’t do that, can’t eat this, can’t go there, can’t can’t can’t..). If you’re constantly telling them they can’t do something, then they’ll never feel like they have any control in the matter. Yes, they’re only 2 years old, but they still feel a need for independence. I’ve said it before, pick your battles. Then again, you shouldn’t go to the extreme and not enforce any control and just let them run wild. Then they’ll just become spoiled brats and we don’t want that.
What can you do to thwart an attack?
It sounds cliché, but the best defense is a good offense. Use your reconnaissance skills and recognize when the tantrum is coming on and ward it off before it even starts. Address the triggers I mentioned before proactively and most of the time you’ll be good to go.
Hunger and fatigue are obvious. These two are addressed using good old common sense. For example:
Father: “Your son threw a tantrum at the supermarket today.”
Mother: “What time did you bring him there?”
Father: “I was trying to get in some shopping right before his nap.”
Mother: (under her breathe) “dumbass”
Father: “excuse me?”
Mother: “you heard me…maybe next time use common sense and don’t take him out somewhere when he’s about to get tired.”
Father: “you’re right dear, you’re always right.” (cough cough)
Similarly with hunger – it’s a little harder to tell because kids eat different every day and usually at every meal. My son will eat like a pigeon one meal and like a tyrannosaurus the next. However, if you have them on sort of a schedule, you should know the estimated time they’ll be hungry. Same as being tired use common sense and don’t make them miss or be late for meals. Or if you don’t have a choice, bring snacks and water everywhere you go. So if your spidey-senses start kicking in that things are about to get real, at least you could give them something to hold them over until you can get them a real meal.
Frustration is a difficult one, because it’s situation specific. Just try to help and coach them through the situation. Remain calm and assist them along the way trying to explain to them that it’s ok that everything isn’t perfect. Just show them that you care and that you are there for them.
Lastly, give them choice in certain situations, like what they want to eat for breakfast or what game they want to play. This gives them a sense of control in the matter. I completely get the old tough guy adage of “they’ll eat what I make them, or they won’t eat at all”. But the fact of the matter is, it’s not worth your time and energy to fight this battle. When all you need to do is just ask them what they want to eat and meet in some middle ground. “I want cookies for dinner.” “No way Jose, cookies are treats and you only get a treat if you finish your dinner. Now do you want chicken nuggets or mac and cheese?”
When shit hits the fan
Sometimes things will inevitably just go to crap. No matter how many snacks you have with, how much sleep the kid has, etc..things will just go south and they’ll go full bore tantrum, hissy fit, and loco on you. It happens. Now’s the time to put on your body armor and put in your ear protection. It’s time to embrace the suck. BUTTT, there’s some things you can do to deal with the situation. I’ll run through them quickly:
- Ignore the Kid – It’s obvious that sometimes they’re just looking for attention and when they get a rise out of you, they’ve won.
- Keep your cool – It shows kids that they aren’t going to get a rise out of you. Almost impossible for me. I’m a fight fire with fire kind of guy. All I really want to do is yell right back or even louder to establish dominance. It’s natural for me to do so – and yes, I’m an asshole because of it. However, I’ve got a saint for a wife that recognizes this and intervenes when necessary. (Little secret between us, I’m writing this post to not only help you, but myself as well. We’re all in it together people…)
- Smoke and mirrors – Create a diversion or sleight of hand. I call this the “Squirrel method”. Blah blah blah, squirrel…and you’re off in another direction. Play a game real quick – Who’s at the door? How old are you? Did I just see a unicorn in your room?!?!
- Get silly – Make them laugh and sometimes it’ll snap them out of the fit. Up the alley of a diversion tactic.
- Change the scenery – If they’re in the supermarket and flipping out, pick them up calmly and bring them out to the car. If they’re in the kitchen, bring them outside the house. If you’re on an airplane…holy crap, pray that someone has Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on an IPAD with a full battery.
- Show compassion – Give them a firm hug and talk to them calmly.
- Let them vent off their frustrations – What would happen to a pressure cooker if it didn’t vent? It would explode. Same thing here, as a last resort just let them vent in a safe location that they can’t hurt themselves. Sometimes you just gotta let kids be kids.
A couple things not recommended
Just giving them your phone or keys to play with as a distraction. Think about it, if you’re out somewhere, you’re going to end up needing them back at some point. What do you think the kid’s going to do when you go to take them away? Bingo, lash out all over again because you’re taking the thing away that you gave to them to play with.
Physical corrective training aka “spanking”. It’s one thing to restrain them from hurting themselves or others, or to grab them and “escort” them out of a store. It’s another thing to drag them, yanking their arms hard, or even leave a mark. I’m not against some small smacks on their ass after repeated warnings. But there’s a time and place for things like this and they’re very few and far between. In the middle of a tantrum is not one of them. It’s only going to make the situation worse. *As a side note, everyone’s got an opinion on “spanking” and whether it’s good or bad…but I view opinions like assholes, everyone’s got one. So you choose how you want to raise your kid and you do you.
All kids are different and you need to treat them as such. What worked for your one kid probably isn’t going to work for another. You need to try out different methods and see what sticks. Actually, what works now, probably won’t work as they get older, so have another method in your back pocket to use in case it’s in the middle of a battle. I’ve always been taught, you can have the best-laid plans, but everything changes as soon as the first bullet goes past your head. You need to rely on muscle memory at that point to get you through, because as they get more stressed and loud and irrational, guess what happens to you – the same thing.
So memorize some of these techniques and put them into practice the next time your child decides they want to go ape-shit. It could save your life. (Not really, but it could definitely make the situation a bit more manageable.)