We’ve all heard about the Terrible Twos- that darling magical age where your child begins to individuate from you, starts to have desires of his own but doesn’t yet have the language to express it. Thus begin the tantrums. This is a normal part of being two years old, and if handled properly, it will pass and your child will progress.
When your child is going through that normal toddler stage, it’s exhausting, but relatively simple to handle. First you have to remember where it’s coming from. It’s human nature to want to be in control. Toddlers will act this out in different ways. Teaching them to control their own behavior (rather than yours) is a wonderful way to channel this instinct, and will give them confidence.
First, head tantrums off at the pass. Make sure your child gets enough rest. Don’t skip naps. Don’t let him fill up on junk food and sugar. Parents who let their child skip a nap, then eat candy, then take him shopping are guaranteed a blow out. Feed your child healthy foods and make sure he gets the rest he needs, and you’ll both be a lot happier.
If your child is beyond the age of two yet still throwing tantrums, whining, crying, it’s now becoming a personality problem. At this age, the child can’t be blamed. If she’s three, four, five and still behaving like a two-year-old it’s because she wasn’t taught differently. A child’s personality is formed in the first seven years of life, and as a mother of three, two who are now grown, let me tell you – those seven years go fast, folks. So don’t just go with the flow and hope they will one day outgrow bad behaviors. Take the time now to assess your parenting, and see if you can make some positive changes for both you and your child.
Here are some serious traps parents fall into that cause behavior problems with their kids.
The Enabler – You make excuses for your child’s bad behavior. “Johnny’s just tired.” Or “He had too much sugar” or “He just really wanted that toy”. Your child hears you justifying his behavior, so in his mind, his behavior is okay.
Solution: Never make excuses for bad behavior. Your child needs to know that bad behavior – hitting, screaming, whining, and pushing – is not okay. He is looking to you to show him how to be. Don’t send him the wrong message. Show him the proper way to handle his problems.
Take your child aside, get to his eye level and teach him what to do. For instance, “We don’t hit to get something we want. We use our words, and we say please.“ And if he can’t do that, you have to remove him from the situation until he can.
The Appeaser – You give in to the terrorist’s demands. Your child is screaming in a store for candy- you buy it to keep him calm. What you’re doing is rewarding bad behavior, and teaching your son that tantrums pay off. A child will repeat a behavior that is successful for him- wouldn’t you? I mean, if you wanted a raise at work, and you screamed and threw a fit, or whined and cried, and then got your raise, wouldn’t you do that again?
The Solution: Never, never give in to the terrorist’s demands, or believe me there will be continuous repeat attacks. Remove your child from the situation immediately. Relocate to the parking lot, the car, the restroom. Let him scream it out until he’s exhausted but don’t give in. He will learn that the screaming did not pay off, and in time, he will abandon the unsuccessful behavior.
Give him a positive way to earn the things he wants. I use gold star charts with my children. If he earns five gold stars for good behavior, then he can earn a reward. Or you could tell your child before you enter the store, “Remember, if you are good in all 10 aisles today, you get to pick out a special treat at the end.” Count the aisles, give him verbal praise for each. Make it fun!
The Passive parent – You don’t want to “rock the boat” with your child, preferring peace. You want to be your child’s best friend. You tell her not to eat on the sofa, but she doesn’t listen, so you let it go. It’s not worth starting world war III over, you think to yourself. In essence, you’ve just taught your kid that if she persists, you’ll back down. Hallelujah, she’s in charge! And if you think it’s difficult now, imagine it magnified 100 times by the time she reaches adolescence. By not addressing the problems now, you’ll have no peace later, and it will only get worse as your child gets older. Just think how “cute” it will be when your teenager knows she can get away with anything because you don’t want to fight. Curfew shmurfew…
Solution: Be consistent with rules. Always. You don’t have to be a drill sergeant, but there are certain rules you’ll want to set for the child’s safety and well-being. If you back down on the rules once, believe me your child will remember and will continue to push the limits. Do yourself a favor now- save yourself some grief later. Stick to your guns.
I’ve always explained my rules to my kids, and found they listen better when they understand the reason behind the rule. For instance, ” You are not allowed to jump off the couch, because it is not safe for you. I love you, and I don’t want you to get hurt. If you don’t follow this rule, I’m going to have to take a privilege away from you, because I am very serious about keeping you safe.”
The Easy-Goer: You don’t seem to possess the alarm that sounds off when your child is out of control. Nothing bothers you. Therefore the child is free to behave any way he feels, and we all know what that leads to (ever read Lord of the Flies?).
If you have that kind of threshold, that’s great for you. But when your child is screaming in the middle of a restaurant giving everyone else indigestion, you’ve got a problem. The rest of the world hears your kid’s screams, so you’ve got to take action.
Solution: Look at others reactions to your child. If he plays alone at parks, and no one is inviting him for play dates, your easy-going nature is not helping him. A child with bad behavior is not going to make friends easily- and you want your child to have friends and be well-liked, so help him out! Be awake, be aware. Pay attention and help him to develop the social traits that will endear him to others. Think about the kind of adult you’d like him to grow into. Kindness, generosity, respect, empathy and patience are beautiful traits, and must be cultivated and taught starting now.
The Over Empathizer – You feel bad every time your child cries, even when the tears are only to manipulate you. You may think your child is too sweet to be manipulative. Think again. It’s human nature to repeat behaviors that are successful. Once your child has language, he shouldn’t be crying unless he is physically hurt. Crying because he wants cake is not something he’ll be in therapy over one day. (But maybe you will.) Children repeat behaviors that are successful for them. If crying gets the child something he wants- treats, toys, your undivided attention, he’ll keep doing it.
Solution: Try this: “Honey, I’m sorry you’re feeling so sad. What can you do to fix it?” Empower your child! Teach her that everything she needs to fix a problem is already inside her brilliant mind!
Or try this: “If you need to cry, that’s okay. I’ll be in the kitchen and you can talk to me about it when you’re ready.” A pat on the back, a kiss on the cheek, and walk away. The power is in his hands. He will learn to use his words to communicate his needs.
The Denier – You refuse to see that your child has a problem. You say its just a normal part of being a kid, all kids act this way.
Solution: Take your child into a situation with other kids where he can interact and play. Is your child the only one throwing a fit, the only one who won’t share, the only one who’s hitting to get his way? The truth is, all kids don’t act that way, and if yours is the only one in a crowd, you’ve got to face reality, and take action.
The Meddler – You come running to save the day every time Johnny whimpers. He’s crying because his blocks fell, or because someone won’t give him a toy he wants, so mom and dad handle it for him. Dad rebuilds the blocks; Mom negotiates with the other kid to get Johnny the toy. What Mom and Dad don’t realize is that by swooping in to rescue Johnny every time he has a problem, they never give him an opportunity to solve a problem himself. Children of meddling parents are the ones you see hanging back at playgrounds, clinging to Mommy’s skirt. He has no confidence in himself because his parents never trust him to solve a problem on his own.
Solution: The next time his blocks fall down and he screams, you can empathize, but show him you have faith in his abilities. “Oh no! Your blocks fell! How can you fix them? Can you think of a way?”
“I see you’re upset that Kyle has the toy you want to play with, but we have to take turns. Maybe you can ask Kyle if you can have a turn with the toy when he’s finished playing with it?” (And parent- DON’T ask the question for him. Let him do it himself.) And if Kyle doesn’t want to share? That’s life, and it’s a great way to learn how to handle disappointment. People don’t usually do what we want, so we have to figure out how to be happy anyway. Let him figure it out. In the long run, you’re building a confident secure child.
In closing, just a word about manners. Manners are how we show consideration for one another in society. Please, thank you, excuse me…. magic words that make all the difference in the real world. If you want your child to be a considerate, polite adult, it needs to start with you. How your child treats you is how he’ll treat the world. If he shouts, hits you, screams and makes demands and you tolerate it, you’re teaching him how to be in the world. Other folks will not appreciate your demanding little tyrant. You gave this child life, you make every sacrifice for her, insist that she treat you with respect. You deserve it. And the rest of the world will appreciate it.
Our children are always looking up to us, saying through their behavior: Who am I? How am I to be in the world? What are the boundaries? How do we act in this situation? Raising your child with loving discipline will pay off, and ensure a confident, secure adult. When your child trusts you to show him the way, he will no longer be inclined to throw tantrums. Then just imagine how much you can enjoy your time together!