Terrible Twos: tips for dealing with tantrums?

Parenting is terrifying, exhausting and at times utterly, utterly demoralising. I have never felt so weary, so despairing, such a total failure on such a regular basis, particularly at the moment*. Threeva seems to be revisiting the Terrible Twos in some style. There isn’t an hour in the day that I am with her that she doesn’t go into total and utter meltdown for the most unpredictable and seemingly innocuous reasons. And once she starts wailing, she is rendered incapable of listening and assimilating information at all. Her face goes puce, the arms stretch out rigidly in front of her as she arches backwards and her form becomes more rigid. And she can keep this up for what feels like hours.

I used to consider myself to be a patient person but I can only assume that there is something about being a mother that bypasses any sensibilities and repeatedly pushes your emergency exit button. I have found myself reduced to a screaming harridan when dealing with my screaming child whose cries have woken the peacefully sleeping baby. I have been driven bonkers by screams of rage as Dimples is pushed to the floor because she deigned to touch a toy that Threeva once played with. I have cringed with embarrassment in supermarkets and shopping centres trying to negotiate a way out of the situation in the full glare of hurrying businessmen on their lunchbreak, or old people having coffee.

I haven’t yet found a fool-proof technique, for either Threeva or me, to deal with the stress and the tears that the situation regularly triggers. I do have a few strategies that seem to be successful at getting us all through without causing permanent damage.

  • Take the time to breathe: firstly to calm myself, and secondly to give myself the space to think of what to do next.
  • Make eye contact: because we are both in this and need to find a way out together.
  • Speak slowly and calmly: best case scenario by exuding calm I will diffuse the situation. Threeva will also need to calm a little in order to hear me.
  • Make contact: I take her hands in mine so that she understands we are in this together, that she is not alone. It also helps me to stay focussed.
  • Counting: I explain that I am going to count to five and that she will need to stop crying when I have finished counting. This has proved to be very useful: it’s a simple command that she can follow even when stressed. I count down slowly and quietly. Hopefully at this point there is a lull in the noise for me to try and find out what the issue is and deal with it.
  • If all else fails, walk away. Obviously I don’t abandon her in the middle of a shopping centre, and have to strap her into the pushchair and walk home. If we’re at home I tell her  I am leaving her to calm down and shut the door of her room.  I realise that we are both in a viscious cycle, or that I cannot solve an issue like wanting Daddy to get her out of the bath (when Daddy is 200 miles away and won’t be home that night.) She takes the time and space to work out what she wants and calm down a little. It gives me the chance to check on Dimples and have a stiff Gin, or make a call to DH to sob uncomtrollably groan.
  • When everything has settled down, I talk about the situation with her, either explaining why she couldn’t have what she wanted, or why she needs to listen when I am trying to tell her something.

It’s a long way from being a flaw-proof system, so if you have any other suggestions for dealing with such tantrums, I’d be delighted to try them. I’ll be heading over to Notes from Home to see if there are any other parenting tips I can pick up. You should too!

Here are the other entries in this parenting tips carnival:

Nova at Cherished by Me shares her tips in Encouraging Children to Read.

Gemma at HelloitsGemma’s Blog gives us her working mum tips in This working Mummy’s guide to life.

Maggy at Red Ted Art shows us how Baby Can Draw!

Chris at Thinly Spread gives us her Secret to Relaxed Parenting.

Cass at The Diary of a Frugal Family shows us how she teaches her children about other countries and cultures whilst having fun in America Day.

Helen at Cheeky Wipes gives us her tips in Fussy Eating.

Mummy Beadzoid gives us some Parenting tips for the NICU/SCBU parent.

Ella at Notes From Home gives us her tip for encouraging children to tidy up at the end of the day.

Tiddlyompompom shares her weaning tips in her oh so helpful guide to weaning.

Mymumdom shares her tips in Parenting Tips (Me Over The Edge).

SouthoftheRiverMum tells us her plans to set up a Reward System at Home.

Not so single mum at Diary of a Not So Single Mum shares her advice on doing what you feel is best for your child and your family.

Jax at Making It Up discusses behavioural issues in a quandary in search of a tip.

Bod for Tea shares her advice on finding a ‘helper’ to encourage your child to do things they don’t really like doing in Bunny says.

Hayley at Simply Hayley tells us about Hugs and Love.

Make Do Mum shares her stickability scale in Know Your Enemy.

Blue Sky at Looking for Blue Sky gives us some teenage tips.

*Oh, and I should also point out that being a parent is oftentimes the most rewarding, uplifting, heart-burstingly extraordinary thing I have ever done. I have never felt so lucky, so privileged and so loved. But I’m still utterly exhausted.

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  1. says

    Removing child from situation can often help, though difficult to achieve when they’ve gone rigid. I still remember walking out of a furniture shop with Big tucked under my arm when she completely lost it one day as a toddler. So embarrassing.

  2. says

    My five year old has been a bit like this since he was 18 months old so I sympathise, it’s absolutely exhausting.

    It sounds like you have some really good coping techniques. I’ve done some really ridiculous things in the past in the name of distraction, in a shop once I crouched down in a corner with him next to met in the stroller, whispering that I definitely saw a little mouse in the corner. The combination of my surprise, the novelty of it and the whispering surprised him out of his tantrum but by that point I really was at my wits’ end. And to be honest, sometimes I never know if anything is going to work. I really hope things get easier for you xx

  3. says

    It must be something in the air at the moment as my 3 yr old has been hard word the last couple of weeks! Nothing major though just whining, my first had the most terrible tantrums. Over the years I have learned to cuddle them, do the counting to five like you ( that has been a godsend over the years) and if all else fails lie on the floor and kick and scream like them!! They are usually so shocked by that they start laughing. I wouldn’t recommend that one while out in public though. 😉 Lovely post. :)

  4. says

    Thank you for these tips! At eighteen months DD is just entering the tantrum age I think so reading these today was perfect timing. I find distraction tends to work well for her at the moment but I don’t know for how long so will keep these to hand!!

  5. says

    I have a 7 year old who still has tantrums, and simila things work well with her too.
    I can get her to go off and calm down sometimes before goes completely nuclear, but letting her ride the storm somewhere safe seems to work best.
    She just doesn’t seem to be able to calm to order if she gets really worked up, it just takes time.

  6. says

    Sounds like you’re doing a fantastic job working through any tantrums. I’m lucky that my daughter had relatively few when she was younger, although she’s now 9 and seems to be turning into a teenager already, complete with mood swings and door slamming! I may see if a few of these will work on her!

  7. says

    J, my daughter has just started the ‘lying on floor, kicking heels, wailing’ thing which she tends to get over quite quickly thankfully when I walk away from her (at the moment!)

    With her brothers, they never really got to tantrumming, they just whinged. A LOT. Sometimes I think a good paddy now and again would have been much more bearable….

    Top tips, especially the hand holding one, will keep it in mind for the next drama.


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