People often throw around the term ‘terrible twos’. It is used to describe a time when toddlers start to assert themselves, wanting to make their own decisions. Unfortunately, at this stage most still struggle to express themselves adequately. The result? Some serious temper tantrums.
For my daughter they started at about 18 months, and always seemed to come out of nowhere. I remember one incident when she was about two and a half. We had popped into M&S on a typically British cold/wet/drizzly day. So, as usual, I was walking around with my two children, carrying all our coats, the changing bag and several ‘essential’ toys. My daughter wanted to be carried, and so I explained to her I couldn’t because I already had too much to carry; we were just popping in to buy a pair of tights, and then we would be straight back in the car. This was obviously just unacceptable to my daughter. And so she let me have it. Her loudest ‘someone is trying to kill’ me scream combined with hitting and tears (REAL tears!). Of course everyone looked at us, some tried to ‘helpfully’ offer advice and several old ladies tried to make her smile. Trust me, there was no way my daughter was going to give them a smile. Even on a good day she wouldn’t satisfy a stranger’s desire for a smile, so she certainly wasn’t going to in the midst of a complete melt down. My son, then aged four, was mortified by the fuss, begging me to just pick her up and make it all stop (at this point she was lying on the ground, clinging to my ankle). But instead I stood still and waited it out, much to the disapproval of most people around me who just wanted to shop in peace. I had already dealt with a year of her tantrums and not only was it impossible for me to give in to her demand, I also wasn’t prepared to. I started chatting with my son about nothing in particular and eventually there was silence. She stood up, wiped her slightly blotchy face with a sniff, and we carried on with our tights buying mission as if nothing had happened. All over, as quickly as it began.
Toddler tantrums are inevitable, but if I’ve learnt anything, the most important thing is to stay calm, or at least appear to be- as hard as it may be. I remember at the start of the ‘tantrum stage’ feeling like my daughter suddenly hated me. I was devastated, and really took it personally. But this isn’t personal. These tantrums have very little to do with you, and everything to do with them. As NCT practitioner Heather Neil explains, ‘toddlers are at a stage of development where they have very strong feelings, but limited ways of expressing them – and so rage, frustration, disappointment, jealousy and boredom can become expressed in their behaviour’. If you can, give them a bit of space and time to calm down, or try to distract them. Also, it is important that you try to give toddlers options where possible so they feel they have some control, even if it is within the set of limited, controlled choices you offer them. This way they feel they are being allowed to make their own decisions. Just simple things, like asking if they want an apple or banana, or if they want to wear the blue leggings or the red skirt.
Of course, when you are in the midst of one of these outbursts, it can be difficult, not to mention embarrassing, when people are staring, or appear to be judging you and your child. So, if you are in the vicinity of a harassed parent dealing with a public meltdown try not to stare- although I’m always thankful for a reassuring ‘we’ve all been there’ smile of sympathy!
And to those of you who are dealing with this now, my message is; good luck! You will have good days, and then some bad days… but please remember, the terrible twos won’t last forever. Then it’s just on to the next stage!
Helen was born in London but has always been mesmerised by the sea and that was one of the many reasons for her decision to study at Brighton University many moons ago. Whilst she left this wonderful city briefly, she finally moved back just over 3 years ago and is now delighted to call Hove her home. She set up the Brighton & Hove Working Mums group on Facebook over a year ago, as a safe environment for working mums to get advice without judgement and promote their businesses. A mother herself, of two gorgeous children, she spends her time copywriting and blogging about anything she feels passionate about.