Monthly Archives: June 2014


Toddler tantrums – why they happen and how to deal with them

It was never this hard before!



Around the age of 18-24 months, toddlers begin to experience a whole new range of emotions that they aren’t yet able to fully understand. The slightest little thing can set them off instantly, while you live in fear of the fireworks. Depending on your child’s speech development, she may not even be able to communicate properly, which only adds to her feelings of frustration and helplessness. Your toddler is not in charge – you are – but for the first time, your authority is being questioned and challenged. It’s time to roll up your sleeves and prepare for battle.


The control factor

Your little one needs clear boundaries in her life, because without them she’s growing up in free fall. For the sake of feeling safe and secure, she needs to know that you’ll always look after her. She also needs to know who’s boss. So from the very outset, show her that you won’t be persuaded by any amount of pleading, screaming or carrying-on. Even if it happens in public.


If you have set a rule that results in a noisy outburst, stick to it calmly. Do your utmost not to appear shaken by your child’s behavior, and never give in for the sake of keeping the peace – this only sends out a clear message that you don’t mean what you say.


Many tantrums are caused by your toddler’s growing independence conflicting directly with what she is and isn’t allowed to do. So gradually give her more control over her life – allowing her to pick her outfit, her hairstyle or her sandwich filling will help develop her sense of self. Likewise allowing her to go out in the rain without her much detested coat will actually teach her more about how mommy knows best in the long run – without having to lay down yet another rule (plus you can always hide said coat in your bag)!


Prevention can be better than a cure

Your toddler’s environment may well influence her behavior. Hunger and tiredness can easily cause a mini explosion, so provide her with healthy snacks in between regularly spaced meals and make sure she gets enough sleep. Keep an eye on her hydration levels too, as thirsty toddlers can be just as crotchety.


If a particular ‘friend’ causes your child’s behavior to worsen, consider taking a little break from social occasions that might set off or inspire tantrums. If she hates surprises, tell her what is going to happen ahead of time, discuss any concerns she may have, and give her a couple of gentle reminders if you think she’s forgotten. If you suspect that tantrums are arising because of jealousy (perhaps she feels a sibling is getting more attention), then set aside special one-to-one time when you can show her exactly how important she is to you.


Coping mechanisms for your toddler

Losing control can be unsettling, so after she is calm, talk to your toddler about her feelings and make some suggestions about how she could handle things differently. Always encourage her to use words rather than actions and explain that no one will listen to her while she is screaming. Admit that you sometimes feel angry too, but that you have learned to express this in a different way. Teach her to step back, take a deep breath and count to ten before reacting, and try to explain how tantrums make other people feel.


Coping mechanisms for you

Time outs aren’t just for kids. If you’re concerned that you’ve reached your limit, first make sure your child is safe and then walk away for a few moments to take a breather. Go to another room and regain your composure. The fact that you have left might well demonstrate to your toddler that her actions can have unexpected and unpleasant consequences, and shock her into silence.


Take heart

It will get better. You don’t see seven-year-olds throwing themselves on the ground and wailing about how unfair it is that they have to tie their own shoelaces – their friends would laugh them out of town! Tantrums are a passing phase that every parent must endure to some extent – it’s called the Terrible Twos for a reason. So take heart in the fact that it won’t last forever. Promise.


Say it loud! Get your toddler talking



No pressure

First and foremost, never put undue expectation on young shoulders. If your son picks up on your concerns about his lack of speech, he will only become more stubborn. If your daughter senses your disappointment, she will only become upset. Neither of these options initiates a healthy path to communication, let alone a good parent-child relationship.


Make learning to talk fun and praise every small accomplishment. When your toddler attempts to say something new or asks a question, give him your full attention, nod encouragingly and provide an appropriate response – this reassures him that his words are important to you, and demonstrates that a conversation works by taking turns.


Chat constantly

Children learn by imitation. So spend as much time with your toddler as possible, and chat casually about the world around you. Describe how things look in an appealing way (‘what a big, shiny apple!’), what noises they make (‘the car goes broom!’), and what function they perform (‘into the water – splash!’). Show your enthusiasm for description and encourage your child to explain his surroundings, thoughts and feelings.


Don’t use ‘baby talk’ yourself. No matter how cute it sounds, pronouncing your own words incorrectly will not help your little one to pick up proper speech patterns. It’s time for ‘lello’ to become ‘yellow’, ‘geen’ to become ‘green’, ‘boo’ to become ‘blue’, and sentences to take the place of two-word fragments. However, while you can correct your child gently by repeating the right words back to him, it’s important to always show you understand his meaning. The confidence gained from being able to communicate is far more important than exact pronunciation at this early age.



Particularly if your toddler doesn’t have much contact with the outside world beyond his immediate family, you might find that his self-assurance increases once he starts going to playgroups, nurseries and kindergarten. Here he will be exposed to children who can communicate both more and less than he can; the chatterboxes might spur him on to join in, and the quiet ones might help him – and you – feel less frustrated.


Aside from situations involving other toddlers, try to include your child in adult conversations. You can make a point of saying “thank you” to the nice lady at the checkout, “asking” for a new book at the library and “chatting” to any grown-up friends you go to visit. Give him a sense of importance by showing him that his words matter to you and that they often have a consequence: “More biscuits, please?”


Don’t translate

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of speaking for your toddler or finishing sentences for him. This is bad practice as it essentially teaches your little one to be lazy, and that mommy will always know what he wants and make it happen. Be patient and wait for him to verbalize his request, then repeat it back to him, with correct pronunciation, checking you have understood his meaning. Soon he will understand he needs to make a little extra effort and will also begin to feel more independent in a social setting.


It’s all in the timing

Set aside at least 20 minutes each day for one-to-one conversation between you and your child. Sit closely together and engage directly in whatever is catching his attention. If no particular play interests emerge, initiate singing songs, question-and-answer games or make up a story together, taking turns.


Always choose your timing carefully. You need your toddler to be alert and comfortable, perhaps after a nap, or after breakfast. Watch out for signs of tiredness – as with all new skills, learning to talk takes intense concentration. Little and often is key, and always stop when you see your child’s focus beginning to drift.



All kids progress at different rates, and as parents we are often quick to compare. This is one area of development that varies enormously from child to child, and while some may speak in complete six-word sentences by the age of 18 months, others will take a couple more years to reach that level of communication. This is perfectly normal for toddlers, but if you are concerned about your school-age child’s lack of progression, consult your pediatrician about speech therapy.