So, You thought the “terrible twos” were a struggle. They are. But just when your child’s behavior seems to stabilize, there is another wave of attitude and tantrums.
The “Threenager” Brand Of Toddler
You may not be familiar with the term, or your child isn’t at this age yet. it’s as if the terrible-twos collided with teenage attitude. It’s as if you have a pint-size teenager stomping through your house. Two going on 13.
My little girl, Kara, started this phase at about 2 years 9 months. My typically sweet and level-headed child turned bossy and defiant. She’ll force tantrums to last for a half an hour, fake crying afterward for added flair. Little things cause complete nuclear meltdowns. She’ll throw something then get upset that she threw it. She has attitude for days, and can execute the perfect eye roll. So perfect you’d think she’d invented it. It’s insanity.
It’s different for every child when they reach this stage, except it consistently makes their parents want to pull their hair out.
It’s all expected behavior at this age. Growing up is a difficult process. It’s temporary and they’ll outgrow it, but what do you do in the meantime?
At this point, you need to be ready to cope with their erratic behavior, and suit up for battle. I researched and used these tactics myself. They won’t stop the tantrums, but they are shorter and easier to deal with for all parties involved. These will preserve the bond your child has with you.
1. Don’t Give In To Make The Tantrum Stop
If you’ve said no, stick to your guns. By giving in, you give them positive reinforcement of negative behavior. Stand firm when you tell them something, even if it means slightly extending the length of the tantrum.
2. Find Patterns, And Plan Ahead
Look for a common trigger. Is it the same time of day? Same event, like a parent walking out the door? Does it start to get rough before nap or before a meal? Avoid the tantrums by refocusing your child’s attention away from the trigger or removing it.
If my daughter wakes up early and my wife hasn’t left, I keep her distracted until my wife can leave. She does the same for me. Otherwise, she’ll cling to whoever is leaving, and it’s disheartening to leave the house like that.
3. Stay calm and wait until the end for further action
This is probably one of the most difficult things to do when tantrums and bad behavior are right in front of you. We are frustrated. While the threenager is flipping out, they aren’t hearing what we are saying. Yelling won’t help that. I take a breath and walk away. Ignore them until they calm down. Otherwise, it teaches them that their behavior is an effective way to communicate.
If they get aggressive or destructive, you may have to hold them down until they’re calm. Timeouts, one minute for every year of age, can be used after they’ve settled and won’t harm themselves, others, or property. If they’ve done something to deserve consequences, you have to wait until the end. Nothing will be accomplished by telling a screaming toddler that they are in trouble.
Don’t punish them for having feelings. They may not understand that they’re being punished for the accompanying actions, not for having feelings. With or without a timeout, If they made a mess or broke something, they need to help you clean it up. If they hit you, they need to apologize (whether or not they mean it). Ensure you tell them “You’re in timeout because you [insert action]”.
4. Validate Their Feelings
At times, tantrums are an intense reaction to legitimate feelings. If there is a logical reason for the behavior, validate their feelings. For example, when Kara has to leave someplace fun like the park, she sometimes gets upset. I’ll tell her something like “I know you are sad we had to leave, and I know you were having so much fun and didn’t want to leave”. Let them know you understand how they feel.
5. The Opportunity To Connect
Use the post-tantrum moments to connect. Often, a hug and an I-love-you will put them back in a good mood. Also, it’s a powerful reminder that we love them deeply despite their ridiculous antics. Yes, they drove you crazy. It’s a phase. It’s not forever.
All in all…
Your child’s brain changes a lot at this age. Birth to 3-years old is the most important period of brain development. And while it’s driving us crazy, our responses will affect their development in one way or another. It’s not an easy stage, but we should view it as an opportunity to better our children and ourselves. Stay calm, patient, and strong.
A version of this post was previously published on Andrewak and is republished here with permission from the author.
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