Q: How can I deal with my 2-year-old’s temper tantrums in a positive way that does not reinforce the tantrum?
A: 2-year-olds are beginning to understand they may be separate from their caregivers. Most are into mimicry: Mommy likes to ride a bike, I’m going to ride a bike. They have a strong will and an undeveloped skill set, and are driven by pure instinctual emotions.
To be 2 is to swing from one pole to the other: The sun is shining: Hooray! I dropped my Popsicle: Nooooo! When a parent says, “You can eat the Oreo after dinner,” a toddler doesn’t understand the concept of time. It’s now or not now.
We as parents hit our heads against walls trying to reason with their irrational minds. Instead, look at it like this: My healthy kid is feeling his emotions. This is a time to reframe, to stop personalizing my child’s tantrums. Don’t make it worse by constantly talking at a 2-year-old. You have about one short sentence, and then you’re the teacher in Peanuts (“Wah-wah, wah-wah-wah-wah”). The child literally cannot take in your words.
Another big problem is the time-out. Forcing children to sit in silence is teaching them that feelings are inconvenient. A time-out may work to please you, but by age 3 or 4, there is the epic fight just to get the child to sit on that stair.
When your child is in mid-tantrum, don’t rationalize with her, and don’t force her to go somewhere else. Instead, account for yourself. This requires your most patient and well-rested self.
If you can be calm, proximity rules relationships. Find something to do nearby during the tantrum. Say, “I’m right here, and I’m not angry.” After the tantrum has subsided, say to your child, “That was a good cry. You must feel better.”
I try to express complete acceptance. “I can handle your emotions. I always love you.” However you express it, your relationship with your child trumps anything else that happens: throwing the sippy cup, the biting, the kicking. These are deep waters for the parent and take emotional maturity.
When the storm has passed, open yourself to your child with total comfort. There is a great deal of freedom when you don’t fear these tantrums. They are normal, and you can handle them.