Temper tantrums in two-year-olds are quite common - however how we tackle them can have a big impact on them getting better or worse.
What is making your 2-year-old tantrums worse
The biggest challenge a 2-year-old faces is their lack of verbal expression. Not being able to express themselves fully can cause a lot of frustration, which can result in tantrums. Helping your child develop their verbal skills, and in particular helping them label emotions, can improve and lessen their tantrums.
A great tool we love using with toddlers is an emotions wheel. There are lots of options online that you can print at home, or you can make your own, by taking pictures of your little one modeling each emotion: angry, happy, sad, lonely, bored. (Ours is magnetic so you can easily place it at your child's height on your fridge's door).
Another way of helping your 2 year old become more verbal is to point out emotions when they are happening and apply the correct labels - in real life. Take every opportunity to do this: for example, if you are waiting at a doctor's office and you hear a child crying, you can say: "That baby is very upset". If you and your child see a person fall on the street, you can say "that man fell. That must be very painful for him, let's go help". You can also use yourself as an example. Going back to the doctor's office example, you can point out that you've been waiting for a long time and that is making you bored/frustrated/upset - and you can also show your child ways in which you cope with waiting: "I am going to take a deep breath and draw while I wait."
Another issue that makes two-year-old tantrums worse is their lack of control. We tell them what to eat and when, what to wear, how to play, when to go to school, etc.. They are essentially powerless and that is frustrating for them. Try introducing some choices for them, around the things they'll have to do that you won't change. For example, if you are going out and you need them to wear shoes, not wearing shoes won't be a choice, but maybe they can choose between 2 pairs of shoes. Or if you need them to brush their teeth, you can give them the choice to brush their teeth before or after reading books.
How you react to tantrums can make your toddler tantrums worse
During a big emotional outburst, trying to talk your child out of a tantrum can really make it worse, as is punishing them for expressing themselves.
Think about a time you were swimming in the ocean and a big wave came out of nowhere and almost drowns you. Riding the storm of a tantrum is actually not too different. The best advice is to jump right into the wave and let it ride. After you feel it go over you, calmly go out to the surface and take a deep breath. Sometimes kids just need to let their steam off. And only after doing that they can take a deep breath. Provide a safe space for them to cry it out and tell them calmly that you will be there for them when they are ready for your help.
Much later, once your child is calm, you can have a chat and start working on a plan to prevent tantrums.
Why your toddler tantrums seem to be getting worse
As a recap, a few things can be contributing to making your toddler tantrums become worse over time:
- You try to reason with your child during a tantrum
- You punish your kid during a tantrum, or you lock them in their room
- You are not helping them express themselves verbally
- You are not teaching them to label emotions
- You are not working on tantrum prevention techniques