Sometimes the terrible twos start at 1 and end when your kids move out…

How to survive a the tantrums

The terrible two’s is like an urban myth. Nobody believes it happens until it happens to them. It’s a phrase that every parent thinks will not affect them and then when it approaches, they regret not paying more attention earlier. From what I can see with the new generation of kids, it starts just after their first birthday and ends at 18 or whenever your kids decide to move out if you are not careful.

This is a time when your child is learning to explore on their own, asserting their independence and still clings to you in moments of ambivalence. It’s annoying, frustrating, confusing and downright exhausting.

Terrible tantrums are characteristic of this period. Many mums and dads are familiar with the grumpy faces, screaming, shouting, banging and breaking kids might resort to in times of anger and frustration, usually at their own inabilities to express themselves as they wish to.

You can either diffuse or exacerbate this kind of situation with your own reaction to your toddler. When your little one is having a meltdown, it’s quite tempting to do the same. If the thought of the both of you screaming, crying, banging your fists on the floor and collapsing in a heap of exhaustion does not sound like a solution then you might want to consider how you react to tiny fits of rage.

It is important not to reinforce negative behaviours. It’s very easy for a parent to give in to a child that is wielding all the power by kicking and screaming, using every tactic they can to get what they want. I have seen too many situations where parents offer up anything to get their child to keep quiet and stop embarrassing them. Cellphones, iPads, tv programs, sweets, chocolates, ice-cream, toys… you name it. Bribery is not the answer.

Just a couple of weeks ago I was in a restaurant with my family and there was a couple with a toddler at the next table. Kids like to run around and play and it’s difficult for them to sit still and behave like adults, but there is a limit. I don’t want my day out with my family to feel like I’ve entered a cave of wild barbarians for lunch. Screaming, crying, messing, throwing and having things land on my table is not my idea of a fun day out.

I felt for the mum. She was clearly frazzled and incapable of handling this little destructor dominating the next table. “Here, I’ll order you this lovely blue milkshake… have this sweetie… take some of my chicken… let’s go play outside… play candy crush on my phone…”

This mum was surely trying everything in her book to get the little dictator to shut up and sit still. The only problem was, the more she tried to persuade him to keep quiet, the more he reacted. She was just feeding his bad behaviour.

I remember when my own child tried his tricks at two years old, I decided that I was not going to entertain it. When the tantrums started, for some inane reason I can’t even remember, all I did was clear the room of dangerous objects so he couldn’t hurt himself and let him get his anger and frustration out while I carried on like nothing happened. He cried, he screamed, he kicked, he shouted, he tried to lunge at me for not paying attention, he whined, he followed me around whining, he went totally nuts.

All I did was carry him back to the middle of the carpet and say, “When you are done and you are ready to behave, then let me know.” I didn’t shout, I didn’t scream and I kept on doing it. He carried on for a while and I must say, it was difficult and extremely irritating to listen to all that whining, but after he got the message (many a tantrum later) that this was not the way to get what he wanted, it slowly faded away.

The key is to be persistent. We also had a little naughty chair that was another time-out zone where he could get his feelings out and calm down. You need to have designated time-out zones in your home. It is much easier to just get them to keep quiet instantly with a sweet or a cellphone, but it does a lot more damage to them, and your relationship with them in the long run.

It is important to talk to your child. Even if they are very young and can’t articulate themselves, they can still understand what you are saying. Reassure them that you love them but their bad behaviour is not acceptable. Once your child has calmed down, spend some time doing an activity with them to take their mind off the whole situation.

As your child gets older, it is important to teach them to handle their own reactions and be able to stay calm in difficult situations, otherwise they will grow up to be instant-gratification seeking adults with no control over their own emotions, which can lead to all kinds of problems, failed relationships, depression, anxiety and stress.

If you love your children, take a little time to put in the little extra effort it takes to teach them the right ways to handle their emotions. Being an instant-gratification parent who just needs their child to keep quiet and will do anything to get them to do so, will only end in destruction for the both of you.

Tips for handling a tantrum

  • Control your own reactions. Don’t let your child control how you react.
  • Stay calm. You do not have to react to everything your child does or says to get attention
  • Assess the situation. Is your child hungry, tired, bored, wet or uncomfortable? This is usually when a tantrum starts.
  • Feed the need. Give your child what they need. Food, sleep, bath, change. Try not to bribe them or distract them for no reason, this does not solve the problem, it is only a temporary measure.
  • Let it go. If your child decides to act out, let them get it out of their system until they feel there is no longer a need to react.
  • Make sure they are in a safe space without any dangerous objects that can harm them.
  • Ignore the screaming. As much as this is a difficult thing to do, it will be worth the effort when they realise they can’t get what they want by acting this way. Read some duaa or listen to the Quran and concentrate on something else.
  • Maintain self-control. You can’t expect your child to control their emotions if you can’t control yours.
  • Love them. When your child decides to stop and be good, give them a hug and reassure them. They will slowly learn that being good gets more attention than being bad.
  • Be consistent. Keep at it so your child can learn how to react properly over time and will not be confused.

As the days go by, the tantrums will decrease in duration and intensity until your child learns some self control — but first this has to come from your won self control and ability to not give in to the tantrum. If you want to help your child to learn more about their own emotions and building their EQ, which will lead to more personal fulfilment and success later in life, try our “Feeling Positive” series, the first EQ and Growth Mindset series of books aimed at Muslim Kids.

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