Working Through your Toddler Behavior Issues - Tantrums

Despite the fact that I am a firm believer in the idea that toddlers are easier than babies, I would be lying if I said that everything was smooth sailing once the kiddo hit 12 months.  Obviously, toddlers just go through their own phases and weird behavior issues.  We have faced our fair share and have the reading list to prove it.  So this installment will focus on how we got through some truly spectacular tantrums.

How to deal with toddler tantrums

When my daughter was 21 months old I would have told you that I knew what a tantrum was.  We had a summer of many tantrums when she was right around 1 because her desires outstripped her non-existent language skills by a mile.  Usually, the outbursts peaked right before we hit a language breakthrough (ex. said her first word, learned some verbs, started stringing together simple sentences, etc.).  Once the skill had been mastered, she would go back to being a relatively predictable little girl who thrived on routine.

Then, not to go all cliche on you, and I do think it was largely coincidence... but... we hit her second birthday.  It turns out what I thought had been tempestuous behavior flares were mere match strikes compared to the volcano eruptions she was apparently capable of.  Our 20 minute bedtime routine that had remained unchanged since she was 6 months old suddenly turned into a hour and a half knock down, drag out fight.  We spent an hour one morning trying to convince, bribe, cajole, threaten and anything else we could think of to do in order to get her to put on a pair of pants.  There was screaming and crying on everyone's parts.  And don't even get me started on bathtime. We were completely shocked and lost for what to do.

Cue a lot of frantic Googling and soul searching about whether it was too late to get out of this parenting gig.... and we found our way to the book The Happiest Toddler on the Block: How to Eliminate Tantrums and Raise a Patient, Respectful and Cooperative One- to Four-Year-Old. I will confess that I approached this book with a very high degree of skepticism.  The recommendation for how to talk to your child in simple exaggerated sentences seemed idiotic and frankly disrespectful to the child. Then again, we were completely at our wits' end and a lot of people seemed to recommend the book.

Upon reading the book cover to cover (it's quite short and easy to get through), I started to implement the suggestions at the next tantrum. Once I expressed my daughter's feelings to her in a way she could understand, her screaming instantly stopped.  I was so shocked and unprepared for that to happen that I forgot what the next step was supposed to be. This method helped us get through the month long tantrum phase (and as all things, it really was a phase) with all of our collective sanities intact.

Though a bit gimmicky, I recommend this book very enthusiastically to any parent out there struggling to communicate with their pint-sized terror.  I also found Dr. Karp's chapter on the "personality" types of toddlers incredibly reassuring.  He allowed me to re-frame my previously somewhat negative view of my daughter's willful character traits and see them as potential positives. There is a lovely discussion in the book around how giving children what they want often results in even worse behavior - a fact I have found to be true.  This has allowed me to strengthen my resolve around enforcing boundaries for my toddler even when, in the moment, this occasionally results in more screaming.  

His writing is so kind and wise that I often find myself referencing his ideas, far beyond the suggested communication method, in discussions with other parents. And when everything is said and done, Dr. Karp is quite forgiving of the occasional bribery tactic and has given me ammunition when trying to convince my husband that at least occasionally he should let my daughter win. We have no lack of willfulness in this house!


   
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