Temper Tantrums and the Terrible Twos

All parents know how frustrating it can be to watch their little one having a temper tantrum! These temper tantrums seem to come about more frequently when kids are two years old – this is why this age is often called the ‘Terrible Twos’! This is an important stage in child development, and we at Surf excel want to help moms help their children.

We’ve talked to Jimi McJunkin, who is currently training as a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego, California, USA. Jimi has been working with children and families for over 20 years, and he has some great information and advice for moms about temper tantrums in children. Here, we talk with Jimi about temper tantrums and why they happen. In our next article, we will discuss what tantrums mean, and give you some ways to deal with these frustrating situations!

Dealing with Temper Tantrums - Happy Mother and Son at Home

 

What exactly are temper tantrums? How severe can they be, and how long should they last?

“A temper tantrum can basically be described as a behavioural meltdown. One way to think of a two year old’s tantrum is to think of an adult tantrum – maybe something very dramatic that you can see in a movie – but possibly even more intense, since children are usually much less inhibited by cultural norms and expectations. Temper tantrums in children are usually attempts for a child to get what they want, or sheer frustration at not being able to. “

Temper tantrums can be very different for different children. While one child may fuss and cry for several minutes during dinner and refuse to eat their food, another child might kick and scream and spit for well over a half hour, or even longer. Most parents can expect just a minor meltdown, with lots of crying and writhing of their little hands. Others might expect food stains on the walls, toppled furniture and uncomfortable looks from their neighbours.

“Tantrum behaviours most often start somewhere around 1.5 years old and might last until your child is approximately four years old. This is the “typical” age range, but don’t be shocked if your child’s tantrums start earlier and end later. Most of these tantrums are just reactions to not getting what they want, some times compounded by being overly tired or hungry.”

 

What is so special about the brain development of a two-year-old that could explain the ‘Terrible Twos’?

“A two year old, in certain ways, can be compared to a teenager. For both teens and for two year olds, their bodies and minds are going through intense changes. Their bodies and brains are being flooded with chemicals that make every experience feel very intense and dramatic. Like teens, two year olds are learning how to become more independent, and also like teens they can be extremely egocentric, not having the ability to see anyone else’s point of view. When things are good they are very good, and when they are bad … watch out! 

“The terrible twos can be such a confusing time. Children are making so many strides, learning to use their bodies and minds in different ways seemingly every day. One minute they might be glorying in their ability to string a few words together and bathing in the joy they see in their proud parents’ faces, and the next they might have a complete meltdown when they can’t find a way to use their words to express their extreme displeasure that their dinner doesn’t taste the way that it’s supposed to. “Remember that what your two year old is going through often doesn’t make sense to them either. Don’t expect that your two year old can process the reasons behind things. All they are experiencing is that they are not getting what they feel that they need in that moment.”

 

What advice you can give to parents during this difficult phase of temper tantrums? Is there anything that families can do to make these “terrible twos” easier on themselves?

“First, remember that these behaviours are a natural developmental stage of a child growing up and becoming more independent. Next, if possible, talk with your spouse about making sure that you are both on the same page. You don’t want one parent giving in to tantrums while the other is working hard to set positive and consistent limits around tantrum behaviours. Try to be on the same page with your spouse as you co-parent your child. Try to talk about the stress of the situation, vent to each other. Laugh about it if you can.” Also, remember to read our next article about tantrum meaning and how to deal with toddler tantrums.