It's like a nightmare - you wake up one morning to discover that your beautiful, angelic little baby has overnight become a terrible, tantrum-throwing toddler. Whilst some toddlers are more difficult than others, they all go through this stage to a certain degree. And as for the Terrible Twos, well that's a huge misnomer - some children enter this phase as early as 14 months!
The toddler years are a time of great transition for children - they start life as helpless newborns, and over the first year gradually acquire fine and gross motor skills. The second year of life is all about mental development. Children develop comprehension and language skills, and they begin to learn to be independent.
In his BBC series, "Child of Our Time", Lord Robert Winston explains that at around 18 months of age, children become self-aware: aware that their own individual actions can have an impact on the world around them. Toddler tantrums are one way for young children to test their boundaries and assert their independence. They are also an important means of communication for young children who do not have the vocabulary to talk about how they are feeling.
Experts agree that the best way to deal with tantrums is to avoid them where possible.
Tantrums are often a child's response to not getting his/her own way. Whilst your child can't expect to always get their own way, it is a good time to introduce the idea of compromise. For example, if your child wants to go outside to play, and you need to fold the washing, you might tell him/her that you will take them outside after you are finished, and ask them if they would like to help fold the washing in the mean time.
Your child is more likely to have a tantrum if he/she is overtired or hungry, so keep an eye out for tired signs, and offer regular healthy snacks such as fruit and crackers.
Toddler tantrums can't always be avoided however, and there are many different ideas on the best way to handle a toddler tantrum. Remember also that something which works for one child may not necessarily work for another. The most important thing is to be consistent. Plan a strategy for dealing with tantrums, and stick to it.
Some parents swear by Time Out - placing the child in a safe place on his/her own until the tantrum is over. Advantages of this method are that it puts space between you and your child, particularly if you are feeling stressed by the tantrum, and that it teaches the child that tantrums are not an effective way of getting what they want.
The biggest disadvantage of this method is that the child will often find a way of amusing him/herself whilst in Time Out, therefore making it not really a punishment at all. A way of avoiding this is to choose a 'boring' place (i.e. no toys!) as your Time Out place, for example one end of the hallway.
Another method of dealing with tantrums is to flatly ignore them. Once a child realises that they are not getting any attention by acting out, then they will often stop and move on to a new activity. How effective this is depends on the child, and the parent. Some children can keep up a tantrum for hours, which can be stressful for parents - pretending to ignore the behaviour doesn't mean you can't hear it!
The toddler years can be extremely difficult for parents, but it is also rewarding to see their child's personality emerging. Lots of cuddles and quality time are good for both parent and child during this time, and when the going gets really tough, try to remember that it is just a stage, and it will pass.
Good luck, and enjoy the Toddler Years!