About a 2-year-old's rages

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  August 8, 2011 06:00 AM

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I have a two year old son who is full of energy. He is very mischievous, but his behaviors haven't been anything more than making messes or getting a laugh. In the last week he has started to become violent. He threw an object in his sister’s face and his cousin’s face in the last few days. When he does this, I put him in time out for a while and then make him apologize. I talk to him about no hitting and no throwing. He speaks, but communication is still limited. He repeats a lot of what I say. I believe he knows full well not to hit, but is very compulsive at this age. What is the best approach for nipping this in the bud?

From: Poohbear, NH


Poohbear,

You're right to finger this as a communication issue; most likely, he's frustrated at not being able to say what he wants. But Time Out is not the way to go, he's not cognitively able to get the concept.

A better strategy for nipping this in the bud is to anticipate his frustration, verbalize it for him before he's able to become aggressive, and model acceptable behavior: "You really want the toy your friend is playing with, don't you? Let's ask if you can have a turn when he finishes."

When you can't stop the temper tantrum from happening, keep in mind that this is as scary to him as it is to you. It doesn't feel good to him, but he's like a top that's wound up and has nothing else to do but spin itself out. Once he's in a tantrum:

- Don't talk to him. He can't hear you.

- Don't pick him up unless he comes to you for comfort or is physically unsafe. Then just pick him up and put him some place safer. Just yesterday, I was in Costco and saw a 2-ish year old having an over-the-top tantrum. She had been walking, holding her mom's hand when she started to scream, let go of mom's hand and flung herself on the floor, flailing. The mom looked a little like a deer in the headlights before she grabbed some towels that were in her cart, put them on the floor, and then picked up her child and placed her back down on the towels so she wasn't on the dirty floor. Then mom just waited (with two more kids in the cart, by the way). Eventually, the tantrum ended, mom bent down, picked her up, soothed her, and made her way to the check out. Pretty impressive.

- Don't leave the room -- that's scary to a child -- but let it run its course. It'll feel like hours, but it's usually no more than three to five minutes. Tantrums feed on attention.

- When the tantrum is over, it's over. Hug him and say, "I'm glad you feel better," and move on.

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2 comments so far...
  1. I hope the crowd at Costco gave that mom a standing ovation!!!

    Posted by Q August 8, 11 09:42 AM
  1. When you talk to a two year old, you have to use extremely simple phrases like "no hitting" or "no throwing" and you MUST accompany them with body language such as holding the fist in your hand during the time that you say the words and for about a minute after.

    Two year olds may repeat words or phrases but their comprehension is still based on the body language and the nonverbal inputs, NOT the words.If you pick up a two year old and lecture him for 15 minutes, he will interpret that as attention--which is what he is looking for.

    It's also possible that he is old enough to need more one-on-one time with each parent every day, and the presence of other children appears to be taking away from his needs. So he escalates to what he does know is not acceptable. The one-on-one time has to be separated from any timeouts or other discipline, in order to send the message that his needs are recognized and will be met. The one-on-one time also has to happen with the father on a daily basis.

    Posted by Irene August 8, 11 05:22 PM
 
2 comments so far...
  1. I hope the crowd at Costco gave that mom a standing ovation!!!

    Posted by Q August 8, 11 09:42 AM
  1. When you talk to a two year old, you have to use extremely simple phrases like "no hitting" or "no throwing" and you MUST accompany them with body language such as holding the fist in your hand during the time that you say the words and for about a minute after.

    Two year olds may repeat words or phrases but their comprehension is still based on the body language and the nonverbal inputs, NOT the words.If you pick up a two year old and lecture him for 15 minutes, he will interpret that as attention--which is what he is looking for.

    It's also possible that he is old enough to need more one-on-one time with each parent every day, and the presence of other children appears to be taking away from his needs. So he escalates to what he does know is not acceptable. The one-on-one time has to be separated from any timeouts or other discipline, in order to send the message that his needs are recognized and will be met. The one-on-one time also has to happen with the father on a daily basis.

    Posted by Irene August 8, 11 05:22 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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