Q&A: 19-month-old with tantrums

Ann writes:

"My son, who is now 19 months, has entered the wonderful world of temper tantrums. We've figured out that a tantrum is morelikely when a meal is later than normal, so we're handling that. I've
seen Harvey Karp's "Happiest Toddler on the Block" video, and I was
trying that technique (basically, speak for your toddler, matching
his/her level of emotional intensity: "You're frustrated! You don't
want to whatever, you want to keep playing!" etc.). But here's my
problem: frequently, I don't know why he's having a tantrum. I have no
clue what set him off, so I can't "speak for him." Also, when I have
known what he was upset about and then used the technique, he gets
*madder* — I think he thinks I'm yelling *at* him.

So, for now,
it seems that Karp's method isn't working for us (I'm guessing it works
better on older toddlers). Any advice on ending tantrums?"

Ah, ending tantrums. If only. While thinking about this question, I realized that I'd texted a mini-tantrum to my mother earlier in the day. So I'm 100% positive that there's no way to end tantrums completely, at least until your child is older than 36. (Although the tantrums are probably far less annoying when they happen by electronic communication than by screaming in your ears. So there's that to look forward to.)

I could give my opinion, but I kind of don't have one because I got my butt kicked by both of my kids in that stage. It's just really tough, and it falls into a huge gap in the literature. You can't really just redirect like you do with babies, but they're still too young for the Dr. Karp caveman method (decent summary here). I've got plenty for dealing with older kids, some of which is similar to Dr. Karp's stuff, but really nothing for this age.

Fortunately, however, we all have Sharon Silver. You may remember that I love her because she's got actual techniques for dealing with the toddler and preschool age, the notorious discipline gap age. (I also love that she hangs out here and kind of provides a little beacon of hope that we'll survive the tsunami years of parenting.) So I asked her to write something for Ann, and her answer kind of surprised me and made me wish I'd known about her and her website (www.proactiveparenting.net) back when my were that age.

Sharon answers:

"These days I see a lot of websites calling any kind of tantrum
“a battle of wills”. A tantrum can definitely be perceived that way, but let me
share a slightly different take on tantrums. A 19-month-old tantrum is very different
than an older child’s tantrum. A 19-month-old tantrum is based in emotional overwhelm
and frustration. An older child’s tantrum is based in getting what they want.
An older child’s tantrum may cause them to get emotional and frustrated but it
begins with I want what I want.

Let me share how a tantrum begins so you can give yourself
a break and maybe make a shift in parental thinking. A 19-month-old is just now
beginning to see himself as separate from you and that idea can be overwhelming
at times. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how a 19-month-old finds himself
in a tantrum.

He sees a toy he wants across the room, he heads in the
direction of the toy and out of the corner of his eye he sees mom walk out of
the room. He becomes confused and panicky, should I go for the toy or follow
mom? He doesn’t know *how* to decide which direction he should go. He isn’t
verbal enough to express his confusion; he wants mom and the toy. He’s
overwhelmed with the choice and gets even more scared. Now he feels wet stuff (tears)
leaking from his eyes, hears his heart beating loudly and has no clue what that
sound is, so he collapses into a total meltdown. He has no idea how he got this
upset and becomes more upset because he’s so upset. He’s caught in an emotional
circle and has no idea how to get out.

Some children get angry with a parent and kick and scratch
but most just fall into an emotional puddle and cry as if begging for help.

If you follow Dr. Karp's suggestions at this point and
begin repeating his reaction back at him, I can see how frustrated that would make
him. He probably feels as if no one who has a clue is helping him get out of
the situation. I would be mad too!

At this point some parents yell at a child to “stop it
now” but they can’t. They have no idea how they got in this mess and even less
of an idea how to stop it now, so the tantrum continues.

This does not seem like a battle of wills to me. This
seems like a true cry for help and I believe it should be treated as such. You
need to be his soft place to land, you need to be empathetic and use calming
sounds with few words. Do some humming as you hold and rock him, if he’ll let
you. If not, just stay close. This allows him to latch on to the sound of your
voice and relax a bit.

This will pass as he becomes more verbal. You’ll
instinctively know when the tantrums begin leaning more toward an older child’s
tantrum. He will become more aggressive and it will be more about I want what I
want versus I’m so frustrated and scared that I can’t contain myself anymore.

Yes, tantrums can easily occur when a child is hungry,
sounds like you figured that part out. I just wrote an article on tantrums and food;
here’s what I suggested.

Parents of young children can create a container in the
refrigerator that’s always filled with ready-to-go healthy foods, things like
lunch meat, veggies and dip, fruit, yogurt, leftovers etc, since toddlers have
no ability to wait. I also suggest you use the food from the container to feed a
child this young the bulk of his meal before the family, just like you did when
he was a baby. This allows you to have dinner at your regular time, creating
less rushing for you and less tantrums for him. I know eating as a family is
very important, but it’s not the eating of the food that’s so important, it’s
the time spent together. Since your child has been partially fed from their
special container, which kept the tantrum at bay, now invite him to finish dinner
with the family or have him join you for desert. This way you get to have a
calmer family meal with less tantruming.

No parent can truly know what a preverbal child is thinking or feeling. I hope this helps you give yourself a break."

Hooray for giving ourselves a break! Thanks, Sharon. Ann, I hope this helps with your little guy.

79 thoughts on “Q&A: 19-month-old with tantrums”

  1. I remember my daughter freaking out in the shoping trolley in a shopping mall when she was 20 months old. She was perfectly fine in the trolley as I was pushing her around the open space area, but the moment we actually went into a store, total freak out. She had never done this before, so I presummed she had reacted like this because she had felt a jolt and thought she was going to fall. I walked out of the store, took her out, cuddled her, then proceeded to put her back in, where she was calm until I went into the next store. Again, went totally and utterly berserk. Did the same thing. The child calmed down in an instant. This time I puposely tested her reaction ( by this stage I was more crious than anything). I walked inot another store, the kid went off her head. When I saw I was not going to get any shopping done, we picked up and went home.You know what, she never did it again. I thought, holy shit, I hope she hasn’t developed an aversion to Shopping! Fortunatley not. Seriously, I remember that day so well. She had only slept 40 minutes, my husband and I were on holiday in Australia, it was raining so we left Noah at home with my mum, and went to the local shopping center to kill some time. I’m sure it was like what Sharon mentioned, she was tired, confused, frustrated, probably her sugar level was low and it was all so over-whelming for her.
    Now (at 26.5 months) her tantrums are so much more willful. The last few days they have been non-stop ( she has just gotten over the chicken pox, is itchy and just popped a molar). She will freak out because she wants yogurt and then doesn’t want yogurt and then when I take the yogurt away, complete and utter melt-down with banging of head on table. Then in 30 seconds, it’s over and she is a happy little vegemite again. So frustrating.

  2. Once again, and I hope without sounding defeatist, I would like to remind everyone (including myself, Heaven knows) that having a bag of tricks and techniques *helps* make things go *better* than they would without the bag o’tricks. That does not mean that they will consistently go *well*, no matter how wise and well-informed your handling of the situation may be.Which is not to say “give up.” But give yourself a break, and don’t beat yourself up because you’ve tried everything and nothing works. Maybe nothing is working right now. It might work in a few minutes, or an hour, or later today. Or tomorrow, or . . . You just never know.
    For me, tales of “I did the following, and it worked great” are sometimes heartening, and sometimes dispiriting, depending on whether my doing that turned the situation around or did precisely fuck-all.

  3. I’ve had surprising luck with just holding my son and saying “it’s OK to cry”. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it’s golden!

  4. My two boys were, naturally, Night and Day. Day would only continue the tantrum if he had an audience (most namely me), so I walked away. If he followed I’d walk faster, peaking behind me to turn it into a game of chase eventually. Night screams harder if I leave, and will keep screaming until I talk to him and ask what’s wrong and why he’s screaming and if it’s making him feel better and, most importantly, if he’s ready to stop (he’s very verbal so that’s easy with him, but even if your child can give “yes” “no” answers it might be worth a try).Both Day and Night have/are learning that Mommy doesn’t put up with pointless tantrums. I could just care less, which sounds harsh but it’s taught them that they need different methods to get what they want/need besides screaming and throwing themselves to the floor. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, but it’s pretty rare. I found out, too, with Day that hungry increases the likelihood of meltdown by infinity + 1 so I try to make sure they stick to a very set routine for eating and if there’s deviation from that, for one reason or another, I have snacks (or complete understanding and compassion when they subsequently melt).

  5. This sounds SOOOOO much like my 22-month-old daughter! I get the sense that she’s just starting to figure out that she might be able to use emotional outbursts to get what she wants, but the vast majority of her meltdowns are just pure emotional overload, especially fueled by fatigue, hunger, thirst, and wanting to be able to do something herself that she’s not totally able to do yet.Example, she’s begun potty training herself, but if she sits on her potty for a few minutes and nothing happens, she ends up flinging the empty potty across the bathroom. We’re totally not pushing using the potty, but seeing older kids at her daycare consistently going on the potty has made her want to do it, so when her mind is set on the potty, she won’t let us get anywhere near her with a diaper. The only thing that helps in this situation is to be calm and consoling. To hold her close and then let her run around without a diaper. After a little while, she’ll usually let us put one on her, and the episode is over.
    So I totally agree with Sharon that tantrums at this early stage are about being overwhelmed by feelings, about feeling out of control and helpless. They can be so hard, but I don’t think there’s any way to actually stop them once they’ve started. Just being there as a safe place is the most important thing we can do as parents.

  6. :raises hand: TESTIMONIAL!Since I can remember this age, I can say from my side that Sharon has it right.
    I still liked hearing the feelings response from my mom, but not quite the Karp version. You don’t have to speak for him in the full depth. I liked being heard, very much. I just needed it ALL to be heard and reflected, not just one thing. (For example, one of my biggest freak-outs my mom still remembers, and it was about the sun not being under my personal control, which I’d thought it was. Seriously, the day I realized that I didn’t command the universe was shattering. She fortunately didn’t try to figure out why I was upset, just recognized that I was, and commiserated with how hard it was to be me right then.)
    Usually if I was having a tantrum, it was about everything. EVERYTHING that was hard. If my mom had just talked about the one thing that just happened, that would have been confusing – even if she got it right for the triggering event. My mom instead talked about everything that was hard, in what I call the ‘litany’. (I mostly remember her sitting with me on her lap and talking, and not really understanding what she said but still ‘hearing’ it.) (see: http://hedra.typepad.com/hands_full_of_rocks/2008/05/things-my-mothe.html )
    I remember more clearly when she did it with my brother. She’d sit down on the floor, and just go through the whole laundry list of why life is so hard at this age. “You want to do things and when you try them they don’t come out the way you want. You need to be able to choose, and other people tell you no. Your siblings have cool things to play with and they say you can’t play. You try to run, and they go faster. You try to jump and the floor doesn’t work right. (etc.)”
    It probably helped that she remembered being that age, too. Everything is new and most of it is external or seems outside of personal control. Beyond just the wet stuff leaking out eyes, it is also the sick and shuddery feeling, the physically overwhelming sensation of the feelings that come out of NOWHERE. They don’t seem to be internal, they are just as much external as the ground that got in the way of my foot and made me fall and bit my knee when I landed.
    Worse, these feelings are mine alone, at that age. Parents obviously have no frame of reference – if they felt the way I was feeling, I’d see them collapsing to the floor in tears, too. It’s very lonely, and scary, to be overwhelmed and see that nobody else ever feels this way.
    For some kids, the Karp reflection is perfect because it shows that others can feel this way. But not all kids want a full reflection. Many want a calmer version, more like a tree to cling to as the storm of feeling buffets and blasts. (The litany works there). Some movement and response (not a ‘rock’), but not just another object caught in the maelstrom.
    And there are some kids who just want a quiet sheltered spot – no words at all, just being-with.
    Mr B really just wanted someone to be with him when he was upset. He didn’t want the litany while he was upset (he liked it better – though not often – when he was calm, later) – it just reminded him too much *why* he felt so miserable, and made it worse. He needed me to be willing to just be with him while he raged and wept and expressed his fear and confusion. By being willing to be with him calmly and kindly (just sitting near him, aware of him but not All About Him – no direct focus, just aware proximity), he could translate that even these fierce feelings and reactions were not ‘unsafe’. I didn’t have to flee them, and I didn’t have to force him away from me. I created a shelter by being present, a way for him to think ‘I feel really out of control but I’m still safe – Mom proves it because she shows she’s not afraid when I feel this way, she’s not scared, she’s right there next to me. I am okay, even if it doesn’t feel good to me.’
    For Miss M, the litany was the most powerful thing. She needed to hear someone else say out loud how challenging life was for her, that it was indeed overwhelming, that it was scary, tricky, confounding, enraging, and that these feelings were logical reactions to her life experience. She was more upset by feeling like her reaction was somehow out of line, than by the feeling itself.
    For Mr G (and for all of them, really), it helped to show them (by talking through my own feelings out loud) that I feel these same feelings. It’s a good education for the adults, too, to find out what the feeling expresses like physically, and talk through how we get past that. Like, ‘My stomach is tight, and I feel like crying. I feel a little sick, too. I’m feeling scared and worried. I saw that something happened to a pilot for FedEx, and I know a pilot for FedEx. I’m afraid he might be hurt. It doesn’t feel good. I’m a little shaky, and my thinking won’t settle. I’m going to take a deep breath and remind myself that I don’t know anything for sure. There, my body feels a little better. I’m still worried, though. To find out, I’m going to email my sister, because she knows him best. She’ll be able to tell me if he’s safe. Oh, good, look, she replied that he’s safe. Now I am not scared for him. I’m sad, now, though, because someone still got hurt. I don’t like it when people get hurt.” For Mr G, knowing that I felt it, too, in other situations, was a huge help.
    must run, hope that helps, too.

  7. My son is about 27 months old. He’s in the middle of the pre-verbal type and the older child type. And I remembered reading sharon’s advice when he was about 18 months old standing in the middle of the store, and he had just thrown a crazy tantrum because I wanted him to leave and he wanted a toy. He had finally decided he could leave the toy section and he was walking away and I was about 20 feet in front of him. Then he stopped, looked at the toys, looked at me and threw himself on the floor screaming. He just couldn’t handle his internal conflict.I take two approaches to tantrums and my kid throws a TON of them, but they are VERY SHORT. I get down near him, ask him if he wants a hug and about half the time he really, really does. And he hugs me and I tell him how things are frustrating etc etc. The other half of the time he throws himself on the ground and is kicking and screaming and I tell him he’s not allowed to hurt me (it’s not Safe (tm Hedra)) and I walk away for about 30 seconds and then come back offer hug, rinse repeat until he’s done and wants the hug and a sip of water and then we debrief on the event (even when he was younger we would debrief and he’s not an exceptionally verbal kid, ie just started using short phrases about 26 months).
    In a few months when he gets a little more verbal I’m going to try Hedra’s stopping your feet thing because he clearly needs to kick and get out agression at these times. He sometimes resorts to biting himself (though not others, but biting yourself isn’t safe either) because he’s so frustrated.
    So, do I have a secret weapon… no, but ignoring it combined with offering affection when desired, might be shortening things. It also might be how I describe it to people. E. has a short fuse and it burns fast. So he has a lot of really short tantrums and that’s just who he is. Or I might be helping make them shorter. He seems pretty resilient immediately afterward, like he’s finally gotten some anxiety out of his system and feels less stressed.

  8. I love Sharon. :-)While I like a lot of things in Karp’s Happiest Toddler on the Block book, the caveman speak is not something that has worked for us. At least not yet. I see now that it’s because of how Sharon explained what’s going on in the mind of the 19 month old.
    My 24 month old is highly emotional and sensitive. And she shows these emotions fully, and feels them fully, too. Most often I get the tantrums with her when it’s time to go to bed. She doesn’t want to go to sleep, she wants to go out of the room, downstairs, watch a show, find daddy, whatever. But she does NOT want to lie down and go to sleep. She gets emotionally overwhelmed and frustrated that she can’t do what she wants, and I think it’s extra frustrating for her since she finds it so hard to fall asleep.
    For my girl, what I mainly do that seems to help at all is the calm, sympathetic voice. I only kind of say why I think she’s upset, but I see now that it’s not the why I usually think. I realize that it’s because she’s overwhelmed with it all and frustrated which why she throws the tantrum.
    Mostly I say things to her like, “Poor Pumpkin. You are so upset and frustrated! It’s so hard, isn’t it? You are a poor little girl.” She usually calms down a little, but her tantrums at night go on for quite a while. Eventually, if she seems calm enough, I ask if I can have a hug, if she hugs me we snuggle a little things usually get better. Also, if it seems at all feasible, I use the distraction technique.
    I’ve also had good success with Hedra’s litany before, but that’s only if she’s letting me hold her and comfort her, which is not the norm lately.
    But like Slim said, it’s all just bags of tricks that hopefully help. Sometimes, I just have to let her melt down and be there with her until she crawls up into bed, exhausted, and finally falls asleep.
    Other tantrums I handle similarly, but my husband deals with the witching hour in the evening, so he’d have to answer about those.

  9. It appears my post was swallowed into the great abyss. Luckily, I copied it before I hit post (if this ends up being a duplicate, I’m sorry):I love Sharon. 🙂
    While I like a lot of things in Karp’s Happiest Toddler on the Block book, the caveman speak is not something that has worked for us. At least not yet. I see now that it’s because of how Sharon explained what’s going on in the mind of the 19 month old.
    My 24 month old is highly emotional and sensitive. And she shows these emotions fully, and feels them fully, too. Most often I get the tantrums with her when it’s time to go to bed. She doesn’t want to go to sleep, she wants to go out of the room, downstairs, watch a show, find daddy, whatever. But she does NOT want to lie down and go to sleep. She gets emotionally overwhelmed and frustrated that she can’t do what she wants, and I think it’s extra frustrating for her since she finds it so hard to fall asleep.
    For my girl, what I mainly do that seems to help at all is the calm, sympathetic voice. I only kind of say why I think she’s upset, but I see now that it’s not the why I usually think. I realize that it’s because she’s overwhelmed with it all and frustrated which why she throws the tantrum.
    Mostly I say things to her like, “Poor Pumpkin. You are so upset and frustrated! It’s so hard, isn’t it? You are a poor little girl.” She usually calms down a little, but her tantrums at night go on for quite a while. Eventually, if she seems calm enough, I ask if I can have a hug, if she hugs me we snuggle a little things usually get better. Also, if it seems at all feasible, I use the distraction technique.
    I’ve also had good success with Hedra’s litany before, but that’s only if she’s letting me hold her and comfort her, which is not the norm lately.
    But like Slim said, it’s all just bags of tricks that hopefully help. Sometimes, I just have to let her melt down and be there with her until she crawls up into bed, exhausted, and finally falls asleep.
    Other tantrums I handle similarly, but my husband deals with the witching hour in the evening, so he’d have to answer about those.
    And I also wanted to mention that my child is HIGHLY verbal, yet she still gets overwhelmed with emotions. So simply being verbal doesn’t resolve the issues or always change them into the older tantrums. I truly know that she doesn’t tantrum simply because she’s trying to get something. Rather, she is overwhelmed with the emotions and thinks the things she wants will help her. Or something like that.

  10. @slim, very good point. These things are my data points, but that doesn’t mean they are everyone’s – too many variables, and I only have a sample of four.I also want to define terms, here: My mom was ‘good at this stuff’ which means ‘sometimes she remembered to do it, and sometimes what she did worked’ – and that’s IT. That IS good, perfect is not required.
    I’m the same – sometimes I remember, and sometimes it works. I figured out over time what worked for most of my kids, trial and error, which means lots of error.
    And sometimes they’d just outgrow the stage before I figured it out, too.
    The correlary points are that sometimes ALL you can do is show up today, and try again tomorrow, and hope there’s one blessed moment in the day that didn’t suck rocks. (I also noted this here, caution: my brother’s death is mentioned: http://hedra.typepad.com/hands_full_of_rocks/2008/05/things-my-mot-1.html )
    One of the very valuable things Miss R is teaching me is that I don’t HAVE to figure this all out. She actually would rather I didn’t figure it all out. She prefers to be a mystery, an enigma, a cypher. She doesn’t WANT to be understood and empathized with all the time, thanks. Sometimes, yeah, okay. But me seeing into her too far is a violation of her boundaries, and so she holds her boundaries more firmly until I can see less, and know less, and understand less, essentially until I stay on my side of that line more. She wants me to be there for her at her choice, not at mine. She’s not even always clear about when that is. AAHHHHHH! But if she *really* needs me, she will let me know then. The in-between stuff where she’s not sure if she needs me, that’s the iffy part. And if I try to take over deciding if she needs me, if I over-help, she ends up feeling worse (perhaps like I don’t trust her to handle it herself, which I also hated as a child – being helped when I didn’t really NEED help made me feel helpless, and powerless, and ashamed, and weak, and awful). At least Miss R is very fierce about defending that particular zone. Help her at your peril. (All our kids are intense about that, but she’s the most fierce.)
    Many many ways, and the measure of success is not whether we feel successful, or if the ‘problem’ ceases, even. It’s really if they grow up to have a bit of a sense of themselves and a general understanding of how they function, and can afford their therapy bills. And we won’t know the answer to whether we’re successful until we see how they are well after adulthood (my mom says about the age that people start having kids is when you start to see if you did anything ‘right’; and even then I think you can’t tell if it is YOU that did it right, or just the way they were all along that is ‘right’.)

  11. At that age they’re old enough to have desires and young enough that they can’t express them yet. It gets SO much better once they can talk.Baby sign was awesome. It gave my kids the ability to ask for things before they could speak. We didn’t teach much – but the sign for “more” was especially useful. “More” with a point can mean so many things, hunger, thirst, more toys, more time at the park, etc. and just being able to say what they wanted made a humongous difference. They learn it quickly at that age, too.
    My advice – teach the kid a few signs – more, drink, eat, and play – and see if that doesn’t help a ton. All you have to do to teach them is do the sign when you say the word. “Do you want more?” and tap your fingers together. It’ll only take a few days for the kiddo to pick up the sign.
    Incidentally, teaching sign didn’t interfere with my kids’ language development, as some have suggested it might, at all.

  12. Just wanted to say that the 18-19 month period was really hard on my son, now 23 months. I agree with what Sharon said, that it seems like this is a cry for help, particularly if you can’t figure out why he’s tantrumming. One thing I don’t think I saw mentioned was teething. At that age, my son was getting his first molars and they were terribly painful for him. He would get frustrated and upset totally out of proportion to the situation, but the reality was, I think, that his frustration was simply too much to take in addition to the pain of teething. So … yeah, a cry for help was accurate for us. Now we have the two year molars coming through and I am seeing some of the same behaviors, poor baby.

  13. I’d like to question whether we NEED to end tantrums…May I just suggest that tantrums are inconvenient/uncomfortable/embarassing for us as adults, but they actually serve a purpose for our children?
    A great read is “Tears and Tantrums” by Aletha Solter. Here’s a quote from the review: “Solter teaches parents and other caregivers about the psychological and physical benefits to children of crying and raging; the causes of crying in infants and older children; the implications of repressing tears and strong emotions, which include behavioral problems and stress-related illnesses; and providing emotional safety to encourage healing.”
    Sometimes children *need* to cry and *need* to tantrum. How else can a preverbal child express their emotions? Cutting a tantrum off before it’s completed could just result in those emotions leaking out again and again. I’ve found that if I allow my son to finish what he’s started (no matter how painful it may be to me), he gets it out of his system.
    The key is to stay close, offer physical comfort if allowed (not all kids want to be held during a tantrum, though), and wait it out.
    (Of course, as Sharon pointed out, tantrums in older, more verbal children are much different. And your reaction can be much different. Now my son often wants space when he’s crying…but I always let him know that I’m close by when he needs me. I usually hear a pitiful, “Mama, I WANT you,” when he’s ready to stop.)

  14. Ah tantrums. He has them – big emotions, big reactions. This morning he made himself throw up while standing in front of the bathroom door crying (screaming really) because he wanted back in there to explore the contents of his favorite cabinet drawer.When he is tired he totally loses any ability to transition. That’s his biggest trigger for a huge unexpected tantrum – tired meet change and boom.
    But frankly, at 18 months, the kid knows what he wants and when he doesn’t get something he really wants he is likely to have a meltdown in response. He’s a great communicator, lack of words notwithstanding, and I usually know what he is upset about – can’t have the dry erase marker on the wall calendar, can’t have the car keys on the counter, can’t have his brother’s new bakugon, can’t go outside right now, mommy can’t pick him up right now – any and all of those things can lead to a head back howl of displeasure or crumpling on the floor. I try and prevent as many as I can see coming and wait out the rest – hugs are good in certain circumstances but if he is genuinely mad – he has to calm down and come see me for a hug – there’s no point in trying to hug flailing arms and legs.
    I’m in the camp that this is a stage that has to run it’s course just like any other. The previous stage was biting and I didn’t do anything to make him give up the biting – I just tried to keep my wounds to a minimum while he worked it out – and now he no longer bites my legs every time he hugs them.

  15. i heart sharon, and i’m bookmarking this. this was how i saw my daughter’s tantrums up until about age 2, but my husband thinks *all* tantrums are “i want X!” sharon’s description of the emotional puddle will help when the baby gets there, too.

  16. My son is 19 months old now– this post came at a perfect time for me.I especially did a little happy-dance inside when I read the suggestions about suppertime. That’s exactly what we do– feed Ian his supper early (around 5:15) because he can’t last any longer, and then we have supper as a family (or we try to) later, around 6:45 when we’re home and supper is finally on the table. I kind of felt like I was failing cause we weren’t all eating together, and it’s been a big stress for me trying to figure out how to make it work better. What a wonderful discovery that what’s working for us is actually “ok”!!
    I’ll be reading all the comments later tonight. 🙂

  17. @meggiemoo – I agree! I was a highly emotional child myself (that’s where my kiddo gets it from), and sometimes I just needed (and still need) a good cry and even to rage a bit (although now it takes the form of verbal venting). This is why I often let my daughter have her tantrums while I sit nearby and offer what comfort I can. I do not try to make her stop, because it’s an important release for her, unless she is just winding herself up more and more (which happens). My goal is often to help her calm down when she is ready, or even to help her be ready to calm down, by being comforting and reassuring. As Sharon said, to be her “soft place to land.”The book Playful Parenting also talks a bit about tantrums. He offers (if I remember correctly) that often kids are overwhelmed and can’t deal with their intense emotions very well. He says that it’s important for the adults to be available and around. He says to not send them to their room until they can “control themselves”, because that can teach them not just that tantrums aren’t okay but that their emotions aren’t okay. He says more, but I don’t recall right now.
    I think ignoring a tantrum so as not to give in is okay, assuming that you aren’t cutting the child off from you completely and you are giving them another valid way to tell you they are upset or show their frustration. But that’s just my take. I’m no Sharon or Moxie!
    And sorry about the double post earlier. I did add to the second one this, which might have gotten lost in the doubleness of the post:
    And I also wanted to mention that my child is HIGHLY verbal, yet she still gets overwhelmed with emotions. So simply being verbal doesn’t resolve the issues or always change them into the older tantrums. I truly know that she doesn’t tantrum simply because she’s trying to get something. Rather, she is overwhelmed with the emotions and thinks the things she wants will help her. Or something like that.
    Are you all sick of how talkative I am lately? Sorry! I probably overshare!

  18. I’d like to second third fourth that Sharon’s seminars are an excellent resource. I have the first one for toddler’s and I found it to be really helpful – doesn’t eliminate the tantrums – see post above – but really helps from my side what I do, and it’s been really good for dealing with the hitting phase.

  19. @caramama, if you keep trying, you might catch up to me on the over-sharing. ;)I also agree that there isn’t a requirement to END the tantrum, necessarily. We do talk about how the tantrum may cause another problem for someone else, when we remember to do that (I really don’t enjoy listening to them, myself, and it becomes hard to focus and accomplish other things). But that’s MY problem, and not the child’s problem. And we do have rules about not hurting people with your voice (for the two scream-loud-enough-to-shatter-glass kids). You’re welcome to your emotions, and you’re welcome to express them, and it takes different amounts of time ‘being in’ the feeling for it to be okay to stop expressing them so overtly … and there are still safety rules around how that’s done.
    Another thing that meggiemoo’s comment touches is that duration is a valid concern for the child. Miss M is volatile in both directions – she gets upset quickly, and is usually done quickly. Miss R is not – she’s a slow burn. It takes more to get her really angry, but once angry, she STAYS angry. She really has to be fully soaked in her feelings to get to where she feels she’s done.
    This, for her, is also a sensory issue – for highly sensitive and highly IN-sensitive (in the sensory processing way) kids, tantrums can be a big issue. For the ones who feel their body’s responses really intensely, they overwhelm faster and are more ‘reactive’ from the outside perspective. It’s more scary, more alarming for them. For the ones who are less sensitive in general, they may need to really get dug down deep into the physicality of the emotion before they can even really FEEL it, so they may ‘stay mad’ (or ‘tantrum’) longer so they can get it fully processed. That’s Miss R. It’s like she can’t quite feel she’s done until she’s been able to absorb it all, and it just takes longer for her to feel it all the way through.
    Talking about when we’re ‘done’ with our feelings (and that this duration differs for each person and even for each event) allows us to handle when both Miss M and Miss R are upset at each other – Miss M needs Miss R to be ready to go to the next step (problem-solving, say) NOW, and Miss R is Not Ready Yet. It’s very frustrating for Miss M, but she’s learning that she has to be patient and wait for the timing to intersect.
    This is a big issue with adult relationships, too – the timing of resolution or next action is different between individuals, and the people who are fast on the turnaround can end up feeling like they take ‘always have to take action first’ – and the ones who are slower can end up feeling like they never get a chance to do things they wanted to do without someone telling them to start. (Granted, some people will procrastinate endlessly on emotional processes, too. But sometimes it’s just a timing difference, not a lack of start at all.)

  20. We went through a painful stage with my daughter from about 18 to 21 months. It was so hard! I kept thinking she had some sort of serious mental health problem. She threw big fat tantrums all the time and we often had no idea what triggered it. Sharon’s explanation makes a lot of sense to me! I love that she differentiates between early and later toddler tantrums. They are so different. But, every kid is so different too. Mine tends to prefer to soothe on her own. It’s just her style and I try to respect that.I remember one doozy, where she refused to leave one spot in the kitchen, and couldn’t stop screaming “No!” at me. At one point, she actually cried so hard that she threw up and stomped her little bare feet in the vomit! I tried to soothe, I tried to be close to her, but she wanted me to leave the room and kept pushing me away. So, I grabbed her blanky, tossed it at her from across the room, and sat in the living room with my husband. We just stared at each other, totally confused and slightly scared of our little beast in the next room. Exactly 30 seconds later, we heard a loud THUD. I ran in the room and she had literally *fallen* asleep in a pile on top of her blanky. It was like an instant switch! I scooped her up and plopped her in her crib. 3 hours later, she woke up ready to play and smiling… insanity!!!
    Basically, I feel like this is some ridiculous phase that just has to be lived through. It ends eventually. At 23 months, my daughter RARELY throws tantrums. And when she does, they are brief and can be managed much more reasonably. Hang in there!

  21. Heh. I JUST wrote a post on this myself this week. While my 3.5 year old is pretty easy-going, my 20 month old is starting to give me a run for my money (and HERS.) I had not heard of Sharon Silver previously, but per this post, but she is right on track, in my opinion.The Science of Parenting by Margot Sunderland puts tantrums into 2 categories – one is frustration and other is about control.
    I have found what works best with frustration tantrums is to hold my child close and whisper in their ear “I know…I know…” If I actually DO know what is frustrating them, then I will talk about that as well. If they are starting to really get out of control, I get them to look me in the eye by saying “Look at me. Look at me.” When I get contact, I say “It’s okay, it’s going to be okay.”
    I wish I could say that I always have the patience to do this and that I always take the time to do so. Sigh. But hands down, when I do NOT take the time to do this, things quickly escalate. This method of Holding and Whispering has nearly always worked for me, except for one very unfortunate time in a toy store. Gulp.

  22. We came up with a “tantrum plan” with our nanny which is something like this 1) try to distract when we see a tantrum coming(at 18 months this works for us about 25% of the time), 2) empathy/litany of woes (depending on the severity of the tantrum this is sometimes a la Karp, sometimes a la Hedra – we read about it on a previous post), 3) if tantrum is still raging we do the “that noise hurts mummy’s ears and I can’t listen anymore, I’ll be right over here for when you need me again.”It’s not a perfect plan but I realised (very recently) that the reason it works is because it works for ME. I am the one that needs a plan, needs to feel like I am doing something. I am fairly sure that DS is going to tantrum sometimes no matter what I do – it is what it is, so I am the one that needs a way to cope so I don’t flame the situation with my own stress and confusion (and embarrassment when out in public). Just the fact that I have a plan that I can execute makes me feel better able to cope. It’s sort of like having first aid – I know the steps to take if I come across an accident scene which gives me some confidence and helps me to not freak out.
    I ditto signing. A key sign for us (and the second one DS picked up after “more”) was “all done” which made our dinner times A LOT more pleasant – no more screeching when finished or flinging his plate of food at the floor.

  23. FWIW, I’m in a toddler class through our local community college and our teacher knows Harvey Karp – she said he’s revising the next edition to NOT have parents match the intensity of the child… So it’s not working b/c it’s not working for a lot of people. :)I do think it’s good to try to help them understand that YOU understand. “I know you’re mad, and I want to help you.” Letting them know you know that they need something. But I do find with my 25 month old that sometimes I just have to say “I know youre having a hard time – let me know if you need me to help you or if you want a hug. I’ll be sitting right here” and just let him get over it knowing I’m here. Well, let me back up. Usually I say something to acknowlege teh feelings and then try to redirect/distract. If that doesn’t work, then I need to just sit back and let him pull it together.

  24. Just chiming in to say that my son had his 2-year check up this morning, and we were handed a pamphlet called “Temper Tantrums: A Normal Part of Growing Up.” It has a lot of the usual advice on how to avoid/respond to tantrums, but the main message is that they happen and to a certain degree you just have to wait it out until your kid turns 4, then they’ll pretty much stop.Don’t know if that’s helpful, but for me it was a nice reminder that this too shall pass 🙂

  25. My Pumpkin is also pretty verbal now (she’s almost 2), but still has the meltdown tantrums. I’m seeing more tantrums that are about control, but those are easier to handle, at least for us. We have a few set rules, and if she’s trying to do something that breaks one of those rules, we’ll let her go ahead and tantrum unless we can catch it early enough and distract.The meltdown tantrums, though, have been harder, because they are often more intense and because they are so baffling. We would give her what she wanted if only we knew what it was! My approach is similar to what Sharon suggests- lots of cuddles, kisses, and reassuring words. I’m so glad to read that its a good idea. Thanks, Sharon!
    I also find that sometimes she needs a hug from Mommy to come out of a control tantrum, too- its like she finishes letting us know how mad she is that she can’t have her way, and then needs to be reassured that we still love her.
    And I second the recommendation for using signing with toddlers who aren’t yet talking a lot. That saved us a lot of tantrums in the 14-18 month time period. We started late (basically, we started because they used some signs at day care when she was about 14 months old, and we wanted to know what she was telling us) so we actually saw the difference in her behavior before and after signing. It was amazing. We’re completely converted and will start the second baby on signing much earlier.

  26. Since all of you have some good advice to lend on tantrums, maybe you can help me out with this:Any advice on a 19-month old not eating at dinner? My son is a great eater a daycare (so they tell me) but at night he just refuses to eat. He will eat his fruit, but refuses to even try the other food on his plate. He then cries until we let him out of the highchair to play. Can anyone give me any advice on this?

  27. @Jill, that’s interesting news on the new edition from Karp. I hesitated to call ‘uh, no’ on the idea of totally matching the intensity, because he’s the expert, and I just read neuropsychology papers for fun. (heh) But the neurobiology process says to NOT match (approximate, but toward the more positive end) when reflecting feelings. Maybe the exact match does work for some kids, though, so I left that in there for those for whom it may be the right choice.From the neuropsych side, the instruction is to reflect ‘upward’ slightly. If they’re happy or excited, then you can be just a bit happier and that’s okay. If they’re sad/angry/frustrated, being just a little *less* sad/angry/frustrated is also okay. Both are modifying the affect slightly toward the positive, but only slightly.
    If you get more than a little off from that measure, you’ll get a negative reaction in infants (the basis of a lot of the research) – if you are angrier than their angry (or too exactly on), they get upset. It appears to be because you’ve now ‘misread’ them. If you over-enthuse about something that made them happy, they again feel something is wrong. Perhaps embarassed or out-of-true because the reaction isn’t tuned to theirs closely enough.
    Anyone who had someone ‘over-react’ on them knows the feeling. The biological norm for reflection of affect (expression of feelings) is that slight offset upward, not either a direct match or an over-react. Get too close to the level of upset and it feels like the other person is trying to take center stage on the feeling (hey, *I* am the one who was wronged here, how come you’re reacting like it is affecting you most?), or doesn’t care, or cares too much.
    Granted, my kids still differ on how much they want me reflecting, but I do tend to end up in the ‘reflect slightly upward’ autopilot zone a lot.
    Ah, the joys of being the additional part of someone else’s brain… 😉

  28. @A, appetite is lowest after 4-5 PM in preschool age kids (about 2-5, but it varies). Odds are good he’s just not that hungry then, and snacking is about the best you can do for food intake.You can continue to give him some food to play with at the meal time, and then ask him to ask/sign/indicate to get down when he’s done, and then let him down. That is about it for ‘setting the idea that we eat together in the evening’ – you can’t make them want to eat when they’re not really hungry. We used to feed Mr G the second I walked in the door with him, and then let him join us for conversation and family time at the ‘real’ dinner time. At this point, everyone eats at the same time for dinner. The girls actually had appetite after 6 PM pretty early, but the feeding clinic said that kind of late appetite was just a bonus thing, not the usual. Later, appetite carries on much further in the day.
    If he’s not growing well, or has problems with stool consistency, or other signs of a digestive or metabolic disorder, that’s separate. I think it was the post on the 13 month old twins that went into a lot of detail on the feeding behavior thing… check there, too. 🙂

  29. Thanks Hedra. He definitely doesn’t have any growing problems, so I know that isn’t the issue there. I think it may just be that he isn’t hungry. I know that he gets a balanced meal at breakfast and lunch, so as long as he continues with that, there should be no need for me to worry. I appreciate your insight.

  30. Love the sign for all done really reduces screaming and bowl throwing!!Love signing in general even though we really only use three or four consistently those seem to be enough to help communication.
    And now that his favorite word is No! I’d like to ship him off to all the relatives who told me he’d never learn to talk if we used sign language with him.

  31. @A – Yesterday’s discussion included a lot of tips about kids and eating and good book recommendations. You should check it out and see if any of it helps!

  32. @A- our daughter is an unpredictable dinner time eater, and often eats almost nothing for dinner. She eats a big breakfast and does OK with lunch at day care, so we don’t stress about it. We do offer a snack before her bath, too, just to be sure she’s not going to bed hungry.One thing we’ve noticed is that she tends to start misbehaving at the table if we don’t pay enough attention to her. She’s almost 2, so I don’t think she’s old enough to expect her to sit quietly through boring adult conversation. So we talk to her about her day and/or play peak-a-boo or similar games with her to keep her interested in staying at the table. We save the boring adult conversation for after she goes to bed- although we do sometimes get a bit in at the table if she’s particularly interested in her food.
    I’d say read through yesterday’s post about food, particularly the later comments, where we started talking about picky eaters- you’ll get some ideas for what other people do. And a bunch of people recommended Ellyn Sater’s books, which are indeed excellent for thinking through eating concerns.

  33. @A –Hedra’s absolutely correct…at that age, they just don’t eat much at the end of the day. My DS (3 years old) will eat a hearty breakfast and everything in his lunch (no matter how much I send, it seems), but will often only snack in the evenings. I do send extra food during the day so that he can load up if he wants to.
    Right when we get home from daycare (6pm or so), I offer a snack and some milk (cut-up fruit, crackers and cheese, veggies and dip). Then when we sit down to dinner about 45 minutes later, we invite him to sit with us (at least for conversation, if not for eating). Sometimes he eats, sometimes not.
    I love that people are recognizing that the family dinner is more about the togetherness than the actual physical act of eating.

  34. My god, I am so glad this post came today. I’m dealing with 17 month old in same position, except he scratches. It is like you read my mind Moxie today. When he was going through it he wouldn’t take a bottle (still on that, but again, loved the post on that too recently), eat any food etc. I really had to calm him down first by just holding him.I think it may happen with more spirited children too. Just too frustrated and don’t know what they are frustrated about and can’t express it.

  35. @mom2boys- we had some (older) relatives who thought signing would delay speech, too. All the research shows the exact opposite, though. And no one who meets my daughter (now almost 2) would say she is speech delayed. She’ll talk your ear off.Our anecdotal observation was that she learned new spoken words as well as signs from the Signing Time DVDs. Now she likes to show me signs- “boots is like this, Mommy. House is like this.”

  36. @hedra / Jill — in the edition of HTOTB I have in front of me, Karp clearly states that you should shoot for about 1/3 negative intensity, not match it (48-49). It’s the 2008 trade paperback edition. So if the OP is going to buy one, the newest already seems to have the updated info.One of the things I repeat to myself when DD is tantrumming is she is not enjoying it any more than I am. She just feels BAAAAAD, not calculating or manipulative or deliberately infuriating, even though it seems like it. I try to remember she does not enjoy feeling so terrible, just like I don’t enjoy watching it. That helps to short-circuit my bloody rage, which tantrums seem to trigger pretty reliably. One of my more reprehensible character traits, right there.

  37. Just to add ideas to the great ones here (and seconding that they might HELP but won’t CURE) we found that at that age what actually helped was:1) as much new physical activity as possible – toddling around the park, zoo, etc.
    2) lots and lots of sensory play – splashing, sandbox
    It just kind of seemed like it helped him get some of the anxiety out.
    But oh I remember him lying in the hallway screaming for over 45 minutes unable to decide which way he was going to go. SO PAINFUL.

  38. Oh and oh yes, signing helped hugely. My son’s pretty verbally advanced, so didn’t impact on him negatively (he’s starting to read, which isn’t I guess verbal but it does continue to build his vocab).

  39. Thank you. Very helpful everyone. I was also wondering about – not just tantruming, but also hitting – not just parents while tantruming, but other kids? How to effectively teach hitting is wrong, protect the other kid, etc.

  40. I think it seems natural to reflect the good stuff up and be a little less sad, angry etc. I’m convinced a small child can see thru fakeness, especially from a parent or his/her main car-giver, just like a adult can.

  41. RE: Signing, my BIL is an SLP, and even with a speech delay already present (Mr B, articulation delay), he recommends signing as a good activity for language development. It helps with expressive language, he said, because it allows a refined and specific ability to express even before the physical oral dexterity for making the right sounds exists. He sees more advantages than disadvantages.

  42. @A – When my son eats at daycare, he’s not hungry for dinner. He’s two, and from what I’ve read most toddlers eat one good meal and two snack type meals a day. Fruit for dinner after a hearty breakfast and lunch sounds perfect.

  43. @Mrs Haley – I have a rage reaction too. It surprises me and I feel awful afterwards, but on several occasions I have just lost it and screamed at my two year old. I feel dreadful, and yet I do it again. Have you learned how to never repeat that?

  44. Sharon Silver’s description sounded right on in terms of what we’ve been seeing with our daughter, now 22 months old. We recently took a parenting class offered by our daycare. They use an approach called Conscious Discipline (no, I don’t get a kick back; it’s just really working for us). Anyway, one thing that has really been helpful in making tantrums shorter and less intense (at least at home) is the creation of a “safe space”, a place in our home that we go to to help our daughter calm down. It could be anything comforting to your child. In our case, it’s a big stuffed dog pillow. Milk is involved and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on repeat. Any ritual that’s calming and predictable, I think, can help your child get out of the loop of being freaked out. And you can hang out there with your child. It’s interactive (if that helps your kid) unlike a time out. (It does not necessarily take the place of time out; it just serves a different function- calming instead of discipline). We’ve really seen our daughter calm down pretty quickly and reliably when we go to the safe place. Sometimes, she even asks to go there. Good luck!

  45. Sharon, will you marry me? Oh, I’m kidding. Kind of.This post is a great reminder for us because our son is just starting his foray into the wonderful world of tantrums (at 15 months). Right now he’s in the loses use of his spine and flops around like a fish stage, which I actually have to turn away from to hide my smile, but having an older child I know what’s coming and your insight really resonated with me. (As did @Slim’s reminder that sometimes you’re just f*cked and @meggiemoo’s point that tantrums serve a purpose for the little buggers.)
    @A My 3.5 year old daughter didn’t eat a consistently normal dinner until 3 months ago. We found for her that she just didn’t have an appetite after about 4:30pm. We made sure she was offered 2 healthy (in content and size) snacks in addition to breakfast and lunch and it seemed to be what made her body the happiest. Though we would always offer her dinner she rarely ate it until a switch just seemed to flip and she’s been eating dinner regularly for 3 months now.

  46. I’m glad the description of a wee ones tantrum helped all of you. Thank you for all the kind words. ☺ You made my day!mom2boys, I’m so glad you enjoyed the seminar, it’s one of my favorites. The tips are a great blend of support and what to do when you NEED to correct behavior in such a young child.
    meggiemoo, Aletha Solter is correct. It’s very important to let a child feel their feelings.
    JAC I thought your realization about a tantrum plan was great.
    As you can see the wisdom mothers here all have a different take on how to handle things. That means there’s no one way to do anything. Which sucks because it would so much easier if there was only one way to do parenting. But parenting teaches in both directions, it teaches the child and it teaches the parents. Personal lessons for all are created when you have children. And each child has a different lesson to teach you. Hedra spoke of her twins in one of her posts today. Each one is teaching her a different lesson about how they wish to be dealt with.
    If parents shut down feelings a child doesn’t learn and neither do we. Parenting IMHO is about picking out what works for you, your kid and family and throwing the rest away.
    Also I wanted to add that I’m a believer in using the same words and actions when a young child is having an emotional episode. They need something to hook on too as they release their feelings and begin to get themselves back under control. And what you do and say changes, sometimes daily, as they grow older and more in control of their emotions, that’s another post!
    That’s my two cents, and now I have to go back to work!

  47. @Peasy’s mom: You perfectly described Positive Discipline (I encourage anyone to read more about it, it’s awesome and works very well). In Positive Discipline, we use Time-ins rather than Time-Outs…if you think of what a Time-Out really means as a sports analogy, the coach calls a Time-Out and then gathers the team around to discuss strategy. He doesn’t banish them to a corner of the field to think about the mistakes they’ve made.So a Time-In is more like what a real “Time-Out” should be: “OK, hang on, let’s stop the action here and regroup. Tell me what’s going on, or here’s a hug, or how about we sit in your comfy corner together and just read a book.”
    There’s a very active listserve in Yahoo groups for Positive Discipline if anyone wants to check it out.

  48. @sarah – If I recall correctly, I believe Sharon has a seminar about handling our reactions to our kids. In fact, I’ve been meaning to look into getting the seminar. This may just spur me to do it today!

  49. @meggiemoo – That’s true about Time Outs in sports. I think most people think that displine time outs are like the penalty box in hockey. Very different concept. Do you have any book recommendations about Positive Discipline?

  50. @Jocelyn- we had trouble with Pumpkin biting at day care. We got a book called “Teeth Are Not For Biting”. There is a similar book about hitting. The book helped. So did “playing out” the correct and incorrect responses to someone stealing her toy (her usual trigger), using stuffed animals and also with me and Hubby play acting. I’ve also heard it helps if you make a big fuss over the kid who got hit/bit, and no fuss over the hitter/biter. Since Pumpkin’s issues were occurring at day care, we couldn’t really try that out.Now that she’s a little older, we’ve had good luck talking about our expectations before a play date, etc. She sometimes tries to hit us when we’re stopping her from doing something she wants to do, but we haven’t had a report of biting at day care for quite a while (now I’ll get one today….)

  51. @sarah – I haven’t hit on anything that prevents it from ever happening again … unremitting self-flaggelation doesn’t seem to do it, IME. But that’s what I do anyway.Sounds like Sharon’s seminar is next on the list.

  52. I want to throw my arms around the computer and give you all a big hug for this post. My daughter turned two just last week, and it’s as if a switch has been turned on. We don’t have rip-roaring tantrums, but meltdowns when she’s faced with a choice.She’s such an otherwise amiable kid, my husband and I have been really baffled. Her behavior almost seemed cranky/overtired but now I see it is overwhelmed. I hadn’t before understood how the simple choice between pants and a skirt or oatmeal and toast could cause such tears.
    I have found that she likes to change her mind after making a choice and that can prolong the sobbing. So when practical, I give her a one-shot do-over, and that seems to help. Sometimes. 😉

  53. @caramama: The guru for Positive Discipline is Dr. Jane Nelson (http://www.positivediscipline.com/). She’s written lots of different books and does seminars as well, I believe.The crux of Positive Discipline is that we’re trying to teach our children skills that will help them learn to make the right decisions for life, coming from within…not because someone tells them to do something. It doesn’t support punitive punishments like spanking, traditional time outs and grounding.

  54. Wow, I’m so glad some of you are having this problem, too (well, not glad, but you know what I mean)! This has given me a lot of food for thought. I’m also glad to know that I was right about the Karp thing not being right on for this age.His tantrums really do seem to be more about being overwhelmed than about control (although telling him “no” frequently leads to a tantrum). It’s like he’s constantly on the verge of being emotionally flooded. I’m really excited to try some of your ideas — even if nothing “works,” it feels good to be taking action of some sort!

  55. Love it. Love it here. Love you all here. Love Sharon here. Love, love, love.We had an ‘aha’ a few weeks back about tantrums, realizing that they were triggered by disappointment (leaving the slide, not getting an anticipated treat) and then being disappointed ourselves (losing buyer on a boat). As I processed how oddly bad I felt about this disappointment and going through my own coping mantras (this too shall pass, we’ll be fine, it’s only money) I realized T has none of these. No internal monologue reminding her the slide will be there tomorrow or that Q. will share the toy next time we play. Oh my goodness – no wonder she was storming!
    So I got the part of it being too big a feeling but I didn’t understand why me saying I understood didn’t make the tantrum stop. Still don’t but sister-in-law says they don’t have those tools yet and just need someone nearby to comfort until the storm passes, much as you all have said.
    But what is tripping me up now is that knowing disappointment triggers the tantrum, I have tried to avoid disappointments – not walking past the slide when we can’t stop to play for example. I’m not sure this is wise though – life is hard, right? Learn to cope. Not to mention, where is the line between lessening difficulty for all of our sake, and teaching that whining works. So, I cave at first sign of disappointment: “I need water. I need! I need!” “Say ‘water please Mummy’ and I will happily give you the water.” “NO! I NEED! I NEED! T NEED WATER!” “(Giving water)Normally, we would say water please mummy and then mummy would give you the water and you would say thank you.”
    I think I’m going to create a monster. She’s 21 months old, has a new (3 month) brother at home, teethed new molars a couple of months ago… there was always a reason not to make things harder. But I don’t know how to discern when to not sweat the small stuff and when to take a stand to raise a non-dictator child.
    Wow. VERY inarticulate today. Desperate, but inarticulate.

  56. A nice chunk of my training comes from the origins of Positive Discipline. It’s a great resource. I think of discipline this way.With little people I believe in practicing a solution first before any timeouts, which makes the act of practicing a “time in”.
    Just like Cloud suggested, when a child bites you go for a book first or show her what she should be doing instead. A child bites or does whatever because she doesn’t know what to do instead. She doesn’t know how to stop the impulse, she doesn’t know what to replace the impulse with—so she bites or does what ever behavior you’re helping her change.
    I have even suggested to parents that they use role play with dolls to help a child understand. OR set up a pretend situation and practice the solution over and over again until it’s the first thing a child remembers when they have the impulse to bite or do whatever you’re trying to correct. Someone wrote me yesterday and said my toddler won’t stop throwing things. They need seminar #1. They needed to show the child just after they throw something that it has to stop, they need to instruct them on what to do instead and they need to practice and practice and practice the chosen replacement for throwing. In my experience it takes practice and information to teach, not an immediate timeout.
    I do NOT believe that timeout is an effective first response. My view is it’s about responding not reacting to a child. The seminar that caramama mentioned is called How to Respond NOT React to Toddler and Preschool Behavior. It helps parents see the subtle difference between the two and even has a sample conversation giving you the step by step words to use. It helps transform the way you send information to a child as you correct them.
    What’s key here is also the second Core Principle of ProActive Parenting. Parents are all great at telling their children what they should NOT do, and most tend to forget to tell them what they should do instead. Here again is the “time in” concept. Parents have to take the time to fill in the blanks, and many times that’s all the discipline that’s needed. But one time doesn’t do it at this age. Sending information about what to do instead requires repetition. That’s one reason why I recommend using the same words and actions again and again as you share what to do instead. It makes it so much easier for a young child to understand the concept if it’s short and sweet and uses the same words each time they’re told something.
    NOTHING prevents tantrums, all we can do is help the child mange them and move through them. I hope this makes sense, I had very little sleep for the last two nights. Also, thanks for putting up with my shameless self promotion. 🙂

  57. Small data point: when my son hit 18 months the shit hit the fan. Things calmed down after a couple months.No advice, but I thought I’d just mention that it does get better. As he got just a little older he could communicate what he needed better and what he was upset about. I don’t remember what we did to get through the rough patch though… just barreled through I think!

  58. “This does not seem like a battle of wills to me. This seems like a true cry for help and I believe it should be treated as such. You need to be his soft place to land, you need to be empathetic and use calming sounds with few words. Do some humming as you hold and rock him, if he’ll let you. If not, just stay close. This allows him to latch on to the sound of your voice and relax a bit.”I’ve no time to read other comments at the mo…but I just wanted to say how proud I am of myself! Hooray for me. This is EXACTLY what my instincts told me to – despite my insecurities ensuring I always read way too much around a subject. It’s so good to hear this.

  59. @Peasy’s mom, the safe space thing is also a part of Montessori education. We have a Peace Corner at home, which is a quiet space that they can take themselves off to when they’re upset or just want to be alone. It’s a dog bed in a corner with bookshelves kind of walling it off (bolted to the walls), so it is a cave-like, safe, enclosed (but open-top) space. Montessori classrooms usually have something like that, either called the Library (with flop space) or the Peace space (corner, etc.).We do a parent-ed night for the Montessori school that talks about using that concept at home. It does definitely help.

  60. @ meggiemoo & hedra: Thanks for the affirmations on the safe place (or whatever your version calls it). It’s always nice to know that others are practicing similar techniques (and so helpful that in my daughter’s case also there’s a consistent approach between “school” and home). I’m so glad to be joining the community here after a long time lurking.

  61. @MrsHaley and Sarah re: rage attacks… I will bet that Sharon’s seminar will help a lot. In addition (or supplemental, or perhaps overlapping…):1) Check out codependency literature. Rage responses (as well as Fear, Guilt, and Shame) are typical when you were raised not being allowed a feeling. All that feeling gets balled up and stuffed in one spot, and the moment that space opens, it ALL comes out, every bit that was ever stuffed there, all at once. It may be situational (you can be angry about X, but not about Y), or it could be that you picked up the feelings that someone else was suppressing (picking up the rage your mother felt but ‘made nice’ over). Regardless, one of the things that really helped me was recognizing that an ‘attack’ of rage was not to do with Now so much as Past Events. Just knowing that was the case helped me spot where I was reacting to every possible point of that feeling in the past, all at once. No wonder it was huge! Anyway, some of that literature might help.
    2) The book The Explosive Child also applies to adults. That explosive rigid inflexible lockup rage in response is rather a lot like the child version, only all grown up. My response to my child becoming inflexible is often to get inflexible right back, and that comes with the outrage response. Reading through that book was eye-opening on my own account as well as my child’s. Learning to spot my own pre-rage triggers (the subtle ones) just like I have to spot my child’s before the event occurs (like watching for low blood sugar, frustration in general, lack of sleep, you know the list). Funny how that applies upwards as well as downwards!
    3. (after the above) have been cutting out ALL HFCS from my diet and watching for anything that triggers GI fermentation (gas, bloating, etc.) because anything that lowers serotonin levels also creates an inflexible response to anything that might seem unfair. Gut fermentation – whether you have fructose malabsorption or not – will block tryptophan, less trypophan means less serotonin, less serotonin means less emotional fluidity. I’m reactive to HFCS period, but not everyone is, so you’d have to check that separately. But if you’re prone at all to depression, anxiety, and/or IBS or constipation, I’d definitely look for fructose as a culprit (the US diet overloads on fructose, regardless of your level of capacity, which is likely a contributor to our high depression rates, too). Anyway, that’s my usual song-and-dance, but it’s worth checking into if you have rage fits, because rage fits are a typical emotional sign of malabsorption/fermentation.
    4) Adjusting my supplements for the low-grade constant depression. My kids will even ask me if I forgot my supplements today, because it makes SO much difference in my mood and function. So far, they’ve never asked me when I’d remembered. :wince: I’m currently taking about a half-dozen supplements, all of which affect some of my function. My mom indicated that she started having to take supplements in her early 40’s, and so I looked into the ones she took (siberian and korean ginseng, coQ10, fish oil, vitamin D) and all of those help my mood stability as well. YMMV, and there are valid reasons for not taking them, too – I’m not dispensing medical advice, just saying what I do.
    5) Likely overlap with Sharon’s stuff is something that I learned in specific/refined form from reading Sharon’s posts, though I got the initial concept from the book Parent Effectiveness Training. That is determining where my problem begins and ends, vs their problem. If I let them roll past the boundary of my problem until it becomes a Real Problem for me, then I get much more angry and out of control than if I recognize and state out loud where my boundary is. ‘I can’t really cope with the screaming right now’ said RIGHT when that line is hit helps me keep my temper much better than waiting until that line is totally rolled over and I not only cannot cope, I’ve already stopped coping and it just hasn’t reached my mouth yet. WHen it does, at that point, it does not come out well. If I say it before I’m actually mad because MY needs are not being met, I’m able to do so calmly – even if the child doesn’t respond all perfect and ideal at that point (or at all), just acknowledging to myself and them that I have a limit, and it is Right Here, and not ignoring it and hoping it stops in the next 2 seconds, that makes a big behavioral difference for me. It’s not already too late. Learning to spot that line takes practice.
    6) Taking the self-castigation out of the process helps, too. Starting to look at my own anger/yelling reaction as a sign that my child has outgrown the current skills and I just need new skills makes it less self-punishing, and therefore not shame-inducing, and therefore also easier to address as a problem-solving objective issue. When I hated myself for yelling, I couldn’t look at myself clearly enough to spot what the triggers were, because I was really trying to not look for fear of what I’d see. You may be better at that than I am, but I kind of ‘squinted’ at the self-examination process. Once I just said, yelling is a signpost that new skills are needed, I could say ‘oh, wait, yelling. Okay, assess situation. Hmm, child seems to need this, I’m not providing that’ or ‘Wow, I don’t know what this child needs, maybe I should ask.’ or ‘I think I need to discuss this with ep’ (though often enough we spot it on each other better than ourselves).
    Anyway, probably the simplest starting point is getting Sharon’s seminar, but you can have my thoughts in addition. Maybe it will help. 🙂

  62. ACJ, you’re correct. It is not about avoiding what tips off a tantrum, or avoiding what disappoints a child. Life isn’t like that. It’s about teaching them how to face it and move on.This idea will NOT work with a preverbal child, but will work with a slightly older child and will work for a long time. Try asking your child, “what does your heart want to say about being disappointed? What does your heart need to make it better?” Or something like that.
    Most young children are too young to understand what you mean when you say “what do you feel” or when you ask, “why are you so upset?” They still see their feelings as outside of them, separate from them. However, when you ask a child what their heart has to say, they can tell you, it’s amazing what will come out of their mouth when you ask. If your child has trouble with this, let her overhear you as you do it. Let them hear you say “my heart wants to call this person back and tell them I’m sad.” Or I can’t find my special box and my heart is sad and upset that I can’t find it.” This is time-in, this is modeling, it shares how you, the adult, manage feelings and express them.
    No, you don’t have to give in and go get them what they want to make their heart feel better, you can say “one day maybe we can do that”. That statement teaches delayed gratification, which is a VERY good thing to teach children, it stops entitlement and demanding behavior.
    Taller would say with a straight face “I know what will make my heart feel better, ice cream!” I would say, “some day we will do that, can you tell me what we could really do to make your heart feel better, maybe some words we could use?” He would laugh, which lightened the moment and then he’d think about his feelings and respond. The day I decided to stop for ice cream he was blown away. He had learned to express himself and he’d learned delayed gratification, and he learned that when I say some day we’ll do that, that one day we actually will.
    As they grew asking “what does your heart feel” morphed into “tell me what’s true for you” and we use that to this day.

  63. What Sharon just wrote reminded me of one other thing I did once. My daughter was starting to get really upset because she wanted something that we were out of (I can’t even remember what… strawberries or something). I told her we didn’t have any more, and she got more upset, saying “I want ____. I WANT it!” I just looked at her and said, “Yeah, I want it too! I really wish we had some, and I’m sad we don’t.” And she just stopped asking for it. I quickly provided a distraction, but I was amazed that her hearing that I really wanted it too and I was also sad that we couldn’t seemed to stop the tantrum right before it got going.@meggiemoo – Thanks! I’ll have to get one of her books. It sounds right up my alley.
    @hedra – Have I caught up yet? 😉

  64. No advice — just support. One of my 20-month-old twins just started doing this last week. I thought she was sick at first (we’ve all been dealing with a stomach bug) but I talked to my mother-in-law on the phone later that night and she said, “Oh, her first tantrum!” Doh.A few nights later she had one of what we call her “nighttime freakouts”. These happen now and then, don’t seem to be tied in to anything, but she’ll wake up, typically 2-3 hours after bedtime, just PISSED and inconsolable. They last 10-15 minutes and eventually she settles back down. It dawned on me that her daytime tantrum was nearly identical to her nighttime freakout! In both cases, calm, soothing voice and cuddling (tight like swaddling or gentle) do nothing to help.
    I’m looking forward to reading through all the comments, and it seems like Sharon’s advice is right-on. This will help next time, because I’m sure there will be a next time! (and so far we’re only dealing with one of the twins having a tantrum!)

  65. @Cloud – these were older relatives too and I knew they meant well in their own way. It was just frustrating at the time being the only one on the signing bandwagon esp. before he started signing back – they really thought I was crazy.@AJC – I find myself doing the same thing, avoiding disappointment triggers. I think that because I avoid/find a way around a lot of the things I know trigger the I wants and ensuing tantrum if the want is denied, I feel better (less guilty?) when I’ve drawn the line and said no. Hence the tantrum that led to throwing up this morning over wanting to be in the bathroom and being denied that want. I couldn’t be in there with him and the bathroom isn’t safe for him to be in there alone. I typically give him free reign to explore as he pleases if I can keep an eye on him but when he can’t – he can’t – heartbreaking cries or not. I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing either. Maybe a lot of incidental no’s are better than a few meaningful no’s?
    I have heard that all toddlers are little dictators at heart. 🙂

  66. @Nancy: It sounds like you’re entering the wonderful world of night terrors. Even though she looks like she’s awake, she may actually not be.My son still has these occasionally…when he does, nothing comforts him…in fact, trying to speak to him or touch him enrages him further. We generally have to wait it out until he’ll allow us to soothe him back to sleep.
    We’ve had good success with making sure he has an empty bladder before bed. Urinating during the night seems to trigger the waking up and the terrors.

  67. Very timely post, as we’re starting to go through some of this with our 16 month old. Thanks, Moxie!When Mr B gets discombobulated, what really seems to help him is just to quietly carry him around the house and, as the crying stops and he starts to notice things around him and point and grunt, name those things for him, but otherwise pretty much leave him alone. “Yes, that’s the light. Oh, yes, that’s the door into the kitchen.”, etc. If you ask him ‘oh, do you want the …’ about whatever he’s pointing at, that will instantly send him back into head shaking, crying, etc. It definitely seems to be a breakdown in his decision making process and the best way to handle it is to work on helping him to calm down, rather than trying to figure out what he wants in order to give it to him, as, well, I don’t think he actually knows what he wants and that’s what’s pissing him off! Or what he wants is so abstract that he can’t convey it via his limited number of baby signs (you want more? but of what?) or via pointing and grunting…perhaps he’s wishing for world peace! At any rate, that’s what’s working for us at the moment.

  68. @Sharon, I like the ‘what does your heart feel’ phrasing, but I’m afraid it’s a bit late for the 11 year old (he’d just raise an eyebrow at me). I might be able to add that in for M and R, though. Hmm. Maybe even Mr B.The NVC (nonviolent communication) process of reflective listening also will work with young kids, but there are specific ways of going about it. (See the book Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids for specific steps.)
    I can also attest to the gentle side-step on immediate demands or barter responses (I’d like ice cream!) – saying ‘Me, too!’ and then going back to the task at hand works sometimes, and saying that we can do that another time also works (and I agree, when you actually do it later, they totally light up).
    As for teaching kids to handle the disappointment, the first part is (for me) not being afraid of being the one who disappointed them. Because once I know that X will disappoint them, then I tend to feel like if I expose them to X, then it is My Fault they’re disappointed. THAT is when I am most likely to try to dodge the scenario. It’s like I’m teasing them with the thing they can’t have. But, going way out of my way to avoid that is also not useful.
    Ep and I used to say we’d break the kids hearts seven times by breakfast, because there was so much that they wanted that just was not going to happen. Anything from ‘that shirt is in the laundry, you can’t wear it again today’ to ‘you can’t have ice-cream for breakfast’. A big part of their disappointment issue is that they are just learning how to anticipate forward, and don’t have a handle on the complexity yet (there was just research out yesterday that showed that preschoolers collect information for later access, but do not use it to anticipate forward or pre-plan. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090324131554.htm ) As they’re learning to plan forward, they tend to leap to the idea and cling there, rather than just hold the idea lightly. And of course since they’re learning this internally, they don’t tell us they’re anticipating something specific until it is ‘too late’. Saying No is like prying the idea out of their hands, and it is confusing as well as disappointing – they don’t know how to use this new mental tool, and they’re really trying, and keep being told they’re doing it all wrong (though we don’t know we’re doing that).
    So that’s another aspect of the older toddler’s disappointment issue – it is another layer of the inner confusion thing, based in part on a new mental skill being employed at a rudimentary level. Teaching (gently) that sometimes we plan for things that don’t happen, and sometimes we look forward to things that don’t happen can be part of it (modeling from the adult side). We’re facile at shifting tracks, and so it is frustrating to have someone cling to a track that can’t possibly go anywhere. It’s a bit easier to be sympathetic if we realize they didn’t even HAVE a track not too long ago, and they’re just now discovering the idea that there is a forward they can think about before they do it, and they get very excited and picture themselves there, and then THERE doesn’t happen and there’s no ‘other’ THERE to go to (because they only pictured one).
    Or you can just do what we did, which is assume that they are stuck for a reason, even if we don’t know what the reason is, and help them develop skills for handling it. We do a lot of encouragement to express what they’re hoping for, and find ways to get that desire met at some point, even if not right now. I find that writing it down is very powerful for our kids – if I write it on the whiteboard, or on a note, or in my Palm, or whatever, the fact that it is Important Enough to write down is reassuring. We do that a lot for toy asks – I can put that on your wish list, and you can ask for it for your birthday.
    Prepping their minds with a social story about an unavoidable disappointment is also really useful. Just giving them an idea of what the activity will look like, including the disappointing part, and what things we can do to feel better about that, can really help. If we’re going into a store that I know will have a lot of ‘oh please!’, I stop outside the store and explain what the trip through the store will look like, and what we can do if they see something they want. When they see that, I just remind them of what they were told, gently, and know that they won’t remember that the next aisle over, either – remind, gently. What can we do? We can put it on your wish list, if you want. Today we’re here to get X. With practice, they get better at loosening their grip on the idea that they just got, and moving to the next idea.
    The same for if we’re going to pass something like the slide scenario. Actually, one of the better things we’ve done for that is to get them to express their happy feeling about what they were anticipating, like going and giving the slide a hug or a pat, and telling the slide that we’ll be back another day. That’s the louder version of telling ourselves that we’ll get to that later, yes?
    Okay, I’m meandering now. And it’s late – gotta go!

  69. I haven’t had a chance to read through all of the comments. I’m sorry if this is a repeat.I found that often my children simply needed an outlet for all of their frustration. There were so many things that they simply couldn’t quite do yet that all of that frustration would just build up. If I tried to avoid the tantrum and distract them out of it before they had cried it out, they would just tantrum later. I realized that simply by sitting next to them and letting them get it out, they were happier in the long run.

  70. There is some good information on a site called handinhandparenting.com about tantrums. It says that a tantrum is usually a child dispelling from their body things that might otherwise be stored as trauma. And to a baby or toddler, things that seem quite small can be traumatic for them, like their mom walking out of the room. And during the tantrum you can’t reason with them because they go into the reptilian part of their brains, which isn’t capable of rational thought. The frontal lobe, which is capable of rational thought and which makes us human, is underdeveloped in babies and toddlers and are developed through their connections to their caregivers. That is another reason why just being close to them and being their support while they let it out is really helpful to them.At times, you may find that just being there for them makes them cry harder. That is a good indication that it is working because they now feel safe to really let it out and then they can let it go.
    I hope this also helps.

  71. hello,I Have a 19 month old son that think’s he runs the swhow. i am a new mother and he is my first kid. i am 22 and my husband is 24 and we do not have our own place so myself my husband and son live in one room. I am having alot of problem with the temper tantrums and i don’t know if that is the right word because it like what ever we do and say that wonderful word (NO) he freaks out to the point that is yelling kicking screaming and he will throw his self on the floor or where ever he is at and i mean freak out until be is blood shot red in his face and he about to die. he gets to the point that he screams so loud that people start to look at us like we did something to him and we didn’t just because myself or my husband or anyone in our family tell’s him (NO) it’s the end of the world and i do not know what to do!!! I do know that he is not talking much and when he wants something he point’s and most of the time i do not know what he want’s. my mind and my body and my family are lost i need some help please!!!!!!!!

  72. Hi, can anyone comment on how long these tantrums (frustration) last? My 19 month old screamed herself hoarse for 30 minutes tonight with her daddy comforting her. I ended up nursing her to sleep. She has the flu and I think a molar coming up. How long is “normal”?

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