Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tantrum Troubles

Landon has suddenly become a two year old. Not quite yet in age (his birthday is July 15th), but definitely in temperment. He's still usually the adorable, funny, cuddly little boy of the past several months, but he's spending an increasing amount of time as a frustrated, angry, screaming toddler.

Up until this point his few tantrums were over easily identified things like not being able to have graham crackers for every meal, not wanting to come inside, or not being able to splash in the dogs' water bowl. These I can deal with. I stick to my guns and relocate him to a carpeted surface where he can flop about in relative safety. I found that most of the time it only takes a few seconds for him to get over it, or if it seems like this one is going to last, I'll start reading a book out loud and he'll come over to join me, tears of outrage forgotten.

But now there are times I have no idea what he's suddenly so mad about and I'm not entirely sure he knows either. He's just mad. And he wants to scream about it, at my feet and between my legs, until his face turns red and sweaty. I don't know what to do about these. He doesn't seem to want anything, there's been no change in activity or location, he just kind of flips out. And he only does this with me.

This morning when I went to get him from his crib he immediately started shaking his head, kicking and screaming, and yelling "No No No". He swatted at my hands when I went to get him, so I just left the room and fed the cat. I came back in about 30 seconds later and asked if he wanted to get down, I think he did, but he was still screaming No! and kicking the rails of the crib, so I said "okay, I'll get you when you stop screaming" and left again. Repeat this about 4 more times and he finally answered "yes" when I asked if he wanted to get down and then he was good for most of the rest of the morning. What on Earth is that about?! He does that a lot when we're home at night too. JP is coaching until 7:45 and I'm alone with him, and I'm still a little sick, and very tired, and he just screams at my feet regardless of what I do (he screams when I pick him up too). And then suddenly he'll stop and be so charming and funny and sweet that I almost can't believe he was so awful a few minutes before.

I worked until nearly 2 a.m. last night and will work at least that late tonight (major deadline this Friday), and I want to cherish that 5:30-8 p.m. block of time I get to spend with Landon in the evenings (he doesn't ever see me work- my laptop, blackberry, and cell phone stay in my bag until he's down). But yesterday I lingered outside the daycare door almost dreading going in because I couldn't handle another 30+ minute fit of rage on my own. He quite literally acts like he's possessed. And then suddenly he won't be- and his stopping seems to have nothing to do with what I'm doing about it. It makes me want to throw a tantrum of my own when JP finally walks in the door.

I hate that I dread our time alone together. I hate that I don't know how to help him calm down - books, going outside, music, my ignoring him, change of location, etc. seem to have no consistent effect. I finally started him removing him from the room I'm in (we have a very open floor plan so he can still see me) and telling him that when he stops screaming he can come back to the kitchen (or wherever I am). Oddly enough that seems to help the fastest, though I feel bad just giving up and removing my sobbing child from my presence because I simply can't deal with it.

Sigh... he is still wonderful most of the time, I just wish I better knew how to help him calm the angry 2-year-old within.


  1. Moving him to another room where he can still see you seems like a perfect solution, esp if you find it to be working. That tells him that you want him to be safe, but you won't tolerate screaming and tantruming (tantrumming?). 5:30-8:00 is a very difficult part of the day for all kids. Mine go crazy at that time every day too. I think it is because they are hungry and tired, just like you are at that time of day. I have found that a heavy snack around 4:30-5:00 really helps. Can you pack something in his daycare bag that he can eat on the way home (PB&J/apple/banana/granola bar)?

    On the other hand, tantrums are a new way for him to communicate and he may just be trying it out. Reacting consistantly (ignoring, removing from the situation, like you are doing) will eventually tell him that it is not an effective way to communicate and in that case, he'll just grow out of it.

  2. Let me know if you find some magic bullet for these terrible 2 tantrums. I have been dealing with them since Bear was about 18 months and they actually seem to be getting worse. Maybe its just that he is getting bigger so it is harder to handle. I think they just want to be independent so badly that they just get frustrated when we can't understand them or won't let them do what they want. Reminds me a lot of how it was to be a teenager. Just remember he will outgrow it, eventually.

  3. I don't know, but I feel the same pain. And just like you, my little monster saves the insane fits for me. Lovely!

  4. One of the interesting things when they get a little older is that they finally do have the words to describe what is making them upset. And it really is the most ridiculous stuff sometimes.

  5. Sometimes I think it really is them just being frustrated that they know what they want but don't have the words to say it. Budding independence. Hard to remember when you're in the throes of it but this is a normal developmental milestone, just like crawling, sitting etc. Although not nearly as fun or cute. I always noticed that the terrible twos really started around 18 mos and went till three or so. Don't feel bad about the dreading. You have a lot on your plate. This too shall pass. I agree with the other posters who said try a snack. Good idea to try it before the melt down if possible. That worked like a charm with my girls. Giving them something in the car on the way home from daycare really helped too. Good luck. He knows you love him no matter what.

  6. My kids had unexplained tantrums at that age. It's par for the course. He is probably tired, given the time. My 2.5 (3 in August) is still very likely to melt down and cry for no apparent reason when she is tired and/or hungry.

    Kids Landon's age also have difficulty expressing themselves and get frustrated by their inability to let you know what is wrong. Chances are that Landon wants some attention and cuddles, but doesn't know how to get that and can't reconcile that with the competing urge to run around and do active things.

    You are handling the tantrums exactly right - take him out of a potentially dangerous situation, let him know that he isn't being nice, and then do something else in another room that looks interesting and fun. A story is a great way to redirect him. Another thing you could do is put in a video or turn on a show that he likes or put on a CD that he enjoys. Basically, pick an activity that attracts his attention. When he calms down he'll join you and forget all about it. If you think he is hungry, try giving him dinner earlier. Little ones often need to eat dinner between 5 and 6. If dinner isn't possible, try a snack like whole milk and crackers, cheese, peanut butter, fruit, etc.

    As he gets older he'll be better able to use his words and let you know what he wants - he'll be less inclined to have unexplained tantrums. However we still think of 5ish to 8 as a tough time frame for little ones - even my 4 year old may melt down at that time after a busy day.

  7. Well, you've certainly got all the advice from the mom-experts...nothing for me to add but to ask the daycare if he's still napping appropriately. The witching hour(s) is(are) tough stuff. Good luck.

  8. Has he gotten his 2-yr molars yet? Our son had massive tantrums when those came in. I agree with everyone else that you are handling his tantrums well. If he ever seems like he can't calm himself down, you can try deep pressure (big hug, rubbing from the top of his chest to his tummy, etc.), sometimes that helps and sometimes it just makes them angrier. Hang in there!

  9. No guilt...you are the doing the best thing for him...giving him a chance to just chill and keeping yourself calm as well. Some of the worst parenting moments happen when we lose our cool. No matter how it gets done, as long as he is safe and you are both calming down, then you are doing a great job.

  10. I can't believe you wrote this post today, and I didn't read it until now, and in the meantime I wrote my own post about my baby having tantrums. Crazy coincidence! I have no answer whatsoever for you, other than Dr. Google. I've always heard that the best thing is to simply leave them alone, don't give in to them, and they'll outgrow them. But I did read something interesting on the internet tonight which is that you should stay in the room with them so they don't feel abandoned, but still ignore them. Sounds like a good idea, although easier said than done.

    On another note, having a 14 month old with tantrums is really frustrating because most of the internet advice says you should talk to your kid about what is frustrating them. Uh, have you ever tried having a conversation with a 14-month-old? I think I may have a tantrum of my own.

  11. As others have said, it sounds like you're doing exactly the right things to help Landon. The only thing I'd add is, if you feel like he needs to calm down on his own and you see that nothing you can do will help -- just embrace that. Go cook dinner in peace, or go to the bathroom, or read a magazine for a few minutes and tune out the screaming if you can. He'll come back when he's ready and maybe you'll both be in a better mood.

  12. So there with you - LM is in full-on tantrum mode too.

  13. Yep, 2-year molars are a real possibility, the little devils. Also, well, you just don't want to know my mom's story about my oldest brother, who was the world's most perfect and charming baby until one morning when he was around 2 ...

    You are, as usual, doing the right thing anyway, inasmuch as using common sense, inhuman patience, endless love, and a certain calm firmness are the right way to deal with any crazy thing your kid throws at you.

    Well, a very large and dry martini (or bottle of wine) helps too.

  14. sounds to me like you are handling it perfectly, as hard as it may be. Of course, I'm no expert. It seems to me like that age is the perfect time to start teaching kids that certain behavior is not "ok" and they need to learn how to cooperate. But you can't really punish them because they still don't know better. It must be tough, but I think you are doing great!

  15. I can only repeat what everyone else has said. It could always be worse you know, wait until you get to the tweenie and teen tantrums, I swear they're the same idea, they just look different. And bigger. And louder. LOL

    Seriously I loved the way you handled the one in his crib. As hard as it is (believe me, I know) I think your walking away calmly and telling him each time that you will pick him up when he stops screaming sets limits, models appropriate behaviour and leaves the control with him. Geez, sorry, that sounded like a parenting book. No, I don't live my life that way but when we can step back and be a bit more objective about someone else's life... BTW good reason to still have him in the crib, no?

    Just remember the mantra, This too shall pass, this too shall pass... Before you know it, you will be into a whole 'nudder milestone.

  16. They talk about tantrums and stuff on the askmoxie.org site a lot. My girl (2 this week) has had a few. More alarming is that she's becoming increasingly stubborn and opinionated. As in, "Madison, please pick up those raisins." "No." "Please. It makes Mommy sad when I have to keep cleaning the floor." "No. No. No. No. YOU pick them up." Etc.

  17. Yeah, Asparagus started being two at around 15 months, and is still going strong at 27 months. It is SUCH a fun age... when she's not crying or whining or tantruming.

    A couple things I've found to help that I don't think others have mentioned (sorry - this is really long). First, I try to have Gussie work with whenever possible (and sometimes this means it's pretty rare, unfortunately). She can hand me silverware from the dishwasher; she can put away her own plastic plates on a shelf she can reach; she can push the "start" button on the coffeemaker; she can wipe her spot on the table; she can "wash" windows. I'm not sure I'd call any of these things an actual help yet, but it makes my tasks much easier and she LOVES to participate. We talk a little about how everyone in the family has responsibilities, and these are her responsibilities. It makes her feel like a big kid. Oh, and sometimes I'll sit her at the table with a couple cups and spoons and let her work with water, pouring it back and forth. A happy mess. Or wash (plastic) dishes, for a huge happy mess.

    The other thing was a total accident - I got an Ergo baby carrier for her baby sister. She LOVES to ride in it, and it's not hard for me to carry even her 32+ pound self on my back in it. I've never had to put her down before she asked. It satifies her when she wants to be cuddled while I'm busy or when she wants to see what I'm doing (and stick her hands in everything). I can't recommend it highly enough.

    Anyway, sorry to be so verbose, but I hope something there helps. Writing this has helped me, actually, as I just realized that our two biggest tantrum triggers are hunger and toddler-non-involvement-in-what-mama's-doing. So thanks. :)

  18. Ugh, this is not a phase of childhood I'm enjoying. Cora had a meltdown in the middle of walking up the staircase yesterday for no reason. I'm like, really? Do we have to do this now? I had my arms full of stuff, and was coming up the stairs behind her. She just stops on the stairs, puts her head down on one of them and wails. I drank a lot of wine last night, it made me feel a lot better.

  19. As frustrating as it is that he has these tantrums when he's with you, it's also a weird kind of complement: he feels safe with you, and can let it all out. If he has to hold it together all day, he can just let go when he's safe with you. It's easy to feel like he's angry/frustrated with you, but he's not, frustrated with LIFE. The same thing happens in the teens. It helped me A LOT to remember this.

  20. I don't have any toddler know-how to share. Just wanted to stop in and rave about that adorable picture of Landon at the playground! He is so photogenic :)

  21. Yes. We are dealing with this with Anjali as well - she is having such a hard time with transitions and impulse control. And she does talk so I know exactly what she wants, but that does not make it better. Don't fool yourself into thinking that if he could only tell you what he wanted, it would be easier. Eh.

    But. That is just a 2 year old - their little brains are still developing. Right?

    Is Landon's daycare preparing him for his arrival? They should be - about 10 minutes prior to your arrival, they need to begin telling him that you are coming. I hate to get all ass-vicey, but seriously.

    When my son was two, I gave my husband this example: "Say, you are working on a spreadsheet and you are right in the middle of crunching some numbers when someone picks you up from the laptop and whisks you away with no warning whatsoever. You would really be pissed, right?" Right. At that point, Manoj understood.

    I really recommend the Science of Parenting by Margot Sunderland. She took actual brain research and it helps to understand all the things our kids are going through as their little brains develop their connections and grow and mature. The book doesn't solve the problem, but it helped me understand.

    Often, I don't feel like it, but I try to handle 2 year tantrums by holding them, consoling them and telling them that I understand they are sad. Because, that is really what it is all about - they are not trying to manipulate at this age, they are genuinely devastated that they are not getting their way.

    I am really sorry to get all preachy, but it has amazed me how many folks don't realize that two year olds are manipulative. They are just immature and need help navigating their feelings.

    That said, I have been really frustrated with Anjali, too. Sometimes, I just want to f&*king brush her teeth FOR HER. I don't have time to wait 10 f&*king minutes while she essentially eats all the toothpaste. Sigh. And she cannot dress herself. She cannot buckle her seatbelt. She cannot pour her own milk. The list goes on and on and on.

    Oh, hey. Hang in there! Heh.

  22. Also, I just want to say that I really disagree with leaving a toddler to deal with a tantrum on his/her own. It is a scientific fact, their brains are NOT developed enough to deal with all the emotions. Holding and consoling goes a long way in TEACHING them how to deal with the fact that they are not getting their way. However, a 4-5 year with a tantrum? Those, you ignore because at that point they ARE trying to manipulate and control with a tantrum.

    Oh GREAT. I just got all preachy again. Sigh. Because of course, I know it all, right? No. Sadly, no.

  23. See ... this is why I can't ask for advice on my blog. You get all these people who are all "I know EXACTLY how to do it and everybody else is totally WRONG and I don't agree with anybody else."

    That being said, I generally struggle not to laugh at my kid while he goes combination boneless/stiff (how do they do that at the same time)? It doesn't really bother me all that much. I guess I'm weird. Sometimes I ignore it, sometimes I console, and sometimes he has to go to time out. It just depends on the situation. The good news is he won't remember any of it in a few years, right? ;-)

  24. TH- I actually thought people were pretty great with their thoughts. I didn't get much of a "this is right, you're all wrong" vibe. It was more of a "been there, tried this, sometimes it works, your kid is cute" vibe.

    I have no problems dealing with tantrums I understand. It's the seriously angry, screaming for 20-30 minutes, with nothing I do having effect fits that unnerve me. I feel very bad for him, and since I'm on my own after a very long day at work, pretty bad for me too.