Your toddler is at a confusing crossroads.
He’s finally good at walking (but you keep trying to stop him), he’s talking (but the big people act like they don’t understand what he’s trying to say), he can eat alone (if somebody would just let him pick out the green things), and he remembers where you hid his best toys (you call them Hummel figurines, or some such thing).
Your child is particularly vulnerable to tantrums during his second year of life (12-24 months) because his understanding of what is happening around him is clearer than ever. Yet his ability to determine his own destiny hasn’t caught up. As he recognizes his own will to do things, his own independence, expect some mild disagreements. When the refusals escalate, they become tantrums.
This, too will pass. But until it does, here’s what you can do to minimize the stress for both of you:
Respect his schedule. The newborn baby doesn’t have one, the settled baby has done a lot of work to regulate himself into a schedule, and the toddler desperately needs one. If his body thinks it’s naptime, and you consider it a great time to stock up on perfume samples at the mall, your child’s point of view will be heard up and down the escalators.
Keep your cool. The word “no” has had a lot of power over him lately, so who can blame him for trying it out for himself? Expect him to engage in refusals to cooperate. The best thing you can do is be consistent. For example: He wears a shirt to playgroup. Period. It’s far better in the long run to miss one play date over the standoff, (and have him learn that you mean what you say) than to have a daily, energy-sapping cycle of boundary testing.
Have no shame. If you don’t think your child should play in the revolving door (and you’d be right about that, Mommy) — don’t give in. Who cares who’s looking, tsk-tsk-ing, or judging? If those strangers really cared (or mattered), they’d offer to load your groceries into the trunk while you load your screaming child into his car seat.
Hug it out. Once the tantrum is in full-on mode, stay even-tempered and compassionate with your child. Raising your voice, or your pulse, is exhausting. Unless somebody’s around to tuck YOU in for a guaranteed nap, save your strength. Once the storm has passed, your toddler will need some help understanding what just happened. Words for his feelings won’t end the tantrums right away, but over time, words will be such a useful tool that the confusing, stormy feelings won’t need to be enacted so vigorously. When his mouth can say, “I’m frustrated!” his body won’t have to.
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