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How to Handle Tantrums Like a Pro

crying child
Hansa Bhargava, MD - Blogs
By Hansa D. Bhargava, MDBoard-certified pediatricianJune 11, 2018

It’s a parenting moment I will never forget.

My son, 2  years old at the time, flailing around on the floor of a crowded toy store repeatedly screaming at the top of his lungs, “I WANT TOY!”

The ‘terrible two’s’ truly can be terrible – but they can be exciting as well.

Your child’s brain is growing at an extraordinary rate at this stage. This means that not only is he learning to walk, run and even kick a ball, but he is sponging up words exponentially and has new ‘language’ power while starting to understand larger sentences. The problem is that he is still limited, and those limitations can be frustrating. Imagine learning a new language, but being unable to converse even though you know many words. Or, trying to understand complicated sentences, process them and then act upon them. Being able to scribble but not write. And having a brand new world that you are just starting to understand but can’t quite comprehend.

And this is why a two-year-old acts the way he does. His new skills have brought him a newfound feeling of independence, but he hasn’t mastered those skills yet and doesn’t quite know how to use them. Sometimes he reacts to this stress by clinging and wanting the comfort of knowing you are there – but, other times, there are tantrums.

So what is a parent to do?

Here are some simple tips that may help:

1. Set up expectations. Although this may not work all the time, if your 2- or 3-year-old knows what to expect, the more he is likely to follow the rules. Tell him where you are going, what you will do, and what behavior is expected.
2. When his behavior does go off the rails, stay calm and collected. If he is throwing a tantrum, chances are he is frustrated and has exceeded his emotional capacity and simply may not understand how to express or control himself. This is when you coming down to his eye level and speaking calmly can help diffuse the situation. Tell him you understand that he is frustrated and upset, but it will be okay.
3. Know that it will be okay no matter how embarrassing you think the situation is. Many, many parents have been here, and they should understand. And believe me, people working at the store or restaurant or whatever place you are in have seen it before and will see it again.
4. Enjoy your time with him. It can be stressful and it can be tiring, but honestly, it is the sweetest time and it goes so quickly. Cherish the moments you have: read, sing, and play with him. This is a short stage and will be gone in a blink of an eye.

And remember, even the seemingly worst moments will make both of you laugh one day.

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About the Author
Hansa D. Bhargava, MD

Hansa Bhargava, MD, is a medical editor and WebMD's expert pediatrician. She oversees the team of medical experts responsible for ensuring the accuracy and credibility of the pediatric content on the site.

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