Dear Aunt Juniper,
I need some words of wisdom or comfort as feeling very alone. Am at my wits end and ready to find a hole to cry in with a bottle of gin.
My little one is 18 months old and everything is now a tantrum. Leaving the house in the morning for nursery. Putting coat on. Clothes on. Getting into car seat, never mind staying in car seat. Bath time. In bath. Getting out of bath. Going up stairs. Downstairs. Nappy changes. Everything. She just about tantrums for everything and I don’t know what to do.
This week at school I’m told she is the cutest happiest baby they have and she laughs at everything – I’d say the last week she’s done nothing but tantrum with us.
I know how frustrating it must be for her at the moment not being able to communicate exactly what she wants, so how can I help her or what can we do better to make this phase less upsetting for her and heart breaking for me.
I’ve felt so deflated like I’m the worse Mom ever!
From, Mum On The Edge Of Gin
Dear Mum On The Edge Of Gin,
Tantrums or preferably called emotional meltdowns, are an all too familiar occurrence in a little person’s repertoire. I do not believe for a nano second that there isn’t a parent on this planet that has not had their offspring meltdown with Buzz Lightyear speed with a volume so great that can be heard in outer space! (Public location preferable). They are perfectly normal and I can reassure you they are NOT an indication or reflection of your parenting. Repeat this to yourself often!
Melt downs will happen when a child feels HUGE emotions, causing them to lose control and unable regain control without some emotional support or input. Scientifically speaking the frontal cortex of their brain that is responsible for controlling their emotions is not yet fully developed and they cannot control or regulate their emotions.
These melt downs can occur at any age and are not just limited (unfortunately) to the famous “terrible twos” though there is a huge difference between a baby or child crying and having a full on melt down. Young babies do not have tantrums they just cry to communicate their needs in the only way they know how.
Melt downs are not an indication of a naughty or spoilt child with a terrible temper to match, and there is no need for any disciplinary action, despite what others may tell you!
Sadly I do not have a one size fits all solution to stopping a meltdown in its tracks because children are all beautifully unique and let’s be honest here, it also depends very much on which way the wind is blowing.
They are most common when a child is tired and/or hungry so trying to keep to a simple nap and feed routine can really help. Coming to recognise the triggers and seeing the signs can sometimes be enough to even head one off (or at least soften the blow) and stop a big one brewing.
For when one takes you by surprise, and it will, here is all you need to know about getting you and your little one through even the out of this world ones:
Try to remember that your child isn’t deliberately giving you a hard time; THEY are the ones having a hard time. Try to see the situation through their eyes and with empathy.
Ignore the on lookers and stares if in public, the one who needs you or whose opinions matter in this moment is you and your little one. If it is causing a genuine disturbance to the general public then it is perfectly reasonable for you to pick up or place your child in a buggy and get out of there as the child will be unable to do that for themselves at this point.
Keep your voice low and soothing when you speak and resist the urge to shout even louder. We are the adults and if we shout we have lost control and it all will just escalate further!
Do not get sucked in a battle, try reasoning or bargaining with them. A child in full melt down mode will be unable to comprehend it all at this point and it makes it last longer.
Acknowledge and allow them to own their feelings no matter how trivial or silly it may seem to you, even the negative ones. Do this by labelling their feelings and the situation for them. For example I can see you are frustrated/angry/mildly/sad annoyed that the dog looked at you/the crayon broke/the beans are on your toast. ALL feelings are valid and sometimes just having your feelings understood and heard is enough. Just keep your language clear and simple.
Don’t exclude or isolate them Just because they dare to display an emotion that let’s be honest even us adults have at times. It is healthy and normal to have these emotions and we need to teach them to deal their emotions in a healthy way and not suppress them.
Give them space but be available if they need contact to calm down. Tempting as it is to say I will only cuddle you when you stop crying/shouting/being frustrated is teaching them that these normal feelings aren’t acceptable and will prolong the meltdown.
It may take some getting used to doing but with practice (and you should get lots with a toddler!) You will be surprised how quickly it becomes easy and like second nature to you. This will help ease the frustration your toddler and hopefully make the meltdowns fewer and further apart.
Once the meltdown has passed, don’t dwell on it or ask why they behaved like that, they will not have a clue why. They should not have to justify their feelings but they do need to learn acceptable ways to vent them.
Accepting and acknowledging their feelings is the consistent and easy part to master, the tricky bit now is how to get them to move on and will very much depend on the day, the wind and the moon in that moment.
These are things I have found have helped me through even the mega meltdowns:
- Whisper/shout/ use a funny voice or talk through a toy
- Sing a song in a funny voice/whisper/loud voice
- Use your sense of humour and try and see the funny side
- Pretend to bump into things or fall over or get a toy to do this (do not do this on concrete!)
- Make toys dance/sing/talk to them
- Blow bubbles
- Start an activity and make it look super fun interesting
- Make out that you REALLY need their help or expertise with something REALLY important
- Put music on and dance your socks off
- Offer a drink and a snack
- Big glass of wine (you not the child)
If you are concerned about your child’s behaviour, the number of tantrums your child has or would like some bespoke ways to personally help you and your little one get through them please get in touch at www.kerrycaresparenting.com.
Lots of Love,
Aunt Juniper* xx
*On this occasion Aunt Juniper was Kerry Secker from Kerry Cares Parenting.
Kerry Secker has a Diploma in Childcare from the National Nursery Education Board (NNEB) and has worked as a nanny for 16 years. As well as the UK, she has worked in Switzerland, the USA, France and Italy and has even had the odd celebrity thrown in the mix. She now runs Kerrycaresparenting through which she consults with parents about a multitude of issues that surround the early years from sleeping to fussy eating, from tantrums to toilet training.
FROM THE MUMMY’S GIN FUND FACEBOOK COLLECTIVE:
‘Poor you. It is such a hard stage before they can communicate properly. Hang on in there – it an only get better, right?! I had to force myself to be hugely enthusiastic and positive with him at this stage – trying to make games out of just about everything and also giving my son lots of choices, e.g., what to wear. It helped us but there were (& still are) those days that just seem impossible… I hope it gets easier X.’
‘She vents her frustration at home because that is where she feels most secure. If you can try and let her attempt the thing she wants to do, just accept you’ll be late every now and then. If you can give her chances to choose things, like which of 2 pairs of socks to wear or which you to put away first it might help. It is really hard especially if you are exhausted. Give yourself a break and if she insists on going out in her pajamas, let her and smuggle a change in your bag for later when she changes her mind. Then hopefully go out for a gin with someone who can let you let it all out. There will be an end in sight eventually – about 25 years old I’m told! Good luck to us all x x x’
‘May not make you feel better but I feel like between the age of 18 months and nearly 3 I didn’t leave the house lol, we’ve all been through it I’m sure, some days are better than others, my son was definitely better behaved before lunch lol.’
‘Welcome to toddlerDom – she’s just testing her boundaries so keep firm … I found Jo frosts book really helpful as it can be very trying and she helps you to understand …. Xx’
‘It’ll get better I promise xx’
‘We are going through the same with a 2 year old. As a mother of 4, it’s the first time I have experienced the ‘terrible twos’ and I have to say it has knocked me for 6. It doesn’t matter who you are or how much experience you have, it is truly vile. But it will pass! I agree with the idea of offering choice and I have to say the thing keeping me sane at the moment, is ignoring him! It gets to the point where there is sometimes nothing you can do except let him get to the peak of rage and it’s actually quite liberating to embrace it, ignore it and carry on with what you were doing! My 2 yr old seems to need to ‘blow himself out’ and actually letting him roll on the floor screaming for a while is more effective than trying to reason with him or solve the problem. Once I can see he is calming down, I then step in and offer him my original option again and he is then happy to fall in line! Other parents will understand, so embrace the embarrassment when it happens in public!’
‘You poor thing. I didn’t experience this when my daughter was 2 but I think I then got a double shot of attitude and tantrums since she has turned 3. She’s nearly 4 now and everything is a battle and I have to negotiate everything. Ignoring her does seem most effective but that’s difficult when your rushing out for work. I normally use a reward for once she has shoes and coat on and in car, a small snack. I think family and friends really help in times like this, having people to offload to and going out and taking some respite and rest. Good luck x’
‘Aw virtual hug to you x it will pass. Have you tried a reward chart? I started with stickers but it hasn’t been as effective as smarties xx’
‘The only way I manage to get through days and weeks like that is to remember that’s it’s a phase. The same way middle of the night feeds were a phase, and teething and throwing everything on the floor, tantrums are a phase too. It can be so hard but try not to take it personally. I actually think they like it when you get upset.’
‘Our daughter has been through huge rages and we’ve not known quite what to do as it’s been unexpected and completely out of control. Made me dread taking her anywhere, especially the supermarket as she tends to throw herself headfirst (diving) into the floor and refuses to move/listen/anything. Have to pick her up and carry her away usually screaming and angry. It’s very very hard and very, very challenging! Our son never did this (now 5) and none of us can quite believe it when she does it. It’s embarrassing! It’s really difficult to manage!! She has got better though. I think you have to let them go through it. Not necessarily back down either (though it depends what it is as I also think there are times when I needed to be flexible and there was no harm in that). I feel your pain. But don’t blame yourself. Be kind to yourself, that’s the best thing I think you can do if it is getting you down. It is HARD! That’s a simple fact. And you’re not alone in this, there’s huge comfort in that. Hope you’re starting to feel better.’
‘My daughter started this at 18 months and she was two in August and it’s easing (not gone completely) now. It really does seem to be a phase.’
‘Sending you a big virtual hug and to let you know we have all been there. The other day a little old lady put her hand on my shoulder and said ‘she’s so cute’ to me when my 2.5 year old was having a mini meltdown In Sainsbury’s and it is so true. My toddler went from an active baby to the queen of meltdown at 18 months. It was like someone flipped a switch, I thought how the hell am I going to cope with the terrible twos of she is like this at 18 months. It got much better. I think it was just a developmental leap and I saw other friends go through it around the same time. Stay strong and remember Gin was invented for a reason. I may sound terrible but my NCT friends and I sent each other some pics of our kids having meltdowns for crazy reasons like giving them stuff they’d actually asked for and it helped me see the funny side of it. It wasn’t just me it was happening to. I realised certain things triggered it more, such as tiredness, so I’d avoid just popping to the shops when she was tired and just went later. Getting dressed took forever but I would just say we’d need to dress to go and do something fun or try and make it into a game. It didn’t always work and I can often be found looking at the sky counting to ten with a toddler rolling round my feet on the floor. It does get easier. If you want to check out more horrible people like me who make light of tantrums then Check these guys out: www.assholeparents.com.’
‘Oh hon, my little Girl is 19 months and really ramping up the trantrums too. You’re not alone and being totally honest this thread has made me feel better that we’re not alone. Xxx’
‘I completely feel your pain. We have major tantrums over everything too. We have tried everything and nothing works – yet he is good as gold with childminder and family members (so they say ). It feels constant especially as he also never sleeps! You are def not alone and a cry every now and then def helps. I’ve seen an improvement (although very small)over past few weeks and have faith it will get easier. They are just testing boundaries and struggling to communicate. My older one is 6 now and I’m sure he went through the same but not quite as bad – I can hardly remember him at that phase now x. Be strong, drink Gin and lock yourself in a room and cry if needed the phase will def pass x hugs xx’
‘I was smug “my child (except I say wean) is two and we’ve never had a tantrum yet” mum. Then?! He pulled an epic one out of his arsenal, and I’m never quite sure where I stand. Stuff that was good yesterday? Rubbish today! Things he loved? He HATES now! Sweetheart, you’re letting a teeny weeny wee person become complete. In a loving, supportive, structured environment.THAT IS A GOOOOOOOD JOB. And we’re all with you. Question yourself not. Applaud the fact that your child knew they had enough love & support to be themselves so young. It’ll pass. Plus, Gin.’
‘You are so not alone! My daughter cries if I try and give her lunch at the moment like it’s the worst lunch she’s ever seen…ever!’
‘Been there. We had to start getting up 45 minutes earlier just to get to nursery on time because everything was a battle. Often we had getting dressed races, can daddy get your socks on quicker than mummy put hers on. Give her 2 choices for everything (socks, trousers etc). Her cuddly toys had to sing her songs whilst nappy was changed to distract her. We would ask if she wanted to do something now or in 2 minutes so she felt like she was deciding but in reality it got done anyway, and on the really bad days a) letting her zone out to an episode of teletubbies on the iPad seemed to some how “reset” her mood to “vaguely manageable” or b) brute force from both parents to get her dressed out the door and into the car seat – no fun for anyone but sometimes necessary. It does get better, loads better, and when you can chat with them and they tell you all the randomness that goes on inside their heads it’s amazing and you fall in love with them all over again. Drink Gin till that time comes!!’
‘Great article here that might help: www.upfrontmama.com/upfront-mama/2015/how-to-deal-with-a-toddler-who-loves-to-say-no.’
‘In my experience consistency is key. Always give her a way out that suits you as well and lets her think she is making the choice. Also, get her hearing and eyesight tested.. Kids are expert adapters so there may be no signs of bad hearing or eyesight – I know because my son had glue ear, had a 30% hearing loss for years and had learned to lip read so effectively we knew nothing about it. My daughter has a + 8.5 prescription in one eye which we also knew nothing about until a routine school eye test. Again no signs of there being anything wrong. Hearing loss can especially be hugely frustrating for kids and often causes “bad” behaviour.’
‘I found positive praises for every lil thing she does well, even if it’s eating her breakfast, helps them, bcause children are always eager to please adults. Be patient, and every night tell her about all the good things she’s done and only pick on naughty behaviour for that day and tell her in few words to be better tomorrow. Every time I told my daughter I was proud of her, the next day I found her eager to please…are u proud of me mummy?’
‘Always follow through. If you say time out then make it happen. Too many parents don’t follow through and let their child win. You’re in control x’
‘Maybe try ‘Time In’ instead. When she does something inappropriate tell her you can see she is struggling and you think she needs a cuddle to help her feel safe and in control again.’
‘When we correct our son we emphasise that we love him and are doing it so he can grow up to be the best he can be. which does seem to reduce the length of tantrums and frequency of misbehaviour, even if they don’t go away!’
‘Positivity and praise. I had same with my little girl. Most stubborn child ever (like her mum!) and however hard it is to keep up just try and see the good in a situation and say that to her rather than the negative. If my daughter wouldn’t tidy her toys I’d try something like “this mess on the floor means you’ve had a really good day playing which is so great and would have made you happy and what will make mummy really happy is if we put it away so we can have more fun times tomorrow and so they don’t get broken.” If she still refuses then do the “I’ll help but can you help mum by telling me where you’d want me to put this away?” So she feels involved. Giving the power back to a kid usually gets results as they refuse to do thing as a way of showing their newly learnt independence. Good luck x’
‘Pick your battles, have clear unacceptable behaviors and a clear but gentle plan for when she does break the rules. Also keep yourself calm and lower your voice, easier said than done!’
‘Some children seem more upset at being interrupted in what they are already doing to do something else (though I’m no expert! I think I am the same and prefer to finish one thing before moving on to something else) – I think this is my son so we tend to tell him ‘it’s 10 minutes before we leave’, then ‘5 mins before we leave’ which helps. I saw on a program re a child on the autistic spectrum where the parents were advised to get large egg timers which they used as a visual aid for the child to know when something new was going to happen. While my son is not ASD I was thinking of getting some egg timers as many of the tantrums are around transitions to something else.’
‘Lovebombing can be a really good way to help kids feel safe and secure and hit the reset button on bad behaviour. www.theguardian.com/…/oliver-james-love-bombing…‘
‘You are not alone:) www.huffingtonpost.com/…/strong-willed-children…‘
‘This is an interesting article about oppositional behaviour: http://securestart.com.au/managing-oppositional-and…/‘
‘And this one has a good basic checklist for dealing with disrespectful/mean behaviour: http://www.imperfectfamilies.com/…/how-to-respond-when…/‘
‘www.ahaparenting.com/parenting-tools. I’ve found Dr Laura Markham very helpful. Different things work of course for different families…’
Note: These are suggestions from members of Mummy’s Gin Fund based on experience and should not be treated as official advice. Any action taken is at your own risk. Always seek professional advice if you have any questions or concerns about any aspect of your life.
Always consult NHS 111, your GP, health visitor or A&E for professional medical advice.