A couple weeks ago, I received this email from a reader:
I could use some advice! My two year old has been acting up ridiculously lately and I’m due any day now with our second child and idk if he senses the new baby and has been acting out the past two months or if it’s just a terrible two thing! He gives me a struggle every day lately from eating, putting him into his car seat, to simply changing his clothes or getting him to bed. He is fighting me on EVERYTHING and I’m at my wits end and with zero energy to tolerate the tantrums!!! Everything is a fight of him kicking, throwing a toy or whatever he can get his hands on, running away from me, screaming, throwing himself on the floor, and now out of nowhere he began stomping his feet and spitting at me! He never used to do any of this nor does he have any bad influences from other children that have those behaviors…. Please tell me you have some alternative ideas because time out, spanking and yelling are a waste of time and aren’t doing anything but getting us more angry and exhausted. I’ve tried showing him more one on one attention at first and doing more activities together thinking he knew about the baby and was feeling left out but it continued getting worse. Time out/the naughty chair worked for a little while then he decided that was no longer a threat. It got to the point where I’d start yelling and would end up popping his leg or butt to get him to sit still and stop kicking at me but that doesn’t phase him anymore and I honestly don’t like it because it makes me feel worse even though my husband is a firm believer in spanking but I feel a child is just misunderstood even more so when they are that young. So please tell me how’d you make it through all the toddler years????
First of all, congratulations on the baby!
And secondly, I feel your pain!
The terrible twos (which usually start before the twos and last until about the fours) can be ridiculously challenging!
But take a little comfort in the fact that you are not alone.
These behaviors, the temper tantrums and the hitting and kicking, are definitely forms of communication. And if your son has learned that throwing a fit is a way to get your attention, he may be thinking this is the best way for him to relate to you.
So how to deal with these tantrums?
Well, they are power struggles. Nobody wins in a power struggle. Even though your kid is only two, you can’t really force him to do anything. There’s nothing more infuriating than chasing your kid around the house because he’s running away from you. And if you are nine months pregnant or holding an infant, that’s even more challenging.
So I have a few suggestions.
First, take a look at what you are doing. You may be encouraging them without realizing it.
Are you demanding that your son eats something or wears something or does things in a particular order (when the order of doing things isn’t so important )? If so, I would recommend offering him limited choices.
Think about the things you are willing to be flexible with. Ask him if he wants help picking out his clothes or if he’d rather choose them himself (and if the clothes don’t match but he really wants to wear them, who cares! The goal is for him to get dressed, not win a fashion competition!) Give him the option between two different kinds of cereal for breakfast — “Do you want Cheerios or Rice Krispies?”
If he says “I WANT FROSTED FLAKES!!!” kindly and firmly tell him those aren’t an option.
“I know you want Frosted Flakes, and your choices are Rice Krispies and Cheerios.”
The tantrum will likely continue. Reply with “I know you are angry. I’d probably feel the same way.” And leave it at that! It’s okay for your child to be upset.
The what can you do?
You can offer your child a hug. Sometimes your kids get worked up and they want comfort. Sometimes that helps them calm down. You could say something like, “It’s okay to be upset. I’m here and I love you. Do you want a hug?”
You can ignore the tantrum altogether.
The less you talk, the better. Just act. Put him in his crib and let him cry it out. Let him know it’s okay, and when he’s calm, you’ll try again.
Another thing you can try is to redirect him. Distract him. It’s okay to try and change his focus to stop the tantrum! “Whoah! What is that over there! Look at that bird/squirrel/cloud/whatever outside! Let’s go check it out!” Redirecting often works pretty well with younger kids.
As for the throwing stuff and the hitting and the kicking, when your kid enters the hitting phase, it can be embarrassing and infuriating and exhausting.
This is a normal thing for kids to do, and all of my kids went through this phase, some more than others.
Kids may hit for different reasons. Sometimes it’s because their feelings are hurt. I know some of my older kids will still hit each other on occasion when the other kid has pissed them off or annoyed them so much that they just snap.
But since your son isn’t talking yet, I would wager that he is feeling frustrated because he cannot communicate verbally what his feelings and frustrations are.
This is why so many kids this age hit. Because it’s the easiest way for them to communicate their frustration.
I know it’s super annoying. And I know if it happens in front of other people, you may be worried about what they are thinking about you as a parent.
As far as other people go, pardon my French, but f*ck ’em. If they ever had a toddler/preschooler, then they should get it. They’ve been there, too. We’ve all been there.
So what do you do?
You mentioned that spanking doesn’t work. I agree!
I think it is funny how people try to teach their kids that hitting isn’t okay, by, um… hitting their kids!
The fact that your husband feels differently about that than you do adds in another challenge for you.
With regard to the spanking, I am going to offer you a passage straight out of one of my favorite books, Positive Discipline A-Z, 1001 Solutions to Everyday Parenting Problems:
“Many people use the biblical admonition ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ as an excuse for spanking. Biblical scholars tell us the rod was never used to hit the sheep. The rod was a symbol of authority or leadership, and the staff or crook was used to gently prod and guide. Our children definitely need gentle guidance and prodding, but they do not need to be beated, struck, or humiliated.”
Maybe you can show that to your husband. Maybe he’s never gonna change his mind on the spanking. It’s okay. You can still deal with the behavior in a kind and firm way that teaches your son what’s appropriate behavior when he’s frustrated. He will still learn from you!
Because that’s what he needs. He needs someone to teach him how to deal with the feelings of hurt and anger and frustration without hitting.
(And when your husband sees you employing a different strategy, he might decide to try it, too.)
Until your son learns how to really express his feelings verbally, he’s gonna need help from you. So it will take a little while. But don’t worry… it will pass!
So what can you try?
Here are some alternative suggestions (taken straight from Positive Discipline A-Z ) :
- Every time your son hits/kicks you, take his hand and calmly say, “It is not okay to hit people. I’m sorry you are feeling hurt and upset. You can hit this pillow, but people aren’t for hitting.”
- Try giving him a hug before removing him from the situation. This models a loving method while showing them that hitting is not okay. Hugging does not reinforce the misbehavior!
- Use words like “Hitting hurts people. Let’s find something else you can do.”
- Show him what to do rather than telling him. Every time he tries to hit, take his hand and say “Touch nicely” while showing him how to touch nicely.
- Decide what you will do rather than trying to control your child. Let him know that every time he hits you, you will put him down and leave the room until he is ready to treat you respectfully. Then follow through and do it! Without words! Leave the room immediately.
- Later, when you and your son are calm, you can tell him something like “It really hurts when you hit me” or “That hurts my feelings. If I have done something to hurt your feelings, I would like to know about it so I can apologize. When you are ready, an apology would help me feel better.” But don’t demand or force an apology!
Doing these things once isn’t going to change or teach your son overnight. You are going to have to consistently teach and model until he is old enough to completely comprehend.
But it will take hold, and in the process you will be teaching him how to effectively handle his anger and emotions, how to self-regulate his behavior, and how to communicate with other human beings in a way that is kind, firm, and respectful.
And that’s the goal for all of us, right?
So hang in there, know that there is hope, give yourself time, remember this isn’t forever, and enjoy that new baby!