My daughter lives in New Zealand and her son is 22 months old. She told me this weekend that he has turned into a monster overnight. He throws tantrums constantly but she says he is very aggressive and hits out at her or her husband and virtually throws himself out of their arms. If they are out anywhere and he doesn’t want to leave, he throws a tantrum and the tantrum carries on and on. I would like your advice because my girls never were tantrum queens — just maybe the odd one every now and again. I used to give them a smack and put them in their rooms. As far as grandchildren go, I only have my granddaughter who lives near us to go by and she has never been a tantrum child.
Dear Marilyn, When a child the age of your grandson has tantrums, it’s because he doesn’t feel understood and/or heard. Communication skills at that age are still not fully developed. Labeling a child as a ‘monster’ is not helpful in the least, nor is hitting. If the child throws a tantrum at home, sit down near him on the floor and don’t try to touch him, but tell him “I know you are feeling bad right now and I am here if you want help.” Sounds like a mouthful for a child that age but what he (eventually) hears is that it’s ok to feel frustrated and he is loved and cared for no matter what.
If the tantrum concerns leaving some place, then he is probably having trouble with transitions and needs more warning. You can begin using a kitchen timer for transitions at home for bedtime or for mealtime if it means he has to stop what he’s doing to eat or get ready for bed. Tell him 15 minutes ahead of time that the timer will ring when it’s time for the next move. When it rings, tell him the clock says it’s time now for bed or the meal, picking up toys or whatever is meant to happen next. Soon when you take him out you can hopefully just use the words “the clock says it’s time.” It’s also a good idea to try to eliminate the word ‘no’ not because you will give him everything he wants, but often it becomes a trigger word for the tantrum. Instead tell him, “You know, I bet we could make time for that later (or another day). Let’s think about that, OK?” Slowly, but usually surely, a child will come around if the pattern is broken. However, Grandma, here’s the hard part. Wait until your daughter asks for advice before you toss all this at her. OK?
Peggy Moss (she/her), AKA "Grandma Maggie," was was a partner in BabyNames.com after she retired as an early childhood educator. Her Q&A column "Ask Grandma Maggie" is now republished with the best of Grandma Maggie’s parenting and childcare advice. She has written many eBooks about parenting issues, available at Amazon.com.
Peggy, who passed in 2014, was mother to Sue, Kate, Jennifer, and Mallory Moss, and grandmother to Ike, Peter, Miranda, and Veronica.