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March 04, 2009



I'm looking forward to seeing what others have to say on this topic, but here's what I can tell you from being the nanny to two little ones (18 months old right now).

I found the book "Happiest Toddler on the Block" to be more useful than the original baby one, but get it from the library, if you can, I don't think that it was worth buying. It helps to understand how their little cave-person brains work.

Elizabeth D

I think you're doing everything you can do. And you're right, don't let him think bad behavior will get him what he wants. I suspect life will improve as he acquires language -- imagine how frustrating it must be to know what you want to convey and those great big dopes (that would be you and his dad) just don't get it.

Breathe in, breathe out; repeat as needed. . . it worked for me.


I am a mom to 3 grown children and a pediatric nurse. The first thing to say is"I see how angry you are". Then "This behavior is not acceptable". LEt the child know that there are consequences for tantrums-like he can not go out with you if he behaves like that. You are right- don't let him get attention for bad behavior- Talk it over with him when he isn't having a tantrum so he can pay attention to you then follow thru with what you say.My kids loved going out with me and knew good behavior was needed to be allowed to go fun places.


I'm also curious what people will advise. My baby girl will be 1 in less than two weeks and has started shrieking and pouting if she doesn't get what she wants. Usually I just acknowledge that she's upset and then ignore it. Most of the time she stops pretty quickly and moves on to something else.

I haven't had to deal with any tantrums in public yet and that's where I'm afraid I'll cave and give her whatever she wants just so she'll be quiet. I dread becoming the mommy of the screaming child.


Robin has a take on it similar to mine. They do need to know that you hear their frustration, but at the same time, they need to learn that tantrums do not get them what they want. Removing them from the situation and putting them somewhere they are quiet and can't hurt anything is what I did. At that age I left a shopping cart full of food/stuff more than once and simply removed a child from a store. We also left restaurants. They didn't get to pitch a fit in public to get what they wanted. If a fit is pitched, the immediate destination is their room, the time out chair or whatever safe place you designate. I can remember ignoring one tantrum-y child in play group for years. We'd just step over her and continue with what we were doing while she screeched and squealed. She never got what she wanted, but her brother did get to continue to play with his friends. I guess she's a high school senior by now, and hope she stopped.

For most children, this stage is not long, and it ends when logical consequences become clear and, as Elizabeth mentioned, they are better able to articulate their needs. Once you can offer them options, they usually settle. Offering firm options (you may do this or this, which do you choose?) can also prevent whining and let the child feel at least a little bit in control of his or her life. It has to be frustrating to constantly have to do whatever the big people want, even if you'd rather nap, play with your toys, eat, or keep playing in the park.

Obviously I spent way too many years in parenting groups! But my teens don't tantrum any more, and can have reasonable discussions now. Yay.

Sue Johnson

First of all, be assured that you are not alone. This is a time honored phase that all mothers experience. Your precious little one has turned into someone you don't recognize. Unless he is exhibiting this behavior in public, i.e. church, shopping, etc., I simply would ignore it. I always walked out of the room, and, believe me, it took all I could muster to do this. I alternately wanted to comfort him and put him in the time out chair. But, I knew I couldn't reward my son's behavior. Sometimes, the tantrums would go on for what I thought was an eternity. But, eventually he wore himself out and realized that, until he stopped behaving in such a manner, Mommy wasn't coming to his rescue. Once he calmed down, I stepped right in to rectify the situation. More than anything, you just have to wait things out. This, too, shall pass.

Marti Johnson (aka Sock Queen)

I quite agree with Alyssa. After raising two daughters (seven years apart, as different as night and day), I learned that the one thing they both had in common was the nearly-two tantrums. One of them was a screamer/thrasher, and the other was a screamer/collapser. Since I tend to be a no-nonsense type of person on raising kids, the one thing I knew I didn't want to do was overreact to the bad behavior, so when they'd get out of control, I would quietly, gently remove them from where they were and place them in their bedroom to "recover". No craziness on my part, I just removed them from their "audience", and suddenly it wasn't any fun to scream and carry on without someone to see it. After the first few times of this, they learned pretty quickly that when Mom said to "stop", they had better do it since the alternative meant they'd be in their bedrooms sitting on the floor screaming with no one to care. If they did this when we were out in public, say shopping, I, or my husband, would take them to the car and let them scream out there which was never any fun to them since, again, their audience had pretty much disappeared (of course that parent had to stay out there with them which was rough on the parent but it didn't last long at all). This stage didn't last long at all, thank Heavens, and they turned into very sweet, independent young women. It was worth it.


James is seeing how far he can push the boundaries. My son ( also James ! ) used to do this regularly all through childhood approx every few months. He responded best to clear statements e.g. if you do this, then we will not do that ( i.e. something he wanted to do ). You need to be prepared to stick to your guns. Kids get confused if you threaten and then don't follow through.
Smacking absolutely does not work with kids like this ( not that I'm suggesting you would for a minute! )
Another suggestion - check his sugar intake and also what he drinks. My James was intolerant of orange food colouring - the worst tantrum ever was after he had been on a play date and drunk orange squash. He actually frightened himself with his own behaviour.
If it's any consolation he will get through it. Better to have a lively child than one who won't test the boundaries. My son is now a charming adult who loves his Mum and can be guaranteed to behave impeccably.


As the mom to two girls (now ages 11 and 13) we got through the "terrible" twos and threes and whatever by doing a lot of ignoring. My younger daughter was tougher than my older. She was so very frustrated because she couldn't get us to understand what was going on in her head. You could see the "wheels of her brain" turning and then she would say some almost words. If we couldn't understand them she would go totally nuts! A friend taught me to always acknowledge what they were feeling with words. "I see you are very angry, frustrated (whatever) right now..." My friend called it "Active Listening". She said that by saying words it helps the kids understand what they are feeling and helps them find their words. It really helped because eventually my daughter would say "I angwy...". The screaming stopped when she made herself understood. We also used the same phrase EVERY TIME they spoke in a tone or way that we didn't care for (read that to mean WHINING!) We would say "Mommy (or Daddy) doesn't hear whining. You need to say that again in your nice voice". My older daughter used to say it to my little one, "You know, Mommy doesn't hear whining, etc. etc." We basically laid the foundation for a (most of the time...) whine free household. I love my kids very much but I can't stand the whining. We decided that we weren't going to hear that...It worked pretty well. We then moved into the "no back talk" household. Which is where we are now. I listen to anything they say to me but I won't respond, hear, acknowledge, react to back talk. It doesn't get them anything but a very pissed off mother so they don't do it. I'm a realist though, they don't do it today, tomorrow is a whole 'nuther story. ;-) I truly think the most important thing with kids (toddlers especially) is consistency. React the same way to the unwanted behavior, don't let him see you get freaked out, give him (and yourself if necessary - I did it all the time) a time out if necessary. I lived through the tantrums and so will you. Good luck!! You are doing great!



I'm not a mom, but I remember my youngest brother had HORRIBLE tantrums. Like tantrums that we had never seen before. (And he's the youngest of 6!) It turns out, like Helen's child, that it was a reaction to food coloring, green in his case. But these were EXTREME tantrums.

Good luck getting through a difficult time. He'll be 18 before you know it. ~_^


One thing that might really help is if you worked on sign language with him. My daughter got some DVD's by a woman who has a hearing impaired child & had to teach all of her children sign language. I think it's called Baby Signs. Part of James frustration (& yours) is that he just can't communicate with you. Learning sign will help a boat load with that. Also, it may be really hard to do but I always found that the best way to get a child to behave the way you want him/her to behave is to ignore behavior you don't like & lavishly reward behavior you want to encourage. As long as he is somewhere where he can't hurt himself, just let him scream & wail & thrash about all he wants. Act as if you don't even see it. If need be, walk into another room & take a deep breath. When he does something that you want to encourage, praise him long & loud. Acting like this will seem unnatural (because frankly it is) but you will be amazed at the results. James will fairly quickly learn that, if he wants something from you (or daddy), he needs to act in a calm, pleasant way. I followed the teachings of Dr. Fitzhugh Dodson (long dead) when my girls were little & cannot praise him enough. The basis of his philosophy of child rearing is natural & logic consequences (can be used throughout childhood - not just for toddlers). "How to Father" is his most well known book (advice is not gender specific, he just wanted fathers to feel like they could benfit from his book too) & I highly recommend it if you can find a copy.


My older daughter always wanted to go for walks and would have A screaming fit when it was time to go in.We lived on the third floor and I would have to carry her up the stairs while she screamed bloody murder. I would just lay her on the floor ,step over her and start dinner.She would calm down and this did not last long.I have to laugh now because my daughter has A little girl A month older than James and she gets very frustrated when her daughter has A tantrum.When they get more verbal they will not have tantrums.As long as they are healthy,not cutting teeth,earaches, Just try to be patient.It's your preview to the teenage years!


Once you have ruled out possible physical causes, e.g. chronic ear pain or gastrointestinal issues, one thing you have to remind yourself of (hard as it may be) is that the child is frustrated and out of control, which feeds the problem. I was always very firm and most importantly CONSISTENT with holding an unwavering line of never acknowledging whining in any child , whether mine or not, and exhibiting a clear reaction that the behavior will be dealt with, but not considered acceptable. There were no bribes, rewards or alteration of a planned path just because of the tantrum. There is an element of control built in (and I believe children are way smarter and manipulative, even at an early age, than they are given credit for) and it is important that the parent maintain the control seat at this stage of life. My children rarely had tantrums and I think it was because I was conscious, on a daily basis and in calm times, to build elements of self control into their behavior repertoire...a child cannot be expected to learn the lesson or have the skill when they are unravelling before your eyes....try to be proactive before the meltdown. Give James little opportunities to practice self control ever day, if is merely waiting an extra minute for something or taking a turn or choosing at an appropriate circumstance for someone his age..then he will know there are times for him and times for you to be the "bottom line"--


I have 4 children 25, 19 (girls) and two boys 13 and 12 (15 months apart)
the boys were definately more challenging for me. My 13 yr old has a stubborness about him. My 12 yr old was very moody since birth (due to depression on my part) He is doing well now :). You definately need patience. Some 2 yr olds cannot express themselves well. I have found - yes letting them know their behavior is not acceptable and you will not respond till he stops. Timeouts work really well. Which means you cannot talk to him or give him any attention till his time out is done - then we can 'talk' - kids learn quickly for sure. Time out is usually a minute per age. So for him 2 min - which let me tell you to a child is eternity. My kids hated it. But they learned that if they want something they needed to learn to respond in a different manner - which they learned to do . It is a work in process. I worked with my 12 yr old for years - he is now able to control his anger - his emotions , take time out for himself and do something and then come back and talk about what he was feeling and why and what we could do or do different next time. Patience is the key. It does pay off in the end. Children are a blessing indeed :)
Best wishes to you
Vanessa in Upstate NY

Debbie Cohen

I am currently the nanny of two 4-year old twin girls, but I started taking care of them when they were two. Before that I was a preschool teacher for 18 years, about half of them in a 2 year old class. In my opinion, the worst thing parents do is "overtalk" or "overreason" with their children. By the time a child has reached meltdown they cannot be reasoned with. Removing a child from the situation and placing them in a safe environment...time out or their room... and firmly walking away gives them a chance to gain control over themselves and "get a grip". Children don't enjoy losing control anymore than adults and are usually contrite afterwards. When the "storm" has passed calmness on the parents or caregivers part is crucial. Anger and acusations are non-productive. Dealing with this at a young age gives children a better foundation for dealing with their frustrations calmly later in life. Be firm but fair. Listen but don't give in. Offer positive choices not open ended decisions. And don't ask questions or offer choices unless you are willing to go along. Sorry this is so long...but my 4 year old charges have a 6 year old sister who I wish I had a chance to "educate" before she became the "spoiled brat" that she has become. Undoing her bad attitude has not been easy!

Ruth in Houston

Every child is different. My son wasn't so bad during his 2's....not what you wanted to hear...His worst year was when he was in the 7th grade ...eeek. So maybe the trade off is that once your tyke makes it past his 2's it will be smooth sailing the rest of his/your life.


Firstly, be assured: yes, it passes. Duration varies on the child, but yes, it passes.

Sounds like you're doing a good job so far, just keep it up. It's important to find a balance between your own sanity and his need to explore boundaries etc.

A friend of mine has a 3-year-old and hand-written sign posted in her kichen: "Respond, don't react." The subtle difference is a good reminder.


Do what my mom did: Southern Comfort, valium and then pregnancy. In that order.


That's why I loved your mom so, Ashley! She knew how to party....


I see I'm the only one who is going to say this, but I would be less than honest if I didn't.

I'm old school. My daughter threw one tantrum when she was about two - throwing herself down on the floor, screaming, banging her head on the wall - the whole spectrum of bad behavior. I waited a few minutes and then very calmly reached down, picked her up, swatted her on the butt once, told her "NO" in a very stern voice, and it was over. She never threw one again.

I don't think many children that young respond to reasoning. You're not talking to an adult; you're talking to a very young person who doesn't have those skills. Am I espousing corporal punishment? Not at all. But a swat on the butt doesn't amount to that. Nothing drives me crazier than eating in a restaurant and having a parent trying to reason with a screaming two-year old. I've also seen parents ignore their screaming children in a store and act like nothing was going on. It sure makes everybody else's shopping trips enjoyable.

My child is now 31 and dealing with her own twin four and a half year olds. She won't discipline them, so they know they can get away with anything around her. Her grandmother (me), great-grandmother (my mother), and great-great grandmother (my grandma) are also old school. They know their boundaries with us. Are they afraid of us? Nope. They just know that certain things aren't allowed.

Children thrive when boundaries are set. They like knowing what's allowed and what isn't. It makes for an environment that's secure for them.

JMHO. But it's worked for five generations of children in my family.


I have to agree with mwknitter about the Baby Signing Times videos. (Can be purchased, but try your library or interlibrary loan too.) They learn to speak with their hands until the words come. It is magical! We started my grandson on them when he was 1, but they can be started earlier or later... he still loves them at 3.

My DIL & son amazed me with their own communication too... "good listener!" and "I know you're upset, but you have to calm down and use your words." Another thing I find incredibly effective is that they also use this count-down method when things are going to end... "5 more minutes and then we're going to go home" "2 more minutes of video, then we're turning the TV off," etc.

Limit choices to two... either A or B.

I adore Nanny 911 on TV, too. Do you get it there?

Barb Rickman

Be patient. Don't give in when he is throwing a fit because you said "no" or he is not allowed something he wants. Walk away and don't pay attention to his bad behavior. Restrain him if he starts throwing things (as my sons did) and segregate him if he begins the rolling on the floor and jumping up and down. He is trying to get control, as all humans nature seems to want to do.

If he is not sick, allergic to something, then he is making a power play. This will not stop, believe me!! As he grows the power plays will get more elaborate and clever, but, God game moms a certain radar that looks through these. You are getting practice now on how to spot the power plays and which ones he tends to use. Make mental notes. Use wisdom, discipline and self control.

Allison. You will survive it all. Tell him you love him after he calms down. Hug him and tell him why you did not let him do as he pleased. He will respect you later in life, as both of my sons have.


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