Toddler Tantrums: From Destructive to Constructive

By Amanda Roland

We all have our moments. Moments when emotions get the best of us, anger consumes us and scream-crying seems to be the only appropriate response. As adults, we can (hopefully) control these emotions and constructively deal with them. However, our kiddos can have a hard time sorting through their emotions, leading to tantrums, screaming contests and tornado-like destruction of the living room. At times, even our little angel babies could give the Tasmanian Devil a run for his money.

This is why the “terrible twos” seem so terrible. “Two-year-olds undergo major motor, intellectual, social and emotional changes,” according to an article by the Mayo Clinic. “Children at this age can understand much more speech than they can express — a factor that contributes to emotions and behaviors that are difficult for parents to interpret.”

This communication barrier can be just as frustrating for the child as it is for the parents, as every adult knows what it is like to be misunderstood. The difference is toddlers think that destruction and explosive behavior is a good way to tell you that they are upset and frustrated. And, if your child is exhibiting behavior that is extreme or could be harmful to themselves or others, it may be time to talk to your pediatrician.

It’s important to remember that every toddler is unique, so the toddler stage will look different for everyone and might not include any destructive behavior at all! Mary Strauch, local mom of two, had a completely different experience with both of her children.

When Strauch’s son was 18 months old, he was triggered by everything, couldn’t be consoled and started to digress from other kids in his age group. “You can tell when something is not right,” she said. She documented his behavior, and he was later diagnosed with Autism after seeing a specialist. Strauch’s daughter on the other hand went the defiant route — spitting out the food she didn’t want to eat, throwing off the clothes she didn’t want to wear and dancing around during time out. “I slowly learned that a lot of that was personality and her being her own person, she just didn’t have a healthy way to express it,” she said.

The good thing is that the terrible twos (and threes) don’t last forever. Most children grow out of their tantrum and destruction phase as their language skills improve. Once their communication becomes more effective, it will be easier to know and understand how they are feeling — leading to more constructive behavior instead of destructive.

Avoid big blowouts by using these tips:

• Create a safe space for your toddler. If you sense a tantrum coming, try to move your kiddo away from throwable objects, find an open space and have ideas on hand to help calm them down.

• Don’t let your emotions get in the way. Your frustration and anger could make the situation worse. Remember you are the adult.

• Recognize your child’s positive behavior! A simple “good job!” will go a long way.


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