February 24, 2005
Combine a car alarm, fingernails on a chalkboard and a hurricane, and that comes close to a 2-year-old’s temper tantrum.
As stressful as tantrums can be for parents, however, try seeing it from the child’s point of view.
Without the words to express themselves, and overwhelmed by their emerging role in their enormous world, toddlers use temper tantrums to convey a range of emotions, including fear and frustration.
"It’s lack of communication on the child’s part. They just don’t have the vocabulary or inner control," said Wendy Engelmann, a retired Chandler preschool director who volunteers at the East Valley Family Resource Center in Mesa.
"It’s the parent’s job to teach them appropriate ways to express those feelings."
For Sami Trombetta, it also helped to get in touch with her own feelings. Parenting classes at the Family Resource Center provided that self-examination, a play group for son David and the realization that lots of families are struggling with the same issues.
"Some of his behaviors, others kids were also doing," she said.
"The talking back, the power struggles. I still have trouble with it. I just take it day by day."
Two-year-olds are just beginning to see themselves as separate human beings who can make their own decisions. Exploring is their job, and it’s up to parents to set clear, consistent boundaries and provide constant supervision.
"Children need rules and boundaries," Engelmann said. "It’s very scary when they’re in charge or they have too much power. They don’t know what to do with it."
Give them choices to feed into their budding autonomy, but keep it simple. Don’t ask what they want for breakfast; offer a choice between cereal and scrambled eggs.
Children will learn to respond to anger and frustration the way they see grown-ups do it, Engelmann said, so modeling appropriate behavior is important for parents and caregivers.
Still, don’t expect perfection in your children, or yourself. Curious, impulsive toddlers will sometimes misbehave no matter what, but don’t take it personally. They’re most likely to act up or scream "I hate you!" at the person with whom they feel safest.
"If you’re the average loving parent, collect all your guilt and throw it out the door," Engelmann said. "You do the best at the time with what you’ve got."