We’ve all heard about the terrible twos, but what if your little darling is stomping, crying and having back-arching fits on the floor and she hasn’t even hit her second birthday? “Tantrums can start as early as one year,” says Catherine Ciardulli, a toddler development expert at the North Toronto Early Years Learning Centre. But acting out at one can be very different from a seemingly similar screaming session a year later. Here’s how to deal with your toddler’s tantrums as they progress.
12 to 18 months
“Prior to one year, a child is not physically capable — nor does she have the intention — of throwing a tantrum,” says Beth Urquhart, a child care centre supervisor at The Macaulay Child Development Centre in Toronto. But around 12 to 18 months, parents will start to notice a difference between distressed crying and a tantrum.
At this age, “acting out” isn’t about getting attention. Early tantrums are an emotional outburst that occurs when a child becomes frustrated. “Toddlers are trying to become independent and accomplish tasks and communicate on their own,” says Urquhart. “But they have limited language and this can be a frustrating time for them. Acting out is their way of expressing their angst.”
18 months to 2.5 years (maybe a little older)
As your toddler gets closer to his second birthday, it will take more than simple distraction to ease a tantrum. Depending on how parents and caregivers have reacted to tantrums in the past, toddlers can begin to use acting out as a way to manipulate. “Tantrums are more purposeful with older toddlers,” says Urquhart.
All kids are different
“Don’t take it personally if your child is prone to tantrums,” says Urquhart. Children have different temperaments, and some are more likely to throw a tantrum than others. It may help to remember and repeat that tantrums are a normal part of your child’s emotional development and, yes, temporary (they tail off around age four).
Nancy Ripton, co-founder of justthefactsbaby.com, had to leave her first store a few months ago after her son had a major breakdown.