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My son just turned 2, and he started throwing more tantrums on us.

He doesn't eat well or drink enough milk ... and he is becoming more adamant and says "No" more often. If we force him to drink milk, he cries, cries, and cries louder. His mom is getting frustrated with his crankiness. She is trying timeouts and sometimes spanking. We don't want to do these things. This is our first child.

How do we deal with this phase of tantrums he is going through?

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Stop the spanking straight away; a tantrum is not 'naughty' or 'bad behaviour' - it is a sign of their frustration and inability to communicate their needs to you in an effective way. –  JBRWilkinson May 8 '11 at 12:20
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@JBRWilkinson .. Are you kidding? Of course a tantrum is bad behavior. It may well be the sign as you suggest, but it is still bad behavior, and should be dealt with as such. –  tomjedrz May 31 '11 at 17:53
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@tomjedrz No, it really isn't bad behaviour, not in the sense we usually mean to use the term. Bad behaviour would assume there is some sort of alternative, good behaviour the child should do instead. There probably isn't - it's an expression of emotion they don't know how to convey in other matter. Punishing would be only trying to deal with result, not the underlying cause. Since there is no alternative model of emotional expression the punishment could direct towards, it will at "best" lead to surpressing the emotion, which isn't a good idea at all for the child's social development. –  Ilari Kajaste Jun 6 '11 at 16:58
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@tomjedrz I think you misunderstood me, sorry for being unclear. My point has nothing to do with labeling the child or the child's self esteem. Talking about "bad" behaviour suggest to us people reading this that there's an alternative, "good" behaviour. This suggest the problem is in child's control, and it isn't. So while it is superficially indeed "bad" to throw a tantrum, talking about bad behaviour in that contect will not lead to solving the problem in any satisfactory way, so it should be avoided. –  Ilari Kajaste Jun 10 '11 at 15:10
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@tomjedrz And yes, like it or not, the consensus these days seems to be that being able to express emotions is indeed important for emotional development. I could probably point you to some studies with a bit of work, but, really, I don't want to start playing that game. So if links to studies would be what you'd need to be convinced, as far as I care you're free to not believe it - in that case I'll just agree we have mismatching premises as I'll leave it at that. –  Ilari Kajaste Jun 10 '11 at 15:12

17 Answers 17

I like the top poster's response on providing limited choices. "Do you want to walk or be carried to your room" "No answer? ok then I guess we'll carry you".

One thing I noticed is that if you give two choices, my kid would choose the second one 70% of the time at that age.

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Here are some of the tactics on how to deal with tantrums from http://www.supernanny.co.uk/Advice/-/Parenting-Skills/-/Discipline-and-Reward/No-More-Tantrums.aspx:

  1. Speak calmly with your child, reassure him or her that you are there and you don't want them to hurt themselves
  2. Make an eye contact with your child and hold them tightly
  3. Let the storm weather until your child calms down
  4. If it is not possible for the child to calm down, bring him into a time-out corner where your child is safe like a pushchair or play pen where he can stay for several minutes

You can also visit the site, so you would know how to tantrum-proof your home

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Say, "this is not going to help you get what you want. When you are ready to calm down come see me". Then walk away. A child should not get ANYTHING for their tantrums, attention included. If you are in a public space and can't walk away, simply pick up the child and go to a safe place where you can sit and read or something while the child finishes his/her fit. If you are consistent and the tantrums stop working for your child, the tantrums will stop.

THEN, once the tantrum is over, you do need to give your child alternative ways to express the emotions he or she was demonstrating with the fit. Name the emotion for the child, "I know you are dissapointed" or "angry" or "frustrated" - whatever it is that is the best fit. Then ask your child if he/she can provide any ideas for a way to express that emotion that is "more appropriate." If they can't think of anything - instruct your child in an alternative. Have your child practice a little, "so now what do you do next time you feel dissapointed?"

I general, make sure you are really listening and working on building your relationship. Giving kids a sense of belonging and understanding they can trust helps as learn to express emotions in more constructive ways because it is how you show them that how they are feeling matters to you and throwing a fit isn't the best way to get their feelings across.

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I very much agree that it helped when I explained to my son that we didn't want to help him when he is throwing a tantrum. Often times (but not always) he then visibly exerts some self control, wipes away some tears, and explains again what he wanted. Of course when he did do this we heaped on the compliments. –  Armando Mar 3 '13 at 6:17

Tantrums occur when a person (of any age) realizes that their view of the world and reality are not the same. When a child has a tantrum, the child is struggling to cope with this difference, and adjusting their world view.

It is important for children to feel safe and loved, especially when they are having trouble coping with a reality that they can't cope with. When a child has an outburst, he or she is communicating to you that there is a problem. While you may not agree that the problem matters, it is important for you to acknowledge that to them, it is a serious problem. (Otherwise they will keep trying to tell you or anyone! Once the child knows you hear their pain, she or he doesn't have to broadcast it anymore. The trick to achieving quiet is to seriously let the child know that you understand the gravity of the situation in a way he or she understands.

Once the child sees that you get it, he or she will relax for a moment to give you a chance to solve the problem. (eg tell them that they don't have to drink the milk, leave the park, stop taking their sister's toy, playing with the oven etc.) This is when you have to either solve it or give them a coping mechanism.

About coping mechanisms. First identify your own. What do you do when you're stressed? drink tea, yell, have some quiet alone time to cool down, take deep breaths, call a friend, cry, go for a run, meditate, swear, drink or smoke....

Next identify which ones are appropriate for your upset child: take deep breaths, cry, have some quiet alone time to cool down.

The key is to teach your child to use these coping techniques on a regular basis, when she is not stressed. Then, when it's tantrum time, you can redirect.

Here's more from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

Also, choose your battles. Nutritionally and medically, two year olds don't need to drink cow's milk. Some 2 year olds have lactose intolerance. There is no need for milk after infancy. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a policy statement about preventing obesity in children.

It recommends that parents choose what foods are served, when mealtime is, and where it is served. Children get to decide whether they eat or drink, and how much.

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I try and do the thing they most dislike. We don't use violence in the house, so we use other methods.

I have found that the best way, in order to punish a child, for us, is to remove some favoured toys/activities form them for a couple of days, reminding them at appropriate times why they are missing them.

As for tantrums, only one of our children ever had tantrums (I quickly found shouting at any kids extremely counter productive). The only thing that would calm her down, would be to get to her level (not lifting her), hold her hands (gently by her side) and explain in a very level, and calm voice, it wasn't acceptable; I'd hug them and tell them you loved them as well. 99/100 it worked, with her, distraction is also a good method, but if the mood has swung, this can rarely get a child out of it.

However, in Waitrose, I have had to put her in a quickly produced naughty corner (aptly by the Brussels sprouts) during one tantrum. To be frank, they quickly stopped.

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Personal note on brussel sprouts. They make me sick. As a kid I was told to eat them. I would throw them up. Pay attention - sometimes the kid's food preferences have a real reason behind them and you shouldn't be pushing them. –  btilly May 10 '11 at 0:24
    
Billy - My wife makes us all eat Brussel Sprouts at xmas and I promise you, it's only love that makes me do it; they're vile. Dont let me start on Cauliflower... –  Hairy May 10 '11 at 6:47
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+1 for getting to her level and calmly telling her that it's unacceptable. I also say something like "I understand that you don't want to eat that now, but that's what everybody else is eating." –  Gabe May 11 '11 at 19:07
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"I try and do the thing they most dislike. We don't use violence in the house, so we use other method." To me, this is violence. It is not physical, but it is controlling and leads to a culture of bullying IMHO. The big people are in control of the little people, and they get to pull the strings to manipulate the little ones. Instead, connect with your child(ren). Say "This isn't working for me, what can we do about it?" Solve the problem, not the symptoms. –  Christine Gordon Nov 14 '12 at 15:03

Making him the center of attention when he doesn't get his way (by letting his tantrum get the best of you and completely derail your behavior and your happiness) is just a recipe for more tantrums.

Why are you provoking a confrontation to begin with? He doesn't want to drink milk? So what. Give him a few healthy alternatives (milk, water, limited juice). He won't starve himself. If he doesn't want to drink, don't force him, just take the drinks away, and don't offer them again until the next scheduled snack or meal. He'll learn to take advantage of what's offered when it's offered, and to exercise choice over the responsible range of choices that you allow.

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Up voted for the obvious answer of "pick your battles". –  DanBeale Jan 22 at 15:54

One note about expectations. There are places and times where we can expect toddlers to behave. Dad has to go to the grocery store. But there are places/events where it is unreasonable to expect a toddler to behave. The kid isn't going to behave through the 3 hours wedding reception. Don't put the kid in situations where failure is likely.

Why on earth parents bring toddlers to adult restaurants and adult events and then blame the toddler when it doesn't work is beyond me.

As far as PREVENTING the tantrum, I completely agree that being aware of sleep/nap/play/eat schedules and behavioral triggers is important. If the kid is usually sleeping at 2pm, Wal*Mart is going to be tough. When you are pushing the envelope, a preventative, encouraging reward can be very effective. --> "I know you are getting tired. If you behave in the store, {blah} after your nap."

DURING the tantrum, there are really two goals that the parent has to keep in mind.

  • End the behavior NOW.
  • Prevent the behavior from recurring.

Many of the responses discussed (distract, give them something, etc.) may end the behavior NOW, but will have the likely (unintended?) consequence of encouraging it again. Toddlers learn amazingly fast, and one thing they learn is how to get Mommy and Daddy to give them what they want. The tantrum needs to be ended in a way that doesn't reinforce the behavior.

The following worked well with my strong-willed (now 18) daughter through the toddler years, when she was acting out.
1- A small bit of discomfort .. a Vulcan pinch to the shoulder flesh or a single slap to the forearm or thigh. This doesn't so much cause pain as it breaks the tantrum cycle. It only takes a second for the kid to stop.
2- Then a choice .. "stop screaming or {blah}".
3- If the kid calls your bluff, {blah}.


NOTE about the discomfort: I am not encouraging "violence". Don't give pain out of anger. But the tantrum/shouting/screaming cycle has to be broken. If the kid is screaming or crying or shouting, noise won't work, and you certainly don't want to get into a shouting match with your kid. A slight bit of pain is exceptionally effective at interrupting the tantrum.

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Rather than the pinch you suggest, how about a tight bear hug? –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Aug 13 '11 at 7:29
    
@TorbenGB .. try it .. the goal is to break through emotional intensity. If it works great. –  tomjedrz Sep 23 '11 at 14:13
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Yes, except I would ask the child for a hug. –  Christine Gordon Nov 14 '12 at 15:01
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And, it is not just preventing tantrums, though I agree fully here with the adult's role in this. But also to teach a child how to self-calm, and self-soothe once they are so emotional. This is the key to helping kids be more successful as they age - speaking as someone who works in youth development with large groups. Kids need to be able to self-regulate so that they can calm down after recess, control their temper etc. They do this by practicing, and by watching you model it! –  Christine Gordon Nov 14 '12 at 19:02
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The questioner is stating a wish to avoid spankings, which to me, indicates a wish to avoid corporal punishment or any form of hitting or, yes, violence. Even if your suggestions do not truly cause physical pain, they do cause emotional pain and DO NOT HELP THE CHILD LEARN A MORE PRODUCTIVE WAY TO EXPRESS WHAT IT IS THEY ARE TRYING TO EXPRESS. –  balanced mama Nov 14 '12 at 23:30

two remarks at first (especially for people who consider spanking a helpful way for dealing with tantrums or do not see an alternative):

Try to find out about the Giraffe language concept (compassionate communication, sometimes also known as "non-violent communication") developed by Marshall B. Rosenberg. I don't know good sources in english. I bought a 3-DVD-set with a seminar held by M. Rosenberg and already watching it (and him) was very helpful for better understanding others (also children) and better knowing how to deal with them and their wishes and needs. By a quick google search I found this link - maybe it helps you to find videos (highly recommended!) or books by Rosenberg:
http://www.listeningway.com/giraffe.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_Rosenberg

I discovered this concept some months ago and I am far from always and everywhere using it, but every little step helps getting along better with others.

"non-violent" does not mean that you have to sustain or tolerate everything, that others want - no way! But it helps to better express your needs and to better find out what need does the other person make him do what he currently does.
(Maybe he does not know or is not conscious himself at the moment, why he does what he does and that should be especially true for small children.)


Second suggestion: There are some very interesting books about raising kids by the Danish Author Jesper Juul, who also focusses on better communication and understanding what the child really wants and needs (which again does not mean that the parents have to do everything the child wants, but on the contrary that the parents also must take care of themselves and their relationship to create a positive atmosphere at home). -> http://www.jesperjuul.com/forside_uk.asp

I'd also recommend searching for listening to or watching interviews with him (available on the net), as his ideas and points of view are very "illuminating" IMHO.


Our son has a very strong will and he can be extremely bullheaded (I hope it's the right term, I took it from the dictionary).

It is very difficult to deal with such a tantrum and we had and have lots of them. IMHO:

  • Never react with violence!! - spanking is never a good solution for a problem or argument - neither with other adults nor with a child.
    Imagine what your child learns: "If somebody does not do what I want, I'll hit him."
  • Take a deep breath - this helps you to not get angry that quickly, and on the other hand it might show your child that (a) you have found a way to control your emotion and (b) that it might be the right time to stop what he/she does.
    Sometimes when I really really would love to scream at my son as he is driving me nuts, I manage to take a very deep breath (which he can even hear when he does not see me at the moment) and sometimes (not always) he then knows that he's gone to far and might calm down a bit.
  • Be consequent: if the child once learned that he/she got what he/she wanted by a tantrum, it will try again this "successful concept". So IMHO it should never get what it otherwise would not have got by screaming or a tantrum.
  • Talk Try to explain him/her, when he/she has calmed down: we can discuss everything in a friendly way, but you will not get everything "more" by screaming or rolling on the floor in the supermarket.
  • Distraction sometimes works. I think that works for some children better, however with our son it was and is very difficult: if he once is on the "frustration route", it is very hard to get him back to "normal" friendly behavior.

I think, the child has to learn how to deal with his frustration.
You can and should help him/her by showing, how you do that yourself (and spanking is a good example for showing how not to do it!) and you can try to explain him better ways for "discussing" that he wants other things.

And (as others also suggested): Proposing (a limited number of) alternatives may help showing the child that he/she can decide what he/she wants to eat/drink and that not everything in life is decided by the parents - which (the latter) I could imagine leads to a feeling of helplessness and frustration.

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I think it really depends on the kid, but one thing that has worked with our youngest is to have them give up a toy. If they are in an uncontrollable state, we let him know that if he doesn't calm down in x minutes, then he's going to have to choose one of his toys to donate (or you could just have the toy go on 'timeout').

Even the act of having to pick out an old McDonalds toy he hasn't played with in years at the bottom of his toy box is enough to give him pause. It's worked fairly well with us.

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I imagine that that works for some children. However, don't think that such a punishment is a good way of dealing with tantrums - finally, taking the child away something of his possessions is just another way of violence, isn't it? –  BBM Jun 11 '11 at 4:45
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Some may say it's mean, I suppose. It's certainly not violence, though. –  DA01 Jun 11 '11 at 4:48
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it is not physical violence, but IMHO forcing someone doing what he does not want (because you have more power) is kind of violence. For making our son learning tidying his toys each evening before going to bed, we moved everything he did not want to tidy up himself up on the wardrobe, where it stayed for least 24 hours (and was not available for playing). After some weeks with discussions and tears it "worked" very well, but looking back (after having learned about M. Rosenbergs and J. Juuls concepts), I regret that and I fear that such methods damage the relationship to the child. :-( –  BBM Jun 11 '11 at 5:18
    
Maybe we have different dictionaries, but if it's not physical, then it doesn't fit the definition of 'violence' in my dictionary. Also, "forcing someone to do something they don't want to" is a big part of parenting. Granted, what that 'force' is can be debated. –  DA01 Jun 11 '11 at 5:24
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p.s. I'd recommend finding videos of seminars with Rosenberg (I bought a 3DVD-set for only 9 EUR and it was very helpful.) or interviews with J. Juul. Their examples are really interesting and convincing IMHO. And much of "the trick" is seeing the position and situation of the child instead of only seeing what the parents want or consider "good" for their child. –  BBM Jun 11 '11 at 5:34

When he is on a tantrum, turn away. do not watch, do not relate, do not respond, do not react and definitely do not spank. Train your brain to think he phases out of existence when he starts the tantrums and phases in again when he stops. After a while he will lose the incentive to start tantrums, which are really really a spectacular all-cylinder-firing, 3-ring-circus "Hey! all attention to me!" technique.

It's not easy, but it's a sure and safe way to deal with tantrums.

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It's hard to simply ignore the tantrum when it takes place in a public place. In many public tantrum scenarios, I think it would be highly inappropriate to subject everyone else to the joys of a screaming temper tantrum while you calmly wait your child out. –  Beofett Jun 10 '11 at 19:58
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I can tell you my kid had a screaming tantrum (at 2.5) while in Disney World, with hundreds of people walking next to us. We stood by our kid, watched him scream, watched everyone watching him scream and encouraging us "don't worry it ends at some point". We did not spank, we didn't scream back, we just looked at him go, and waited for him to calm down, which he did. That was one of his last tantrums. –  ron M. Jun 21 '11 at 14:22
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Amusement parks catering specifically to young children are somewhat atypical. Tolerance of screaming tantrums will almost certainly be much higher there than in environments that aren't specifically tailored to cater to children (such as restaurants, stores, malls, etc.). –  Beofett Jun 21 '11 at 14:37
    
And in the meantime your kid inflicts all manner of unpleasantness on those around you unable to ignore it. Who exactly is in charge in your family? Part of parenting is teaching your child respect for your authority and that inappropriate actions have consequences. Your child is learning neither when you ignore his tantrums. –  tomjedrz Mar 28 '12 at 3:36

2 year olds are most definitely not concious and are not always able to control their behavior!!!! Why do you want to teach your child that it us ok to hit or use violence? There are many good suggestions here that are kinder, compassionate, and humane. Tantrums although sometimes avoidable, are part and parcel of toddlerhood.

When my son has a tantrum, they usually don't last long, especially if he knows I will not budge. The problem we (the parents) have created (NOT the child's problem or fault!) is that we've waffled too much on decisions so he's learned that if he cries and throws a fit, he can sometimes get his way. If I'm firm in my decision and neutral, the tantrum usually passes fairly quickly.

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I totally agree with the second paragraph. Never give in to the tantrum! As to the first paragraph, perhaps you are right about toddlers being unable to control their behavior, but they will never learn to until we start teaching and conditioning. –  tomjedrz Sep 23 '11 at 14:15
    
Yes, except our children are not insects. They don't need "conditioning." They need love, support, encouragement, safety, trust, etc. Control invites resentment/rebellion/etc, connection invites cooperation. –  Christine Gordon Nov 14 '12 at 15:05

This answer may get me some downvotes, but I don't care. Ignoring bad behavior is sometimes a good strategy, but it is not always practical. If your child is throwing a screaming tantrum in a crowded restaurant, are you going to ignore it and allow everyone else to suffer? No. Use a switch (something that will not cause any damage) on the back of the legs when the toddler acts out so he understands that a tantrum = pain. This is not a spanking or a punishment, it's just simple behavior modification. Once he understands this, he will have incentive to find better ways to express his frustrations and wants. Throwing a tantrum does not mean your child is incapable of expressing himself it just means he is taking the "easy" way out because it works and he has no reason to try anything else. It only takes a few switchings and the tantrums will stop and he will start to express himself more appropriately. Children who are allowed to throw tantrums turn into bullies. You wouldn't ignore bullying behavior, so don't ignore a tantrum.

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You answer implies that toddlers have full control of their behavior and can stop at any time. I don't think it is true. Better way to deal with tantrums in public spaces would be to take the child outside and deal with tantrum there. –  jny May 10 '11 at 13:53
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Downvote. I don't think associating anything with pain is a good idea. Consequences later in life are not predictable. –  jny May 10 '11 at 13:55
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If we were talking about an infant I would agree with you. But in this case, the child is 2 years old and plenty capable of self-control. I reiterate that ignoring the behavior by taking the child outside to "get it all out" is not practical if there are extenuating circumstances like a thunderstorm. It also teaches the child that he can control his parents and the situation by throwing a tantrum. –  j.rightly May 10 '11 at 14:02
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My be in a normal situation 2 year olds more or less are capable of self-control. Tantrums usually happen when they are tired and/or hungry. Not every adult is capable of self-control in this situations. Most of the times it is possible to find a place for a child to have a tantrum. You can always take them to your car. If there are really no option, it is not a standard situation, and you have to redirect or leave the place. But using pain will get you nowhere –  jny May 10 '11 at 14:36
    
It is a punihment, and it is a spanking, of sorts. I think the incentive it gives is don't piss dad off, or embarrass him in a crowded restaurant, as he gets pissed and hits me. Behaviour modification does sound a bit 1984. I have no issues with putting them in a newly assembled naughty corner, even in a restaurant (I have done this in a supermarket and church), but associating his behaviour with pain is not a good idea, not at all. –  Hairy Jul 18 '11 at 7:26

The only piece I would add to the excellent answers so far is that these techniques will also work for the later phases when tantrums may sneak back.

There are various stages when children want to do things they either physically can't or know they aren't supposed to and want want to push boundaries.

Redirection, ignoring them and sending them to their room are almost as appropriate for a ten year old as a two year old, so find techniques which aren't too stressful for you as parents and remember them.

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sending to the room is punishment enough, usually. What sort of punishment are you wanting to give a ten year old? –  Rory Alsop May 31 '11 at 18:27
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Maybe it teaches (though I was say manipulates) your child into not throwing tantrums, but I think mostly it shows your child that in this world, when you are bigger, you can control somebody smaller. To me, that is the root of the bullying problem we see today. Instead, why not connect with your child and work to address the issue because you are both human and in this together? "This is not working for me, how can we solve this?" with a 10 year old would invite them to feel a sense of belonging and significance in your family, and she won't have to look for it elsewhere later as a teen. –  Christine Gordon Nov 14 '12 at 15:00
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Discipline is not the same as punishment. –  Christine Gordon Nov 14 '12 at 15:50
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And I didn't say discipline is bullying. I said that punishment teaches a child that in our society the bigger and stronger have the control and power simply because they are bigger and stronger. THAT leads to a culture of bullying such as the one we are seeing in our schools and elsewhere. Instead, discipline is teaching your child how to do the right thing, even when you are not there to threaten them (or bribe them). Control invites resentment/rebellion, connection invites cooperation. Family meetings, making agreements, encouragement, etc. Those are my tools. –  Christine Gordon Nov 14 '12 at 19:00
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@Rory Alsop, It may seem that way, but there's a lot of evidence that one thing punishment/authoritarian parenting teaches children is how to be sneakier and lie better. I hope this is not the case for you, but it well may be. Think back to a time when you were punished. What did you learn? Probably either that your parents are mean or don't understand you. Or that next time you won't get caught. Or that you are a bad person. None of these are what I would want to teach children, and none of them have anything to do with the actual incident. Punishments takes the focus to the relationship. –  Christine Gordon Nov 16 '12 at 5:35

We have a similarly strong-willed, opinionated toddler. A few additional tactics to suggest here:

  1. Redirection -- this works a lot of the time. Our child can't communicate well but usually I can tell what he wants (e.g. more cereal before dinner). I will "misunderstand" him and throw a redirect, e.g. "oh you want to help take the onions out to help me prepare dinner!!" (onions being near the cereal). Many times, this novel, more exciting idea gets him hooked and he nods and we're off not doing the thing I didn't want him to do. Also have tried the "look over there, an airplane!!" trick in different ways, e.g. "hey there's someone taking a walk outside, let's go see if they have a dog!!"

  2. Don't say no unless you have to -- hearing "no" gets old and is frustrating. Imagine proposing an idea or request at work and immediately hearing "no": not fun. I try to save "no" for safety and other house rules. If he starts coloring on the hardwood floors, I will say, "why don't we go get some more of the big construction paper to color on?!!" (redirection again). I've noticed that he reacts MUCH better to "ok... but how about doing X instead" versus "no, don't do Y you have to do X").

  3. Know when your child is more likely to throw a tantum -- when he's tired or otherwise uncomfortable. In these cases, don't bother getting mad, it's not worth it. Toddlers can't help themselves and you should take the high road, give in here and get him to bed or fed fast.

  4. Try not to get mad. I read this trick where you should say aloud to your child when he is misbehaving, "what are you 14 months old???" It reminds you that yes, your child is only 14 months old and learning what it's like to live with you as parents. Getting mad doesn't help you or your child.

Enjoy these early years, painful as tantrums can be, because you will likely miss them and they will be over sooner than you realize (plus dealing with a teenager can't be more fun)!

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Great advice. I like to use your trick in point 4. "Geez, it's like you're two or something!!" Oh yeah.. he is. –  Dan Sep 3 '13 at 16:56
    
This is very good advice! Especially #1 has worked very well for me at least. Plus #3! It's the same with adults really. When you're tired or hungry you get mad about "small things". Why would kids be any different? ;) So when we notice our little one is getting cranky and it's getting late we usually put her into bed and most of the time that's exactly what she needs. –  Friederike Feb 3 at 14:00

I actually found that my first liked being spanked. Spanking modified behaviour not one tiny bit. Bad attention was better than no attention. On the other hand, being ignored drove her right through the roof, so she'd melt down, and we'd scoop her up and dump her in her room, and let her scream her brains out. When she calmed down, we'd go get her.

We did it every time, no exceptions, and she ceased the tantrums.

I've passed this advice off to parents who have kids with tantrum issues, and it didn't work in two cases, but in both cases I think the kids were capable of escalating it to a point where the parents felt like they had to back down. If they can face you down, they will. Make no mistake, it's a battle of wills, and if you flinch first, they'll know they can wear you down. Public tantrums are the worst: if they learn that you're not going to punish them in public, they'll use that.

So, the short version. Find something that they hate, and do it whenever they go berserk. If they love their toys, take their toys. If they crave activity, put them in time out. If they crave attention, stick 'em in their room. Don't be afraid of the occasional spanking, but don't do it if it doesn't work.

For ours, with the milk thing, bribery worked fine. If she wants juice, she drinks her milk first. If she wants desert, she drinks her milk first. Don't worry about it too much though: the milk guidelines are ridiculous. If your kid gets 1/8th of that a day, they'll be fine.

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First, we have to understand, why tantrums are so common at that age. From what I understand as a parent, at this age kids want to express a lot more than they are able to. This leads to a lot of frustration and tantrums. The best way to deal with tantrums is not to let them happen: often tantrums happen when kids hungry or tired or miss the nap, so if you know, that this is a direct path to tantrum, don't let you child get too hungry or too tired. Also pick your battles. For example, advantages of milk are not proven, and too much milk can actually cause anemia (See http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007134.htm).

Once the tantrum happened, there is nothing you can do to stop it. Any additional attention will only prolong it. So what you can do, is just stop paying attention and let the child cry, or, some people find, that holding their child in a hug helps. Usually, during tantrums kids loose control of themselves and this is very frightening to them. When my child was that age I read somewhere the advice to hug the child and to hold him and to tell him that everything is ok and we love him when the tantrum is over.

I followed the principles that I listed above. Either that or I was lucky, but terrible twos were not terrible for me.

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+1 for explaining the kid's point of view. He's tired, hungry, not in control of overwhelming emotions, and frightened by it. –  Tim H May 4 '11 at 21:00
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If you keep a log, it is amazing how often meltdowns (for both parents and kids) are correlated with sleep schedules. As for the terrible twos, I've heard that that the kid is learning to assert their independence and control. I want that cup. I want that spoon. I want to eat what I decide. They don't always go through this phase at 2, and anecdotally the later they reach this stage, the worse it is. –  btilly May 10 '11 at 0:21
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Grouchiness when tired or hungry lasts well into adulthood. Its just (most) adults are able to identify that that is what the problem is. A 2 year old hasn't got a clue whats going on! –  Mongus Pong Jun 13 '11 at 10:35

What we try to do with our two year old toddler is offer him some (limited) range of choices -- so that he can feel he is in control.

So for example with the milk, you might let him decide:

  • do you want milk?
  • do you want apple juice?
  • do you want water?

I believe at this toddler phase they are starting to become people, with their own wants and desires and need to exert control over the world... so when you let them "decide", even if it is a very constrained set of choices, this gives them an outlet for needing to be in control.

Also, as far as tantrums goes, the best thing to do is ignore them and not respond to them so far as you can ... always ignore the behavior you don't want, and reward the behavior you do.

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+1 for ignore/reward - I have found that to be the best strategy –  MichaelF May 4 '11 at 11:32
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Sage advise... works for the Dog Whisperer... works for toddlers. –  WernerCD May 4 '11 at 17:42
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Restricted choice works well for us. You can even limit the choices to have (nearly) identical results: "Do you want your milk in a yellow or a blue cup"? Usually this is enough to keep our son happy. –  Koert May 6 '11 at 20:18
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+1 This seems to be working well with my son. If he adapts to that, we will try out other strategies suggested here. Thanks alot for the advise. –  Prakash May 9 '11 at 5:12
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This seems to work for my boss, too! –  Gabe May 11 '11 at 18:54

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