My second child (son) is almost 2 and he has tantrums daily. The tantrums are worse and more frequent than with my 1st (daughter). The tantrums are exclusively when we he is with mom or when mom is around. The tantrums are directed towards her. Most of the time the tantrum is because he doesn't get what he wants (a sweet snack or attention) but sometimes it is unclear what his deal is. Every time we go anywhere as a family the day is ruined because there are these 1 hour fights and tantrums or just him crying in the back of the car. Mornings start bad and days end bad. The days where we can all have peace at home are few and far between and I am constantly recovering from a bad mood because it hurts me to see my son behaving this way and also, perhaps less importantly, because I long for peace and harmony and feel happy when my kids are well behaved and happy themselves. It makes me very sad to see my son always crying.

What should I do as a father being around this constant fighting and tantrums. I used to get involved but whatever I do either doesn't work or make it worse because he just see mom and starts going crazy. They have this weird destructive relationship that makes both of them and the rest of us miserable. My father used to give me a hiding if I behaved half as bad as my son does which most will disagree with but I will say that I never behaved as bad as my son so what should I do as the father?

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    I have so many questions: Has he been checked by a doctor? May he be in pain? Toothing? Maybe food intolerance (lactose, gluten)? Is he trying to make progress in his development and you hold him back somehow. Does he have enough sleep? Have you checked all possible reasons for his behaviour?
    – Korinna
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 9:23
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    You say "The tantrums are exclusively when we he is with mom", and "They have this weird destructive relationship that makes both of them and the rest of us miserable". It seems like something the Mom does could be one of the triggers. Could you please tell us more about their interactions/relationship? For example, does she give in to his tantrums, and you don't? Does she have a different parenting method than yours?
    – learner101
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 10:01
  • @Korinna Checked by a doctor for what? Maybe in 1% of cases it could have been that he was in "physical" pain but in most cases I think he is discovering that the world does not revolve around him and that mom has to wash dishes sometimes or give attention to other people. The usual causes are that he doesn't get what he wants or that mom is busy and can't give him undivided attention. IMO it is not a medical thing that we should be thinking he needs a doctor (not yet anyhow), he want's things and thinks that mom is there to give everything that he wants and when she doesn't he acts up.
    – armani
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 10:24
  • @learner Yes 100% exclusively with mom. We do have different parenting styles for sure. I am very firm and when I say no they usually listen without too much huff. Mom is a "softy", sometime he just sees her and begins crying. She is trying not to give in to the tantrums but he is very persistent and goes on and on. It is kind of like a competition where you see who gives in first and because he want's to break her and can sense his tantrum is affecting her emotionally so goes on. I think he gets some kind of reassurance from it because he tests her the whole time. What should I do?
    – armani
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 10:25
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    Is Mom the primary caregiver? Is he in daycare/preschool/nanny/etc. or just with a parent? Which one? How old is the sister?
    – Joe
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 14:29

2 Answers 2


What should I do as a father being around this constant fighting and tantrums.

Support your wife.

It seems to me that this is a battle between your wife and your son, and there's not a lot you alone can do.

As Joe discussed, do you discuss this with your wife? Why does she feel guilty when she's more firm with him? What is she trying to teach him with regards to behavior and love? (E.g. if she equates "love" with "making him happy", that leads to all sorts of problems.) Fundamental parenting issues (e.g. presenting a united front) should be solved together.

For handling tantrums, if nothing else, I recommend you read a book called 1-2-3 Magic. It is about how to use time outs effectively, and it allows one to send a child to a time out without arguing or raising one's voice. Then, if you think it worthy to use, have your wife read it. Then start implementing it.* And 2 is a perfect time to start teaching the principle of time outs, which is not about punishment but about an opportunity to learn self control. **

It's essential to be consistent when implementing time outs (or setting any boundary, for that matter.) If he knows she will eventually give in, what harm is there in it for him to keep up his misbehavior? This is something else to discuss.

Now is also the time to be expanding his vocabulary with feeling words (in other words, give him an emotional vocabulary.) An emotional vocabulary is essential, but so often overlooked. The first step to dealing with an emotion is learning to name it. Adults often get angry because they feel worthless, powerless, hopeless, invalidated, disrespected, unloved, you name it, but they can't (name it), because dealing with primary emotions like worthlessness/being invalidated/feeling unloved is incredibly painful, so it becomes anger, which is easier to express and gives a false sense of control. If adults have difficulty with emotions because they are unaware of or unwilling to deal with primary emotions, imagine what it's like for a child.

Look at some online articles about emotional vocabularies. It will be very helpful. Practice using age-appropriate feeling words, and after a time out (or however you handle the tantrum), discuss the feelings that led to the tantrum. You might even learn how to avoid tantrums this way.

*The way it works: Say X is doing something undesirable, for example, whining for ice cream before dinner. You say, "X, you can't have ice cream before dinner because (reasonable reason.) If you continue to ask for ice cream, you'll earn a time out." X keeps pleading. You start counting ("X, that's a one.") No fuss, no muss, no yelling, nothing but information. He hears you and keeps demanding, asking, "Whyyyyyyy can't I?" You continue to count ("X, that's a two.") No yelling/exasperation/anger involved. X continues: "Nooooooooo, I waaaaaant some NOW!" You finish ("O.K. honey, that's a three, time out.") Time outs are in a room alone without an audience. If you have to hold them down, the time out doesn't begin until they stay put on their own. Eventually if you're consistent they will learn that no means no, and that whining/other gets them nowhere. !!!N.B. This is not a substitute for reading the book. If you don't read the book, you'll miss out o all the excellent parenting advice in it.

**This is what I used in our house, and it worked like, well, magic. My kids learned to control themselves very quickly and didn't argue or plead with me when I refused them something. When I started to count, they stopped what they were doing immediately, not because something terrible was about to happen, but because they knew my "no" was rock-solid and they were not going to change my mind. In light of that, I also tried to be wise with my "nos". I alsways told them why I was refusing them something as part of the process of giving/threatening time outs.

One of my children has a child of their own and another on the way. They plan on using 1-2-3 Magic as well, because they remember how effective it was.

  • Yes we discuss it, have discussed it a zillion times in every mood and in a thousand ways but it never changes anything. She realizes there is a problem but whatever I say or do makes no difference to her. She just can't manage him no matter how hard she tries and even friends/neighbors have gotten involved to try help her. As you said, I also feel like there is very little I can do but it hurts me to see my son having so many tantrums for so long and so often. It is the hardest thing for me to have to watch/listen to it because I can see him suffering.
    – armani
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 23:51
  • So do you think I should just stay in the room and not speak while it goes on or do you think it is ok if I leave? Because it is too hard for me to watch it going on the whole time. Sometimes I get angry at her because I wish she could do more about it and toughen up with him.
    – armani
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 23:56
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    Tantrums are one of the most difficult problems to manage in young children. I used to say it was easier managing life threatening events in the emergency room than handling a tantrum, because with emergencies, I knew exactly what to do. Not so with tantrums. However, you can't just walk away from this uncomfortable dynamic; people you love are negatively affected. If she won't listen to you or friends, have her consult an expert. Your child needs to know - with a lot of love and compassion - what is and isn't appropriate behavior. This is part of a life long process. Commented May 19, 2018 at 1:30
  • @anongoodnurese: She does want to go to a professional but we can't afford that. There seems to be a lot of great advice here about tantrums and how to stop them but I really was only looking for advice on how we should react as fathers in these cases when mom is the trigger. This may sound sad but I don't think the tantrums will go away. I think my son will grow out of them as did my daughter and am trying to prepare for the worst by seeking advice on how/where I should be in all this. You said: "you can't walk away" so what CAN I do? Support my wife? How? Go elsewhere to retain sanity?
    – armani
    Commented May 19, 2018 at 7:39
  • the other day the whole park was looking at my son crying for 1 hr and all the other mums couldn't belive the spectacle that was unfolding before their eyes. My wife began crying in the park because he just would not stop. As a father, how are we supposed to react to this? I don't see any other things like this in public so can't say by seeing other people. These kind of tantrums don't happen anywhere else I have ever seen (honestly have seen a few but not like this). My wife, as good a mom as she is, does not know what to do in this area or how to diffuse the situation
    – armani
    Commented May 19, 2018 at 7:44

I think that there are a lot of different things going on here that need to be addressed in different ways. First, helping the child work out these issues, and second focusing on your relationship with his mother. (Sorry, this is going to be long.)

The first thing I'd say is to remember that your son is two years old. Remember when you're having these interactions that he's not trying to misbehave; he's trying to learn how to navigate his environment, learn how to relate to people socially, and reacting to stimuli. He's not any happier about these tantrums than you are. No two year old is going to be perfectly behaved in nearly any situation.

He's also a second child. Don't compare him to your first - he's in a very different situation than she was. He's only 18 months younger, so she still needs a lot of attention herself; he gets probably 60% of the attention she got at this age. So it's not at all surprising that he's doing a lot to get your attention, and frustrated when he doesn't get it. You can't totally fix this - you don't have 200% of the attention you had before he was born, after all - but you need to take it into account.

Keep in mind when these things happen that your goal when resolving the tantrum is not to remove the annoying noise/spectacle/embarrassment caused by the tantrum, in most situations. If you're in situations that are going to cause excessive embarrassment (at a theater, say), don't do that until you've worked through this period.

When they do happen, and there's both a clear problem and sufficient coherence from your son, focus on solving the problem. If he's screaming because he wants something, remember that at two, the ability to think about the future is very limited. He thinks that he's never going to get a sweet because you won't give him one right now. So help him learn to delay gratification. "Sorry Billy, you can't have a sweet right now because it's close to dinner. But I have a sweet for after dinner that's in my bag here." Then when after dinner happens, make a point to connect it to the earlier experience. This won't work instantly, but over time he'll begin to learn that "no right now" doesn't mean "no forever".

When they happen and there is not a clear problem or not sufficient coherence to work on it, focus on destressing the situation. Remove the focus on the trigger (if there is one). Focus on calming activities. Remove everyone to a quieter area, let the child express his emotions in a place you won't feel as uncomfortable, and be positive and calming. Remember, in these kinds of episodes the biggest issue is that the child cannot express himself effectively, so he resorts to crying and screaming.

Second is your relationship with his mother. You don't specify if you're married, but you say 'together as a family' so I'll treat it as if you are for purposes of this answer; it's not really important, so long as you're co-parenting, anyway.

Things like this need to be addressed through mutual discussion, understanding, and an agreement to proceed in a particular way. You and she need to talk together about how to deal with these situations, and need to come up with a way that works for both of you. This needs to come from both of you - not you telling her how to handle things; but you and she agreeing how to handle things. Sit down and have that discussion now, and at a time that isn't stressful.

My wife and I have these discussions frequently, and especially when we have particular things that frustrate either one of us. We both respect the other's viewpoint, and we don't tell each other what to do; we say what we think is the problem, then we each provide possible solutions and explanations for how to solve them - often researched in parenting books or papers. (She's a research scientist and I'm a research analyst, so perhaps we go overboard here...) We come to an agreement on how to handle things, and then implement that as best we can - understanding that we're not identical nor are we perfect and so we make mistakes, but we try to stick to what we agreed on, at least until it doesn't seem to work.

We also often discuss specific events after they occur - a while after, so the stress is gone, but not so far after that we don't remember the details (so maybe that night). If we had a particularly difficult issue, we talk about it, and how we could've done better. There are no recriminations here, and the way to get there is mostly for each parent to say how they could've done things better; telling your partner how they screwed up is a recipe for disaster. But if you are both able to talk about how things went, and then ask the partner for suggestions for how to improve next time, it can be very fruitful.

It's also important to ask how you can help her in situations like this. She may appreciate it if you intervene in certain ways; my wife for example appreciates it when I recognize that she's losing her temper, and I find a way to step in and remove one of the children from the situation (We have two 19 months apart, similar to yours). But she doesn't appreciate it when I come in and start telling the kids what to do directly - as I may be not understanding what she's trying to do. We've talked about this several times, and I've learned how I can be helpful instead of just taking over and inserting my judgement for hers.

  • Thanks for the reply. While there is a lot of great general and helpful info there I don't see how it is relevant to the problem I am having. When my son has a tantrum it is directed to mum and the whole rest of the world disappears. Meaning, I could yell or a bomb could go off and he wouldn't notice or care he just sees and thinks mum mum mum and goes ape so she will pay attention to him or give him what he wants (depending on the cause of the tantrum). My question was, how do I deal with this? This is what I am still not clear on so please help me. So I ignore it, leave, say: stop!?
    – armani
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 19:28

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