My two year old son has recently started with constant, unrelenting contrary/oppositional behavior and tantrums. I realize that saying "no" and tantrums are basically the traditional hallmarks of two year old behavior, but I am finding conflicting information about if the sudden onset and degree of this behavior is a sign of an issue.
Currently ANY request, suggestion or instruction to my son is met with an immediate no, and if we insist, even if we just state the request slightly more firmly, instigates a tantrum. This includes things that he's been happy to do in the past, things that are pleasant or immediately benefit him, or have been part of his routine for the past year or more. This can amount to dozens of tantrums a day.
He was happily, easily, and non-traumatically potty trained (for pee anyhow) a few months ago before this started, now he refuses to use the potty, and holds his urine until he physically can't anymore. Even asking casually if he needs to go is sometimes enough to start a tantrum. We have ruled out UTI and other obvious physical issues.
He is 2 years, 7 months old, and since he turned two, he's had the occasional tantrum, but nothing like this in terms of number per day or the hair trigger for a meltdown he seems to have now. He hasn't experienced any recent traumas, big changes or upheavals. He's relatively advanced with his speech, and understand and uses 'feelings words' to a normal degree for his age. He goes to daycare, and his teacher has also mentioned a marked increase in tantrums, although it seems to be less of an issue than at home.
The behavior is constant and exhausting. The bedtime routine is now taking up to 3 miserable hours. We've had to start getting him up earlier as well, to leave time for multiple tantrums during the morning and breakfast routine, and the lost sleep isn't helping anyone.
He had a well visit with the pediatrician today and behaved perfectly during it, even cooperated while being examined. I asked about this recent behavior and the doctor said essentially, "Well it's not technically normal to have that many tantrums per day, but he looks ok to me."
Is this actually normal? If so, how can I best navigate this phase with my sanity intact?
Update, 1 week after question was posted: By a combination of playfulness, battle-picking, patience, and just the constant shifting of toddler-hood stages, the tantrum situation has already decreased. We also tried to increase positive attention, decrease screens/tv, and offer more opportunities to use and stretch his new abilities, like making a cake together as a family and offering him more chances to help around the house and do things for himself that we previously did for him. I also switched to offering wider and more meaningful choices and responsibilities (i.e. rather than offer him a choice of 2 shirts, ask him to get a pair of pants and the shirt he wants to wear from the drawer, asked him to help me make the grocery list with the kind of fruit he wants to eat this week.)
We are now at about 6-8 tantrums a day, still seems excessive but significantly better. Everything is still taking longer than normal, and he can only be convinced to relieve himself once or twice a day, but I feel like we're seeing steady improvements.
Update, 1 year after question was posted: My son is about 3 and a half now, and while he still has a tantrum every once in a while, and if anything they're more extreme and longer lasting now that he has a longer attention span, it's more like 1-2 a week than that brief but horrible period of 20+ times a day. I think the tactics in the answers did help us, and informed my parenting decisions generally, but in the big pictures, his extreme tantrum behavior was more than anything a phase that pretty soon exhausted itself. Using playfulness and games to get less-desired tasks done happily has become an enduring part of my parenting. Some things are non-negotiable, but there's no reason not to make them silly and enjoyable.
He still whines and makes a fuss about using the toilet every. single. time, and doesn't go under his own initiative, ever. Maybe in another year we'll get there.