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My mother-in-law has been staying with us for the past couple of days. My 2-year-old loves when she comes because she’s fun and she brings lots of candy and sugar.

Everything has been fine up until this evening when he asked me for some marshmallows Grandma left on the table. I mentioned eating too much sugar might hurt his tummy and offered either raspberries or almonds instead (other snacks he enjoys). He quickly lost control of his emotions and started a tantrum that lasted about 20 minutes which is very unusual for him.

After he calmed down he was still pretty touchy until he had another tantrum right before bed that lasted about 30 minutes. We have a long-standing rule that when he takes a bath, the water has to stay in the bath. If he splashes the water out of the bath, he has to get out. He continued to splash and ignore my warnings so I made him get out which caused the tantrum.

I could tell grandma felt like I was being too strict. Maybe I am, but I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary and yet he had two unusually major tantrums. I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that we have someone visiting. Is it normal for kids to act out more than usual when you have visitors like grandparents? If so, what can be done to prevent issues like this? Thanks in advance.

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    Could be a combination of having visitors, and the "Terrible Twos" when kids do start to push boundaries.
    – Rory Alsop
    Mar 19 at 14:18
  • Yup, yes, very, uh-huh, absolutely.
    – anongoodnurse
    Mar 19 at 18:35

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It might be a sugar high, which might be followed by a sugar low. Also child may be distressed about feeling out of control, and confused by conflicting rules, and there could be another conflict -- I want to please my parents, but sugar is just so compelling.

I begged my mother-in-law until I was blue in the face, please don't give my kids candy. Please don't give them war toys. I had to intercept packages because she used candy like packing peanuts. I had to send the war toy (Lego) back -- over the Atlantic!

But if the grandparents are reasonably cooperative, they would hopefully go along with instituting/following a couple of your basic rules. Consistency can be reassuring for small children.

If you are concerned about the effects of sugar, you could set up and experiment with your child at home, explain what you're doing, and observe what happens after sugar on an empty stomach.

For my children (speaking mostly anectodally) it was helpful to oppose the sugar with something high in protein, e.g. give them some turkey or cheese on the way to a birthday party.

If you see your child starting to get dysregulated and perhaps overstimulated, it may be helpful to try to find a quiet room to do some calming down -- maybe snuggle up with you with a favorite stuffed animal and a favorite book.

I learned from a video of Dr. Cathy Budman's, (and a clinical appointment for one of my children, who has a Tourette diagnosis), that nobody regrets a tantrum more the person who had it, and try to use prevention as much as possible. The video is primarily focused on Tourette Syndrome, but I think it can be useful for others as well. There's a bit of a wild thing in most children!

If family visits extend up to bedtime, and it seems to strain what the child can handle, it might be helpful for everyone to make their good-byes about 45 minutes before bedtime. Maybe temporarily.

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    Although it's a common belief, many researchers believe that "sugar causes hyperactivity/other problem behaviors" is a myth. Can you find a reputable, recent source to support your claim? Also, that high sugar leads to low blood sugar and its significance, if it exists. Thanks.
    – anongoodnurse
    Mar 20 at 5:10
  • @anongoodnurse - My words have been distorted. I didn't say "sugar causes A/B." Also I talked about dysregulation, overstimulation, and other things. Hey Anon, did you watch the video I recommended? My personal experience with Tourette has taught me that you don't need to be on a "sugar high" (I did not invent this term) to get dysregulated. A lot of what parents do to manage the many symptoms of Tourette has to do with environmental changes (note: not simple dietary changes). Lots of people without a movement disorder might face behavior challenges. Mar 23 at 16:59
  • I.e., we can all learn from each others' experience. / My point of view: 1. IF OP is concerned about the sugar onslaught, here are some ideas; 2. OP may wish to consider that the marshmallows and all the interactions around them may have played a role in the hoo ha, perhaps in terms of a change of the child's typical food ingestion, the child's metabolic reaction to the food, the family dynamics (which can be complicated), and/or complex feelings on the child's part (so much of society has led me to be drawn to/disgusted/made ambivalent by something made almost exclusively of sugar. Mar 23 at 17:07
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    Clearly you didn't invent the term "sugar high", but you also likely didn't invent "unicorn poop"; that doesn't mean it's real. The OP's child doesn't have Tourette's. The OP is asking if it's common for 2 year olds to act out when grandparents visit. See the comments below the post. The rest might be helpful if true. You had mentioned an edit. Were you able to find reliable sources?
    – anongoodnurse
    Mar 23 at 17:15
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    @aparente001 thanks for the input. My concern about processed sugar is just that it’s unhealthy, so we dont give it to him often. When Grandma comes its just a one-off thing so I don’t try to stop it. Its a pick your fights kind of thing with my in-laws. It seems however he starts to feel entitled to it so he gets upset when he can’t have it. I didnt really think the sugar itself was contributing to the tantrums, just the loss of access to something he likes that was easy to get earlier. The conflicting rules are probably confusing. Maybe it is the sugar though, a good source could convince me
    – Ryan
    Mar 25 at 13:33

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