The Terrible Two- How to Deal with Toddler Tantrums?

We have with us Dr. Manjit Singh Sekhon. He is a senior consultant pediatrician at Cosmo Hospital Mohali. Thank you, doctor, for taking some time for us. And I would like to start with the first question, What are the terrible two?

Thank you, Gurvindar, for having me for this interview. So you brought up an excellent phrase used by common people, i.e., ‘the terrible twos.’ This generally means children that have passed their one year become very difficult to manage. So that is why jokingly, this term has been given—the terrible twos. This is because the child becomes more aware of a surrounding, his brain is more developed, and his desires and need for attention. So he always tries to play up, tries to get more attention. So, therefore, his parents end up calling him a difficult child or the terrible twos. 

What are tantrums, and why does it happen? 

This is a continuation of the same thing. Children, in their minds, think of their environment to be a certain way. But physically, they are not able to do that themselves. So try to get their parents or caregivers actually to do their bidding. The children want their caregivers to do what they want. And when the caregiver doesn’t pay as much attention to the child as they think they need, they start drawing attention with a tantrum. 

Suggest some ways we can deal with a toddler. 

The thing to remember with the tantrum is that the toddler is always placed with an audience. If there is no audience, there is no tantrum. That’s a very simple thing, and that is invariable. 

So the best way to deal with a tantrum is for the whole household to collect around the toddler, watch his drama, and intervene and try to console him. And try to smooth things over. Unfortunately, this often does not work. Because he’s getting the attention that he wants. What works here is the moment he begins to throw a tantrum, ignore him and walk off, and no one is watching. His tantrums will stop. 

How can we make them more disciplined? 

The thing to deal with children is not just toddlers, not just the two-year-olds. To deal with children as such, you have to be consistent, gentle, and firm. These are the three things when dealing with children. We must always be consistent, which we don’t end up doing. One moment we are indulgent, he wants chocolate, and it’s his mealtime, we don’t want to give him chocolate, which is the right decision. You tell him no, but then he starts throwing a tantrum, so you give him a chocolate. Now he knows how to get something done. He has to start behaving a certain way, which will help get him his way. So if you’ve decided that you shouldn’t give him chocolate, then don’t give him a chocolate. Explain why he cannot get chocolate now. If it’s his mealtime, maybe tell him after he finishes his meal, then we’ll think about the chocolate. And then don’t change your decision. And especially in families where grandparents also stay, you decide, and the grandparent comes and overrules it. In these cases, the grandparents are also sensitive. You tell them we don’t do this; they feel bad. These are some social skills that need some tact and understanding. The parent is the one who is caught in between the two generations. This can be handled with a little bit of tact. 

Kids throw more tantrums while in public, so they know that parents won’t deny them. So how can we control them?

So this is the continuation of really the same line of thought. As I said, children play for an audience. If they are in public, they could be somewhere out in the market. There could be some visitors at home. They know they have many eyes looking at them, so they throw a tantrum at that point. They get the attention that they otherwise won’t get. So, therefore, they have an audience, and they play for their audience. And the thing to do there is to be consistent, put an end to the tantrum, don’t give in to the act. Because then you would be giving it into his hands. Then you are letting him have his way. So if he throws tantrums and gets what he wants, it will be a tantrum every time. 

Kids get violent and lie on the floor and shout to get the things they want, so should we ignore it? Or what else could be done? 

The same thing. I’ve seen kids who start breaking things. So if you ignore the child, then the child realizes that this is not working. This is not getting me the audience that I require. Then he would pick up something and throw it on the ground, breaking it. This is going to get him some attention. The worst thing you can do in this situation is to beat the kid, hit him, or slap him. Because this is getting him more attention, and this is what he wants. Attention is not always positive. It can be negative attention as well. And the child is not always looking for positive attention. He is also looking for negative attention. There is a saying, ‘hun ehda  maar khan nu mann hai’

He wants to hear the slap. So that is true because this is attention in a way. 

Parenting is an art, and one has to make it he goes along. But it is essential to know that giving attention is not the way to stop these things. Most of the parents that come to me tell me, ‘but we give him a lot of attention. He is an only child. AAll daylong, we are around him.’ Perhaps that’s a good thing. However, just because the child is given attention does not mean he does not need more attention. In fact, he gets hooked on attention and wants more of it. 

When should we call the doctor? 

There are certain levels to which this whole thing can go. For example, children begin to have a tantrum then they start holding their breath. And they can hold their breath to a point where they start turning blue. Now that this thing happens, the caregiver or the parent would rush to the child’s side. As they would create panic, ‘he’s not breathing.’ So this is a sure way for him to get attention. Because he gets so much attention by doing this particular thing every time, he knows the way to get maximum attention is to hold his breath. You’ll say he’s a small child, and he can’t be Schemer on this. This comes to him in sort of a reflex manner. He knows to hold his breath for attention, and he would get that attention. 

Now, of course, there are certain deficiencies in a child which sometimes result in these breath-holding spells. One of them is iron deficiency. This is where a doctor comes in. Like you asked me, we should see a physician. When he does something like this, a breath-holding spell or something, then you should see a doctor. The iron level should be checked in the blood. His hemoglobin should be checked. And if it is less, then an appropriate amount of iron has to be given to the child. And most of these things go away with time. The only thing is to be patient. And treat the child in a manner that doesn’t scar him psychologically. 

And rest everything can be taken care of by the parent with the right tactics. 

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