Q: I have a three-and-a-half year old daughter that has temper tantrums like no other. It has gotten to the point of where the police have been called because of her crying and screaming. I do not know what to do anymore and do not want to lose my little girl. Please help.
A: Toddlerhood is the most challenging phase of human development for parents and the most critical one for children in the lifespan. Any adult that I have treated in psychotherapy in my private practice was found to be stuck somewhere in a toddler milestone. Toddlers must claim their separateness from their mommies and daddies. The adolescent phase mirrors toddlerhood in that teens must resolve the separation they first began during toddlerhood: "I am me - you are not me! Don't tell me what to do!" That is their way of asserting control and declaring independence. During this phase they must also master control over their body functions including toilet-training, self-feeding, delayed gratification, language development, coping with frustration, and social skills. Toddlerhood is the time I prescribe parents, especially moms, to be “all there” with their kids. If moms work, choose an ever-present warm, nurturing, and clear caregiver. Toddlerhood is the foundation (bricks and mortar) laid upon which adolescence must resolve. Parenting is most challenging and rewarding when toddlerhood is done well. Here's how to help your child with her tantrums: 1. Be genuinely empathic to your toddler's struggle. She needs your support. If she feels you're flustered, disorganized, angry, or critical you will only escalate her rage and not be able to help her calm down. Your objective is to teach her how to settle herself. 2. Learn to talk reflectively with empathy in the moment of a conflict. You might say, "Mary (use her first name since pronouns are not mastered until age 4) wanted more video and Mommy said it's bath time. Mary got mad. It's hard to stop when you want more." 3. Physically, walk your screaming child to her next destination ie: to the bath to help her settle and calm down there. Children will escalate their yelling and protest, thinking you might change your no to a yes. If you are away from the location of the desired object your child will calm down faster. 4. If your child is out of control or has been aggressive (hitting, biting, scratching, or pinching), hold your child in your lap facing away from you to help calm your child. The holding provides a safe container so you can act as a receptacle for your child's rage. Your child learns that she can be super angry and you do not attack, criticize, blame, or collapse as the target for their rage. Tell your child that when she stops pulling on you, you will let go. The moment her muscles relax, release her and praise her for learning to settle herself. You will not have to hold her too many times before you see a decrease in the frequency and intensity of her oppositional tantrums. 5. Do not lecture your child. Kids hate to be told what to do. Rather, after a tantrum talk gently with your child about what she wanted and was feeling. Together come up with alternative ways she can get what she wants without a meltdown. Always accept your child where she is. We are all on a learning curve. No one is perfect. We all want the same thing - to be acknowledged, validated, and accepted - flaws and all!