I need help with my tantrum-throwing toddler

We all know the saying “terrible twos.” And then I hear other people say there’s no such thing–apparently their kids are freaking angels. So how is it possible that I think my son (16 months) is ALREADY acting like a “terrible two?!” And it’s not new–it started maybe a month ago?

Here’s what I see:

Other kids his age out in public with their parents… the kid gets interested in something they aren’t supposed to have or they start walking away somewhere they aren’t supposed to go. The parent takes away whatever they have or they block their path and redirect them somewhere else. The kid? Is totally fine with it. Couldn’t care less. Life goes on.

MY kid? Will throw himself on the ground, slam his head backwards (with no regard to what may be behind him–such as a cement floor or wall), and scream like the world is ending.

Example: in his swim class (all kids his age), we put little life jackets on them so they could float. Not one single other child had an issue with this. Mine? Tantrum. Refused to let me put it on him and tried to slam himself backwards (right into the pool.)

When I describe his behavior to another mom, pleading for someone to tell it’s NORMAL, I get sympathetic looks and a response of “I’m sorry, I’m sure it’s normal, but my kids never acted like that.”

Sooo… it’s not normal? I mean, I really do think it IS normal, but it’s sooo frustrating to see every other child out in public listening to their parents and NOT throwing fits when something is taken away or when they have to walk left instead of right. And my kid is the one everyone is staring at because he won’t stop screaming about it. What did I do?!

OH and then get this–I swear during every swim lesson, the instructor would be watching me and Ryan (as he’s the only one having tantrums). She’d try to come over and play with him when he was getting upset–which I honestly think just made the situation worse, but anyway. One day she starts talking to me and my friend about knowing your child and knowing when something is wrong. In her example, she said she thought there was something different about her son around age 18 months, but doctors said it was nothing–just behavior. Well now he’s like 3 or 4 (I can’t remember) and is being diagnosed with autism. And you know what she told me (looked right at ME and told me)?! That *the sign,* the reason she knew, was because she’d put him on his changing table and he’d arch his back upward and throw a fit.

When Ryan throws his tantrums, he arches his back. He throws his whole body backward–so yes, if he was lying on a changing table, that’s exactly what it would look like.

So she tells us this, and is starting right at Ryan.

Ummmm, back off lady, are you trying to insinuate my child is autistic?!?!!

Mama.Claws.

Can anyone out there relate? Can anyone PLEASE tell me this is NORMAL?! And… what can I do about it? How do I handle these situations (besides sweating and running away, lol).

 

38 comments to I need help with my tantrum-throwing toddler

  • Kim

    OH honey you are NOT alone. You are just the mother of a strong willed child. I have one of my own :) My son is two and I can already see signs that the worst is over. Tantrums are shorter and farther between. It really depends on the situation and the reason for the tantrum. Sometimes discipline works, sometimes ignoring it works, and sometimes distraction works, it just depends on why they are freaking out in the first place. I can say, though, that taking them out of the situation is almost always the important first step, no matter which course you take later on, even if it’s just for other peoples’ sake, lol. And one more thing, I have learned that sometimes FEAR is the reason behind the tantrum, and if that’s the case, the only way to stop it and keep it from happening is to address that fear. Hope this helps!

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    Jessi Reply:

    Not alone here! Don’t know about it being “normal” but my 17 month old does the same. I have four kids and not one has ever been like this until her. She hits, she throws tantrums and she yells. She does not know the word no, either. And she doesn’t talk so she grunts or yells for everything. Not alone!

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    babydickey Reply:

    Thank you both! That helps a lot. I guess I didn’t even think of fear as a reason, I will absolutely keep that in mind because, awwww, that’s just so sad! Thank you!

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    angela Reply:

    I know it has been over 4 years from your original post but how is your child now? My 18 month old son sounds the exact same as your child. I am worried about adhd.

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    Emily Dickey Reply:

    He’s the sweetest! He seemed to hit some milestones earlier than expected… so “terrible twos” hit him before other kids his age and I was feeling alone. But now he’s 6 and he’s intelligent, kind, and calm. He still gets upset when he feels like he “can’t” do something – I mean, he’s frustrated, he likes to be good at everything haha – but he’s perfectly normal and sweet. I would try not to worry and let your kid be a kid! Whether it’s fear or not yet understanding his emotions etc – he’s just learning at 18 months and he’ll get there! <3

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  • Be reassured! This is ABSOLUTELY normal within his age range! I teach at a preschool, and we take students from 15 months on up. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve seen that exact move. Every child has their signature move, so to speak, but that’s one that they can use (to good effect!) to try and break free of a hold, often combined with throwing themselves on the floor. Actually, what people refer to as the “terrible twos” often begins between 15 to 18 months, up to two years. It’s the next level of development where the child is beginning to assert their independence and desire for control of a situation.

    I just have to ask out of curiousity: other than the life vest issue, does he seem to enjoy swim lessons otherwise?

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    babydickey Reply:

    He LOVES the water, but had some trouble for like the first 10 minutes of every lesson. He’d cling to me and wouldn’t let go and would cry if I tried to unlatch him, haha. But after awhile he’d warm up and especially after class was over and we went to the shallow end to play, he had a BLAST. So I don’t know if it was all the people or the new place….

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  • Angela H

    I am there with you. Hadley doesnt arch her back and throw herself backward, but she does freak out and cry and fall to the ground when she is made to do something she doesnt agree with. She is 16 months old as well. She is ahead in every other aspect and I am not even considering autism. I just assume she is more “high maintenance” than her peers and already is willing to make up her own mind. I understand your worry but I think he is a beautiful and fine boy. And I would have gone all kinds of mama bear on her. Sucks that her kid is Autisic, but she of all people should know not to say that to another mother.

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    babydickey Reply:

    Right?! I’m not worried about autism at all either, I was just in shock when she said all that I think. I couldn’t even process it to say anything back lol.

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  • Sorry Em! Tray has started a little tantrum throwing so I honed in on this chapter in my developmental psychology class! The following are research-based guidelines that can help parents of toddlers from Human Development, 11th ed. Papalia, Olds, Feldman:

    Offer a choice (even a limited one) to give the child some control

    Be consistent in enforcing necessary requests

    Don’t interrupt an activity unless absolutely necessary; Try to wait until the child’s attention has shifted

    If you must interrupt, give warning

    Suggest alternative activities when behavior becomes objectionable

    Suggest, don’t command

    Link requests with pleasurable activities

    Remind the child of what you expect

    Wait a few minutes before repeating a request when the child doesn’t comply immediately

    Use a time-out to end conflicts (in a nonpunitive way remove your child or self from the situation)

    Expectless self control during times of stress

    Keep the atmosphere as positive as possible to make your child want to cooperate

    Some of these have worked for me at different times and some have not; it seems to depend on the day and situation for us. I try to bend and change them as needed. I hope this might help you a little!

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    babydickey Reply:

    Thank you, Sheena, that helped a lot! I think I knew all of those things… I just lose my patience too easily and get too frustrated. But reading this list really helped remind me and get me focused. I’ve been trying these things the last few days and I feel like things are already going better. Even if it’s not so much with Ryan’s tantrums (although I do think there have been less)- with my OWN mood and sanity! The staying positive thing is soooo key!

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  • Sandi C.

    My 17 month-old is doing something VERY similar, and I don’t think that’s abnormal. Some kids are just “high-spirited” and I just read an article about how they are what they are, and we just need to try to work with that type of personality. That woman was very rude, but if you’re worried about the autism then speak with the pedi about it next time. Don’t worry- you aren’t alone; mine is hitting himself! 😛

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    babydickey Reply:

    High-spirited, I like that :) And yes, she was very rude!!

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  • Jessica

    My 13.5 month old son occasionally throws tantrums – mostly on the changing table – and he also arches his back and throws his head back. I don’t think it has anything to do with autism. Maybe the teacher meant her son was throwing his head back in the course of normal play and not during a tantrum necessarily? I could see how that might be alarming.

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    babydickey Reply:

    That’s true, that would be alarming!

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  • Whitney

    This made me laugh — not because it’s funny — but because I’m pretty sure this could have been written about my son! He’ll be 15 months old next week and he’s been throwing fits like this for about a month! It started last month on the airplane … full on temper tantrum, head banging, bloody murder screaming in the middle of the aisle! Now it’s every time he doesn’t get his way! Autistic? No way! Just very independent and determined! :) His strong will may be the death of me … but I love it! :)

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  • Lindsay N.

    NORMAL! My 19 month old son does that stuff (and has been since he was about 16 months). That swim instructor doesn’t know you and absolutely crossed a line when she basically diagnosed your son.

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    Sheena Reply:

    I completely agree Lindsay.

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  • Megan

    I’ve been quietly following your blog for quite some time, but today I had to comment… My daughter (just shy of 16 months) acts the EXACT.SAME.WAY. It’s so embarassing and, at points, annoying. However, in all my reading I’ve found it to be characteristic of a strong-willed and independent child.

    My pediatrician had one recommendation – carry a soft item with you at all times (even as simple as a cloth diaper insert). When the tantrum starts, toss the soft item on the ground under his head and let him bang away :)

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    babydickey Reply:

    That’s a good idea! When I’m near, I try to catch him before he hits his head, but having a soft object handy is smart! Thank you :)

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  • I really wish I had some advice, but I think it’s totally normal for our little guys’ ages. Jackson does the exact same things.

    I CANNOT believe that instructor tried to pull that with you. I’d get my money back and find a new class, sorry you had to deal with that!

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    babydickey Reply:

    It was the second to last class and in the moment I was just so in shock I didn’t say anything. And then only 1 class left…. or I probably would have wanted to stop going and asked for my money back! I didn’t sign up with them again. So rude!

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  • Um WHAT?! What a B.

    Sounds normal to me. Austin acts out in different ways, like throws or hits and does this high pitched shriek when he doesn’t get his way. It’s awful. Ryan is really smart and he probably is totally entering the terrible twos phase. It starts a little before 2 and he’s always been pretty advanced behaviorally

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    babydickey Reply:

    Thanks :)

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  • Stephanie E.

    Oh my – I have a child like that too – my daughter, who is now almost 5. It was so embarrassing at times. I felt so judged! I think most kids that age throw tantrums. I always kept telling myself that all those “well behaved” kids also had their moments – I’m sure if you spent an entire day with them, you’d see at least a couple tantrums!

    I feel bad for the swim teacher, it must be hard. I’m sure she is just trying to help. That being said, I’d probably have clocked her one…

    I promise, it does get better. My daughter still throws tantrums, but I can (sometimes) reason with her – and she usually reserves the tantrums for the privacy of our home. Raising a “spirited” child (as some people call it) is fun, but man, it’s hard!

    Oh – and – my daughter is usually hardest when she is near her 1/2 birthday (great when she was 1, challenging when she was 18 months, great at 2, difficult at 2 1/2, etc) My little boy (15 months) seems to be much more even tempered – his tantrums are much easier to deal with! What a relief for me – I now know it wasn’t my parenting skills!!!

    hang in there!

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    babydickey Reply:

    I’m glad to hear there’s an end in sight and that it gets better! :)

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  • That swim instructor has some nerve! I’d totally be complaining to her boss….someone needs to tell her that just because she has some small amount of authority in her teaching position, does not give her the right to insinuate things to parents about their kids that are unrelated to teaching them to swim. What a ho!

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    babydickey Reply:

    Right?! So rude. I can’t believe she thinks that’s okay to say to another parent. Sure maybe she wishes someone had “warned” her or helped her out… but you can’t go around diagnosing another child you don’t even know! Definitely a ho-bag!

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  • Elizabeth

    It’s is very normal. Most mom’s in social situations like that will NEVER admit that their child does the same thing. I can almost guarantee you that they do. It might not be in swim class but they do.

    I have a 24 month old and she still pulls tantrums all the time. Most of the time she does it for attention. (new baby in the house) Everyone looks at her and she gets a kick out of it. She will throw herself on the ground, face first normally, her legs start going and she pounds on the ground. She gets louder and louder. I learned to ignore it and just go about with whatever I was doing. She stops eventually like nothing happened. I have even turned to her and asked ” What exactly are you doing?” She looks and can’t really say so she stops.

    People are always going to look to a screaming kid’s parent as if we are doing something wrong. I got use to it and it doesn’t bother me anymore. He will get better with time but until he does just try not to let others tell you it isn’t normal, because it is. I would also invest in something soft, like one lady said. =o)

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    babydickey Reply:

    That’s one of my biggest pet peeves – people not being honest. Some things were such a shock to me after I had Ryan and I thought something was wrong with me/us/Ryan because no one warned me or told me or talked about it. What’s wrong with talking about it?! I would gladly tell another mother about tantrums. But thank you for saying that because I never even though (naive!) that other moms were just not admitting it.

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  • Ohhhh thank you to EVERYONE! You’ve all made me seriously feel so much better and more at ease. <3

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  • Geeze that teacher sounds douchey. TOTALLY normal and it will pass.

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  • Yeah, mine does that exact thing all the time, especially when he’s tired, teething, or otherwise out of sorts. Say no to him, and he flips out! He’s 13 months.

    I actually had a coworker tell me my whole FAMILY probably had Aspergers because I told her we are all intelligent but tended to be absent-minded. Seriously? Like there are no smart, absent-minded people out there who don’t have disabilities? But I taught her son (we were both teachers) and she was convinced her son had Aspergers too … which he definitely didn’t. (She had him assessed multiple times, but every time she was told he didn’t have it.)

    So, yeah, some people see disabilities everywhere they look. Just let it roll off your back. 😉

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  • rebel

    My sons turning four in a month and all he wants to do is pkay video games probably because I don know what to do with him on my days off of work and if i dont let him play he looses hia mind start yell screqmming and kicking stuffI have a baby girl on the way and now I feel that I’m in trouble I gueas wat I’m sayin is. Is there aany advice on wat or how I handle this with out spankng or yell at him or wat I can do to interact with him

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    Mom Reply:

    Make sure you have some alternate activities that he likes to do besides video games. Maybe get a sandbox or go to the park. Get him interested in coloring or painting or shaping playdough. Maybe see if he would like origami.

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    [Reply]

  • KittyKat

    I know this is an old thread, however, I feel the need to add my two cents worth anyway as it may be of help to other readers.

    I have been teaching little ones learn to swim for just over 3 years. Your child’s teacher has your child’s best interests at heart. Believe me when I say this this teacher was not being rude at all. Just because you don’t like what she is saying to you does not make her rude, nasty, incompetent or any other of the thing parents say. This teacher would have deliberated for hours about how to handle your child and what and how to tell you that he MAY have a problem.

    As learn to swim teacher we are most often the first instance where your child is exposed to a formal learning environment. Some very young children will oppose this very fact and perform aptly by having big, loud, embarrassing, public tantrums. Swim instructors are used to that, parents are not and many cave and instead of ignoring the tantrum they play right into it, appeasing the child with everything and anything and then blame the swim instructor when the behaviour then continues. Of course the behaviour continues, because the child has been taught that throwing a tantrum will get them what they want and/or get them out of what they don’t want. In my experience, most children do not have tantrums at swimming lessons out of fear. A fearful child will usually cry or whimper – usually. There are always exceptions.

    The swim instructor was, in my opinion, trying to be helpful to you and your child. She does have some first hand experience with her own child and she would have seen many other children with difficulties. This does not mean your child has Autism. If there is a problem, it could be one of many things. I believe that she is flagging that there may be a problem and maybe you should investigate. She would not have taken the situation lightly. Hopefully, she is wrong and no harm done. However, if your child does have a problem (no matter what it is) the early intervention is so very important and this swim instructor knows this. It is also better than hearing parents say” but no-one ever mentioned anything” as this happens as well.

    Also, as a Mum, my eldest started having tantrums well before the age of two. She is very strong willed but never hurt herself. I did not tolerate them at all. She was very verbal and bright so when she tried it on in public I would tell her to wait while I got some more people to come at watch her big performance. She knew I meant it so it never happened. I consider myself lucky. When I see children having wobblies at the shops, I not judging you. I am feeling for you and your child, because generally, tantrums are horrible and normal. When I see parents giving in that’s when I get a bit judgemental (sorry).

    I hope this post is not too confusing and actually helps someone helps someone.

    [Reply]

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