No-one fully prepares you for the tantrumming toddler. You’ve seen it happen in supermarkets, high streets and shopping malls across the land: happy child suddenly drops to the ground in a fit of rage, while the parent or carer stands there waiting for it stop. Those of you without previous experience of children probably thought “my child will never behave like that in public”. Oh, how wrong (most of you) were.
My own child chose a public library to stage her first tantrum at the tender age of 15 months. Not even two-years-old. According to Google, tantrumming can start in their second year, not after their second birthday. I was unprepared and yet again cursed the absence of a user manual.
The tantrum started over another child’s ride-on trike. My daughter wanted to ring its bell over and over again and when I reasoned with her that it wasn’t a good idea, she threw my good reason out the window and hit the deck. I could feel my character building there and then. As the screaming heightened, so did the colour of my face. Her cheeks glistened with tears and mine glistened with sweat and fear.
I went through quite a range of emotions as I saw her writhing on the floor between the tween fiction section and an attractive display of black and white baby picture books. Firstly, was sheer embarrassment that she was acting in the opposite fashion that one should when one is in the library. She was showing a flagrant disregard for the well-established rules of hushed tones and respecting others’ right to read.
Secondly, I was hit by anger and frustration. Not at my daughter, but at the audacity of the other parent who dared bring out an item that could cause my child such consternation. Then the frustration changed target to focus upon the beetroot-faced toddler at my feet and I got cross with her. I lifted her from the ground and firmly told her to stop and that her behaviour was unacceptable.
In defiance of my words, the volume and tone of her protestations increased further. I couldn’t bear it any longer. I rugby-balled her out, kicking and screaming and I sat on the steps outside, hugging her until she ran out of steam.
My final emotions were that of relief and concern. Relief, initially, as the ordeal was over and we’d survived, but also an overriding concern that this tantrum was the beginning of a long and arduous journey through toddlerhood. She certainly had her fair share of tantrums over the next 10 months, some more epic than others (an incident where I refused to allow her to throw herself down a set of stone stairs can’t be erased from my memory easily. It’s still referred to by my mother and sister who witnessed it, as ‘Stairgate’) but we live to tell the tale.
Tactics that tended to work included distraction. This helped if I could foresee a storm brewing. If she was playing with a door, for example, if I could draw her away with the temptation of another toy or food, this worked better than sweeping her up without warning.
Sometimes no distraction was enough (I had to admire her single-mindedness) and that’s when I would turn into those bored-looking, arms-folded, dejected parents standing over a floor-surfing child, just waiting it out. Waiting for the steam to run out is not ideal, of course it isn’t, but sometimes it’s the most effective. It doesn’t reward the tantrum but it doesn’t minimise either as you have to remember that what might seem a silly reason to get upset is actually a really big deal to a toddler.
Some children never tantrum at all and others have several a day. It is a normal part of development and although it’s easier said than done, you just have to ride out the stormy days. My older child has been tantrum-free for about eight blissful months. Her sister, however, is a little 20-month-old ball of rage and we are counting the days until the tantrums are a thing of the past.