21 answers

2 1/2 Year Old's Tantrums Out of Control

Help! My 2 1/2 year old's temper tantrums have reached new heights! Yesterday was the worst...she exploded (for what seems to be no reason). During her fits, she often bites herself and hits other objects with her hand as hard as she can to make it hurt. For the first time yesterday, she pulled her own hair. It was very distressing to witness and it took me almost an hour to calm her down. She has always been pretty hot headed, but her tantrums are getting worse...it is not every day, but at least weekly that she tries to hurt herself when she is angry or frustrated. Aside from these awful tantrums, she is a loving and sweet little girl. Any advice on how to handle this situation? Any other moms go through this with their toddler? Thanks for the advice!

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So What Happened?™

I am so joyfully overwhelmed with all of the responses I have received. Thank you to each and every one of you who took the time to send me your advice and support. I was feeling extremely isolated and alone, because none of my immediate mommy friends had experienced this type of rage with their own children. It is such a wonderful feeling to know that I am not the only one and that we will get through this! My daughter has not had another tantrum since Wednesday, but I feel so prepared for the next one with all of the terrific advice I have gained through this new support system. I am so happy to have discovered this website through another mom at my daughter's preschool. Thanks so much! I will keep you all posted on our progress!

Featured Answers

You may consider using essential oils to calm her down. I have a friend who used aromatherapy and maybe able to help Here is her number Jodj Bitzer ###-###-#### also her website is www.youngliving.org/328178 or www.jodyessentials.com

I also have a two year old who has frequent tantrums and sometimes goes as far as raging. Though she doesn't try and harm herself I can see how distressing that would be. When we are at home and she starts screaming and flopping on the floor I quickly pick her up, place her in her bed, tell her to calm down, and then close the door. I go get her when I feel she has more control. Then we sit and cuddle and talk to each other if she wants to. That is just what works for us. Most of the time she just needs a comfy quiet place for "down-time". That way I'm not giving her attention for the tantrum and she's learning to calm herself. I hope it gets better for the both of you.

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Stacy,

I have a HAPPY, non tantruming 5 year old who at 2 started what I called tantruming until a friend heard her doing it on the phone. My friend has a son who is ADHD and when he was younger he raged. While I was on the phone with my friend she said that my daughter wasn't tantruming she was raging. Her rages lasted well over an hour and could be triggered by anything from my going a different direction in a store than she wanted to go to buying something SHE thought we didn't need. It was so frustrating. She would go into an hour long rage because it was dark and she didn't want it to be dark outside. It was frustrating and insane! All of the advice I read for temper tantrums had NO effect on her. It only seemed to make her rage more.

It was when I got to the end of my rope and had been driven to tears that some one recommended a book called Holding Time by Martha Welch. The basic premise is that children learn self regulation of their emotions from their mother. When your child starts to loose control you pick her up and hold her facing you and keep her safe. She is not permitted her pull her hair, bite herself or you. You must remain calm and detached while she rages and keep her safe. You talk very calmly to her and tell her she is safe and how much you lover her. You keep the tone of your voice soft and sweet. Once she is done with her rage you will have the sweetest most gentle soul. When it is over, do not put her down. Continue holding her, stroke her face, tell her what you love about her and you can also talk about what it was that made her so angry.

My daughter would rage for more than an hour per episode. She would rage at least once per night and on the weekend it got to a point where she would have 3 to 5 rages a day. I was afraid to take her anywhere. I started Holding Time. Each night when she started to rage I scooped her up and held her. My thought was she was going to rage for more than an hour whether I held her or not and I might as well see if this Holding thing works. After 5 days, the rages just stopped. It was like she had a switch and some one turned her off. In the quiet times after a holding, I found out she was terribly scared when she was out of control which only made her rage more. She was also afraid I was going to go away and never come back. My daughter is adopted and has had two instances in her life where the people she knew and trusted just disappeared and she never saw them again. Her fears are justified by her experience. I am not saying that is the case with your daughter but you can learn so much from them in the peaceful time after a holding. Overall, my daughters behaviors improved in all areas. She did what I asked her to do. She didn't argue with every statement I made. She was less clingy.

If you would like to discuss it further I would be happy to talk to you about it. I would recommend the book. I checked it out of the library. It is an easy read and very informative. In our house it was a life saver.

2 moms found this helpful

I am a 56 yr old g-ma keeping her 2 yr old grandson. When he has his temper tantrums he is put in his bed in his bedroom and the door is closed until he works it out with himself. When he comes out he is a totally different child. Time out works for him. He doesn't have anyone to be his audience, and the more I tried to comfort him before the worse he got. This method works for us.

Best thing I found for my daughter was to pick her up and physically remove her from the situation. Take her to the the most tranquil area of the house you can find (no TV, no noise), and demonstrate for her how to scream into a pillow. Allow her to do so until she feels ready to stop. Once she has stopped, have her just rest in the peace and quiet for a few moments before she returns to playing. Sometimes a quick cuddle with Mom is in order. It sounds silly, but it's a quick and easy way to relieve frustration for a child at an age where they have few coping skills. And before you laugh, this was advice given to me by a highly regarded child and adolescent psychotherapist for my own daughter. Just remember that the more upset you get about the tantrums, the more they will escalate. We call this stage the "terrible twos," but think about how many transitions the kids are going through just from age two to five. I'm sure that at times it can all be a little overwhelming. Good luck!

Hi S.,

I was just looking up some medical questions that I had and found a site by a Dr. that had some info on your topic. Check it out. www.askdrwarren.com

Try reading a book called "The Difficult Child" by Stanley Turecki & Leslie Tonner. There are some wonderful Behavior Modification tips in this book. I am a Special Education Teacher who has dealt with this with my own son (who survived the terrible 2's and 3's and is now a senior in high school and a volunteer fireman!!!). When your daughter tantrums, put her somewhere where she 1)won't have an audience, 2)will not be able to hurt herself(don't put her in the kitchen with knives, etc.), and where you can periodically check on her. As long as she is not drawing blood, leave her alone. If no one is there to "react" to her tantrum, it will be less fulfilling to her to do this. Put her on a behavior plan, rewarding her for "good behavior" and removing the rewards when she tantrums. Rewards need to be activities that she enjoys and would be able to do anyway (listen to music, watch a favorite dvd or video, play a game, etc.). Also, try going to http://www.behaviordoctor.org/behaviorexamples.htm or http://www.behaviordoctor.org/piesworkbook.html to get examples on how to extinguish this type of behavior and many other troublesome behaviors. Dr. Laura Riffel is an excellent resource for behavior management. M. E.

How long have these tantrums been going on? Are they ever in public or only at home? Do they occur at the same time of the day? After eating certain foods? When denied something she wants? Is she angry with you, dh or her sister? Did your older dd have tantrums like this?

Get a notebook and begin to record this kind of information every time this sort of thing occurs. Write down anything you think might be significant. You will want to begin looking for trends to narrow down what might be happening with her.

When I child, even a tiny one, tries to hurt herself or someone else while in a rage, it is time to restrain the child so that does not happen. I would not recommend doing this without talking to your pediatrician because the last thing you want to do while preventing a child from hurting herself is to hurt her while you restrain her. There are definite and proven techniques on how to do this.

This could be a phase, something even a tiny 2 year old cxan do to manipulate her parents to get what she wants. Remember, your kids are intelligent little humans and she can see the fear in your eyes when her behavior is out of control. You may not see this as a way of her manipulating you but you will probably see that you spend a lot of time with her when she is having a fit - is this what she is looking for?

But this could be something else. As a parent of a child with a significant mood disorder, it is important to get involvement from, at a minimum, your pediatrician if this sort of behavior is not a one-time event. Because the behavior is so dramatic, it may seem like these events are happening more often than they are. So again, get that notebook out and start writing from this day forward. If she has another tantrum that involves her hurting herself or trying to hurt you, dad or sis, write it down with and get an appointment with the pediatrician. Hope this helps, S.

Hello,
The younger of my two sons had outrageous tantrums compared to his brother. He also wasn't really verbal. It turned out that he had mild autism, diagnosed at 2 yrs and 8 mos. I'm certainly not suggesting that is the case for you, but you may want to talk to your pediatrician about developmental issues or for more specific suggestions about what may be triggering the tantrums. I wish you the best.
M. L

I also have a two year old who has frequent tantrums and sometimes goes as far as raging. Though she doesn't try and harm herself I can see how distressing that would be. When we are at home and she starts screaming and flopping on the floor I quickly pick her up, place her in her bed, tell her to calm down, and then close the door. I go get her when I feel she has more control. Then we sit and cuddle and talk to each other if she wants to. That is just what works for us. Most of the time she just needs a comfy quiet place for "down-time". That way I'm not giving her attention for the tantrum and she's learning to calm herself. I hope it gets better for the both of you.

please- check to make sure that your incision is not infected! I had the same symptoms with my last c-sec and it was totally infected!!

PLEASE consider a therapist for your dear girl. Society assumes it's our parenting or just a stubborn child when she may have some imbalance internally causing her to act out. Was your 6 year old prone to these behaviors at that age?

This is a HUGE strain for you as parents but on your other daughter, as well. This kind of attention-seeking, harmful behavior is more than just a tantrum and deserves at least an evaluation by someone who has sees these behaviors on a regular basis. I have a friend with a child who has bi-polar disorder. It is hard to diagnose but they got help and are thankful to have people around them who have seen these severe behaviors before and they have help for their entire family.

Talk with your pediatrician for a referral for a CHILD psychologist who specializes in manic behaviors. ONE VISIT will either dispell this or guide you to proper help.

I'm a mom of four wonderful children. I had a real problem with anger management with my little 2 year old son a few years ago. This may sound off-the-wall, but, after praying long and hard for an answer to this question, it finally came. "Love him!" It's the last thing that I felt like doing, but, I figured that if it was my answer, I'd better do it. I calmly went back to him, picked him up, started little tickles, hugs, singing, kisses, stories....he melted. Every time I saw him working up to something again, I'd "love him out of it." I had the same type of problem with my daughter at one point, I had to pick her up and physically restrain her in my arms and rock and sing to her until she eventually gave in and relaxed. The power of love is a wonderful thing. Also, take inventory of your life....is it too busy? Are they so busy that they aren't getting as much "touch-time" with mom? When little one's are growing up, they are so busy trying out their independance and you are so grateful for it...that we forget how little they still are and how much they still need to be rocked and held. It's amazing what a cleared calendar and alot of snuggling can do for a couple of days to reassure your little one that no matter how independant she flies...you're still there cheering her on. Then, move on. The trick is recognizing those stressful times before they get out-of-hand. Benjamin Franklin said that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Good luck!!! Also...I would recommend Dr. Bill Sears website...askdrsears.com He's a wealth of information on parenting and child health. He is a pediatrician and father of a large family.

You may consider using essential oils to calm her down. I have a friend who used aromatherapy and maybe able to help Here is her number Jodj Bitzer ###-###-#### also her website is www.youngliving.org/328178 or www.jodyessentials.com

Although tantrums are a normal part of child development, this sounds pretty extreme. I've never had any of my five children try to hurt themselves. My oldest child was slow at becoming verbal, and he was very frustrated until about age 3. He could throw a tantrum for over an hour. He had so many things he wanted to communicate, but he couldn't express himself well enough to be understood at that age. Try to see things from her point of view and help her verbalize it.
The hurting part concerns me a lot. Is she getting more attention by hurting herself? Could she be thinking, "Mommy doesn't coddle me when I throw a fit, but whenever I'm hurt she comes running, so if I want to get my way I'll just hurt myself." If you suspect this, you'll have to make it clear to her that she will not get attention with her antics. Put her in a playpen or safely in her room (with a baby gate up), and ignore her until she stops. Explain to her (before she has a tantrum) that this will be the new way tantrums are handled. There isn't much point of her hurting herself without an audience.
However, if she still continues to hurt herself, you should call your pediatrician and see about a possible Behavioral Health referral. It could be something more serious.

My daughter who is almost three used to throw such horrible tantrums sometimes in public which was mortifying to us b/c people would stare like there must be something wrong with us. We found were able to eliminate the main causes such as tiredness and hunger. We would try talking to her saying I know you're frustrated or whatever but at that time she wasn't processing our words b/c she was soo angry just like an adult she was simply out of control! Now these tantrums are much fewer but what we have always done is to remove her quickly from the situation sometimes that works, but at home we tell her to go to her room and calm down. There is nothing she can hurt herself on in there ( the most she has done is throw all her clothes out of the drawers, which she was made to help clean up later). She can throw her fit in there and come out when she's done. Amazingly this works for us and when she is calm then we are able to talk to her about the situation (a good time to bring up her biting herself or in my daughters case she throws things) and handeling anger but the actual tantrum gets none of our attention! (we have even apologized for things she may have seen us do such as my spouce and I yelling at each other in front of her at times) remember kids will pick up our clues too. she knows when you're angry do you maybe slam the cabinet doors too hard or cry, I do at times and then I realize she is watching me and there are ways we as parents can have better self-control and that is the best teacher. Don't be too quick to label your child with a problem, tantrums are pretty normal even for the most well behaved child some are just more extreme in their emotions. In most cases it's simply learning self control.

Well as a mom of 4 - the youngest will be 3 in July. I share your pain. What works for me during these tantrums is my getting down to his level or standing him up on the counter, bed etc and looking him in the eyes and asking him to calm down, rub his back and ask him specific questions like, what's wrong?, tell me what happened-most times it's nothing serious, they just are so independant that their age, size and our rules frustrate them.(go figure). I know it will get better, I normally keep him close to reassure him and it helps. Just keep talking to her and teach her to use her words, tell you what it is she wants. Teach her to apologize for her outburst when she's calmed down. I have my son to do that also. It makes him take responsibility for his actions. I don't use punishment because I feel it escalates and that's not my goal. We just want to be able to feel in control and so do they. If you can get her talking-you can get it under control. I look forward to seeing your response that you are a success.

I have had the same experience with my daughter. She is 3. There have been many tantrums where she has bitten her self; she has even pulled her hair so hard that some came out. She does not do it as often as she used to. I have found that keeping her on a schedule helps. It seems that she mostly has tantrums when we are doing something that has to take her off her schedule. I know you probably keep your daughter on a schedule, but do you think her tantrums occur when you have gotten off schedule? My daughter also started preschool this past fall. I love it, and I think it has helped a lot with the way she behaves. I only have one child, and I am a single mom. I tend to spoil my daughter, I know it is bad, but I still do it. That is why I think getting her in school with other children has helped a whole lot. You wouldn’t believe how much she has learned. Their brains are little sponges. I wish you luck with your daughter, I know what it is like. Just know that you are not alone.

You may want to have her tonsils, adenoids, and ears checked. It may be a response to pain she cannot tell you about. S. B.

Scary, isn't it Stacy?

I have witnessed tantrums from my 4-year old that scare the heck out of me too. Mostly they revolve around a day that has kept her nap-free or just too much stuff getting done without enough downtime in between. Or, it is because she wants to watch a particular Disney movie and we try to turn on something else. That's always a fun one!

The only advice that seems to work when Mia goes through these tantrums is to realize that they definitely have a beginning, middle and end, and that there is ABSOLUTELY NO REASONING with her during them. What I have done is told Mia, during one of her's, that "I understand you want [fill in the blank]. You will need to settle down and then we can talk about it". That is all that it seems they are able to hear in the moment, and trying to impart more discipline won't work, so don't even try. As far as your little one pulling her hair or hitting herself, it IS terrifying, but it's also common. At their young ages, they haven't the faculties to express themselves calmly, so the hitting and scratching is the only way they've got.

If you are able to walk away and let her go through this without having to upset yourself, I say go for it. Clear the room of anything she can throw or hit herself with. You could also try to hold her tightly during these times, if you are afraid she can still injure herself. In my daughter's case, I believe she can hear me, even though she is screaming. I keep my voice steady and low and what I say simple. It seems to work.

I hope at least I am able to offer you a little bit of comfort knowing that others go through this also.

Chin up!

E.

I think you need to seek professional help because her hurting herself is not healthy at all.

Well, there are two possibilities: one is that she's acting out and knows that biting herself freaks you out so that's her trick or two that she's actually NOT in control. So, rule out the NOT in control thing first. Perhaps mention the tantrums to your ped. My first impulse is to believe that this is all behavioral. Kids have to learn self-control. Up until about your daughter's age, she got everything she wanted either because she didn't even know what she wanted but was fed, changed, put to bed, allowed to play, etc. when Mom decided (because Mom is in tune with her daughter) OR because the things she did express a want for, she was given: when our babies learn to express themselves with specifics we encourage them with positive reinforcement. But around this age, they start getting things in their heads and making demands and sometimes we say, "no. not right now." New experience! Learning self-control is a really big and not-so-easy lesson but very important. (My niece just went through this very same thing at this same age so I'm speaking based on our experience with her.) Even yelling or pulling hands out of mouths or hair is attention. Withdraw the attention. Just pick her up and put her in her room. Tell her it seems like she's overwhelmed and that she's allowed to be upset but that she needs to do it away from you. Tell her that she may come out of her room when she's gotten control of herself and you hope to see her soon. And that you love her. Then leave. When my own daughter went through this, her fits lasted for less than a week more. Then, when she started to have a fit, I would just pick her up, put her in her room, and tell her I'd see her when she was feeling better. Then no words. After a while, the fits stopped.

Good luck!

Funny, I was just thinking the same thing as Kim was. I read that long ago that when children have uncontrollable tantrums, that holding them firmly, but gently can do wonders. It gives them the sense of safety, allows them to get their anger out in a safe place, and encourages the bond between the two of you. Plus, it shows them how you can remain calm, and they learn from that. Remember, they are still learning. They may not understand how to control themselves yet. It is your job to help guide through those times. We are their first teachers!! Good luck!!

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