Tantrums and Whining- What Is Going On!?

Updated on July 28, 2012
K.U. asks from Fort Worth, TX
8 answers

I feel like I've reached the end of my rope and have zero patience or sanity left! I don't know what to do with my daughter anymore. She's 2.5 and has always been pretty headstrong and vocal, but the last few months have been getting worse, sometimes I feel like I can't even enjoy her because I'm so "on edge" and stressed :(

I'm ok with occasional 2 year old tantrums (she is a twin so I hear plenty of those!), but she's now getting to the point where she has a tantrum after any/every one of these situations throughout the day: me telling her "no", me not understanding what word she just said, telling her it's nap/bed time, telling her it's time to stop brushing her teeth, me forgetting to let her help buckle the car seat harness, not letting her go to every McDonald's we pass in the car (I have no idea where that came from), telling her we are out of something until I get back the store (i.e. juice, yogurt, crackers), the list goes on and on. She just tantrums over any and everything all day, I'd guess at least 12 episodes.

I'm hoping that doesn't sound like we don't have any discipline in our house, our kids are very well behaved, except for my daughter the last few months. We've tried the Naughty Chair, sticker reward charts, putting her in her room to cry out the tantrum, ignoring her tantrum, giving her affection during a tantrum and nothing phases her in the heat of the moment. I'm on my own 90% of the time with all 3 kids because of hubby's work schedule and her behavior has really interfered with the flow of our day since it keeps me away from the other 2 kids so much now. When she's not tantruming/whining, she is back to her usual sweet self, making us laugh. But she flips that switch and I feel like I don't even know where she came from!

I'm at my whits end and emotionally drained from handling her on top of normal Mommy duties, but I don't know what to do to prevent this or stop it once it starts. I would appreciate any advice, thank you!!!

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answers from Detroit on

I have twin boys that are 2 1/2 and an 8 month old girl. My boys will have tantrums sometimes and I've been trying to do is make them laugh and play with them and it gets their mind off whatever they were whining about and they have fun. I think its them wanting attention because when i for example, dance around and be goofy- they just laugh and forget what they were whining about. In the car- my boys will go crazy if they see a park and want me to stop- then i sing a song or whats been working good lately is "look at the tree...look at the light...what color is the light..." just taking their mind off of the park and onto something else. Distraction and redirection- those are 2 things i learned that help out a lot- whether its a tantrum or the boys fighting- distract them or redirect their attention. Hope this helps!!!

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answers from Washington DC on

This is typical. I know it's hard to believe that when it's your kid and you're losing your mind but this is typical at this age. About every six months from birth through the first five years, kids enter a new developmental phase and it often comes with a temporary deterioration in behavior.

I note that you say "we've tried...." a long list of things. How long have you stuck with any ONE form of discipline? It takes time for a form of discipline, whatever it is, to stick and for the child to realize fully that her behavior X will always, every time, result in unpleasant consequence Y. She has not had a chance to learn the "always, every time" part of the consequences. So settle on one form of discipline and stick with just that. I would start with ignoring initially (don't feed the flame -- be sure she's somewhere safe and walk away, out of her sight, saying nothing but "I will talk to you later when you are able to talk to me with words."). Being very quiet in voice and demeanor rather than yelling, and walking away, can really grab a child's attention if the tantrum isn't too far along.

Then if things escalate, use time outs appropriate to her age, and always end them with her having to apologize and you giving her a hug. If she leaves the time outs, she gets put back (over and over and over) until the time is done.

See books by the TV "supernanny" Jo Frost for time out routines. She is very good on this and on getting through the tantrum stage.

Your child is at an age when she has so very much to say and wants so very much every second but is not yet able to tell you really what she wants, or to reason or negotiate with you over her wants like an older child will do. So she just melts down. It's maddening! I know, I've been there with a kid like yours who was so very sweet and good most of the time! But it will pass IF you don't reward her for it -- and "negative attention" (yelling, fussiing, spanking) is still attention, and therefore a kind of backwards reward to a child her age, believe it or not. Ignore and then have the same exact consequence for a long time so she knows she will get nothing out of a tantrum, not even your attention. Good luck.

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answers from Portland on

I agree with much of the advice-- half years are the hardest, sometimes.

Here are a couple techniques you might try proactively (before the meltdown):
(I'm going to copy some of your 'troubled times' here and make alternative suggestions)

"me telling her "no": Tell her what she *CAN* do. It won't work every time, but positive direction helps. (instead of 'you can't run in the house' try "You may hop like a bunny" or "lets make our feet quiet like mice"... keeping it playful also helps)

"me not understanding what word she just said": What works well for me has been "Tell me that again, please." When we say "I don't understand you" they immediately perceive this as a block to having their need/desire met. "Tell me that again" is helpful, so is "Okay, point to what you want/show me what you want" if you are still having trouble after she's repeated herself.

"telling her it's nap/bed time": This may be more a demonstration of her sadness about having to rest and/or separation. I like that you are saying "it's time for" as a matter-of-course and NOT asking "are you ready for" because that invites conflict. You might want to try offering a two-item choice immediately after making the bedtime announcement: "Do you want to sleep with kitty or bear?" "Do you want me to jump you into bed or fly you into bed?" The "How" choices (getting a choice in how we get someplace -hopping, jumping, being 'flown') help the child's brain/thoughts to move past digging their heels in about bedtime (or other necessary tasks) to 'how' they might like to do it, which gives them empowerment and all the good brain chemicals/signals that come with feeling capable and competent.

"telling her it's time to stop brushing her teeth": Here's what I would do-- if she just adores brushing her teeth, let that be her 'activity'... give her loads of time to do it, even at bedtime if need be. In fact, you might consider setting a timer for five minutes (or more, depending on how long she likes doing it) and tell her 'when the timer goes ding, I need you to come on out'... if she has 'too much' time on the timer, there will be no conflict. She'll be bored with it long before the timer chimes. And--once you have brushed them so you know her teeth are clean, get yourself out of the bathroom. Less attention is better in this case.

"me forgetting to let her help buckle the car seat harness": do you have two seconds to do it again? If you do, keep it playful: "Silly mommy! I forgot that buckle is YOUR job! I've got to try again!" If you don't, consider packing a 'quiet book' in the car that has a buckle for her to practice on. Distraction/redirection....

"not letting her go to every McDonald's we pass in the car (I have no idea where that came from)": Empathy time, but keep it short. "You think that's an interesting place, don't you? Now we are going to X". Matter of fact, you've acknowledged her feelings, and while I would encourage distract/redirect, I know that if you are driving, paying attention to the road is important. One mom I used to work with had a child who tantrummed in the car seat a lot-- she used to ask that child to help her watch for red, yellow, or green lights at different times, or ask them to 'tell me when you see a truck/bike/dog' etc.

"telling her we are out of something until I get back the store (i.e. juice, yogurt, crackers)": tough one here, but assertive choice is helpful. "I don't have that for you right now, you may choose X or Y" If the tantrum/bawling persists, take her to her room-- stay emotionally neutral and calm when you are doing this-- and tell her "come back when you are ready to choose X or Y" and leave. No more attention. Another idea would be to put a little of both choices already on a plate, so when she returns, she doesn't have to tell you a choice, she can have make the choice while she eats. This way, she's not choosing and changing her mind.

I would do as suggested and stick with one or two techniques at most. Personally, my experience as a nanny suggests that toddlers don't always really do well with rewards/incentives or sticker charts. Some do, but most don't. I find that our attention is the biggest reward and a very powerful teaching tool. This is why many parents suggest that when a baby/child bites a parent, for the parent to put the child down in a safe place and walk away for a short time.

I would strongly *discourage* you from trying to talk/reason/or love on a child during a tantrum. Certainly, lots of empathy for sadness or crying from pain/grief, but temper tantrums need to fizzle out on their own. When we stay attendant to the child while they are in a tantrum state, we are not doing them any favors because children do love an audience. When she's calmed down from the worst of it, you can offer empathy or move the moment along, depending on what the whole family needs at the moment.

There's a great book called "The Science of Parenting" by Margo Sunderland which you might check out from the library. It gives us a good view into the brain development of children and helps us to understand why they do what they do. Their brain really does process denial and unfulfilled desires/wants as 'pain' because it is less developed at this age, which is why you get the huge reactions. It sounds like you are doing pretty well all things considered!

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answers from Washington DC on

My son was exactly like this from about 14 months to almost 3. I think every kid has a bad phase, and nothing will work for them except growing out of it. I reread my journal when my son was that age and I could read the stress and frustration in my voice. He's 3.5 now and a totally different kid from what he was back then.

I think your best bet is to wait it out. Get some me time and enjoy a good glass of wine at night. This phase wont last forever.

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answers from Tampa on

It is a phase. I recently read that the "half years" are most difficult. That is 2 1/2, 3 1/2, etc... By around 3, they tend to turn into more cooperative and pleasant preschoolers. By 3 1/2 everything changes again. It's all part of the wonderful stages of toddlers-preschoolers. It's hard enough with 1, very challenging with 3. Hang in there - it will pass.

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answers from Los Angeles on

I'm with Christy, it will pass. My guy turned 3 in April, and apparently I missed the memo that he is now grown, lol! He started demanding his way in everything, and complaining loudly and theatrically when he didn't get it.

For tantrums and whining he gets one, "Sorry, I can't understand you when you whine (or cry.) Use your words and tell me what is wrong." If he tells me I explain that he can't have such and such, whether he does or not tell me if the whining/tantrum continues he gets to go to his room with the door closed until he finishes crying/screaming/whining, he can scream and fuss all he wants to in there, but we're not going to listen to it. Truth is, once he loses his audience the tantrum usually comes to an abrupt end, it's not worth it anymore. But he doesn't get his way, whatever he was upset about.

For minor infractions he gets the Naughty Seat, and if he does his time-out all is well, if he has a fit he goes to his room. Truthfully, his behavior has improved over the past month, he catches himself before he acts out more of the time than not. I'm hoping within a couple of months this will be a distant memory.

Hang in there, be consistent with consequences, it will pass.

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answers from Chicago on

Is she close to 2.5? It's a major developmental period and they go nuts for a while.

My 2.5 year old has been stomping his feet and throwing fits over everything. This is my boy that is the most easy going spirit on earth. It should pass soon. Meanwhile, just hang in there!

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answers from Dallas on

I have to agree with Hazel W's post. Lots of good advice. When we are out of something, I tell my 2.5 yr old that he needs to tell me to buy more when we are at the store. He's usually the one who comes shopping with me.

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