Terrible Ones?

Dear Mamas,

My second child just turned one, and OMG does he have a temper! If he doesn’t get his way or you take something from him that he thinks he needs, look out! He will scream like he is being tortured, throw himself on the ground and kick, or reach out to grab you if you’re close enough to scratch or just pull on your clothes. YIKES! It is so contradictory to his character that we see MOST of the time. He is so loving and sweet, loves to be held and snuggle. He will get a book and bring it to me to read to him. He is so smart and comprehends so much already. I understand that it is hard for him since he can’t really communicate what he needs or wants yet but that doesn’t even seem to be the issue. There is this little devil that comes out of him and I honestly have to do a double take to make sure it’s my kid! My first is a girl (now 4), and I don’t remember her doing any of this. 
The things I have tried are remove him if he is on my lap and turn him away from me. I have put him in his crib but remembered that it’s not good to associate being in trouble with bed or nap time. I will just walk away and let him get it out of his system. A few times I have screamed with him or thrown myself on the floor and he cracks up. I then worry that I’m teaching him his fits are funny?! This parenting thing is tough!!! I hate when I second guess everything we do and wonder if we are doing anything right?!

How should we be handling these fits?


Dear Sophia,

Thanks for the great question!

Your guy is at a tough age, communication wise — old enough to feel frustrated and mad when something doesn’t go his way, but too young to have a way to express it that’s socially acceptable. Keep in mind that boys are all physical, compared to girls who tend to be more verbal. They automatically act out with their bodies, as opposed to little girls who are more likely to express a sassy attitude less physically.

AND this is a phase he will pass through when he has enough words to replace his actions and express what he’s feeling. In the meantime, a few thoughts that may help:

1) The isolation idea is a good one. If there’s a safe place that’s not his crib, place him there and leave the room so he gets the message he doesn’t get your attention by throwing a fit.

2) Offer him the words he doesn’t yet have. Like, “I know you’re really mad. What can you do with your MAD? Stomp your feet. Squeeze a pillow or stuffed toy as hard as you can. And here are some words about feeling mad: (fill in the blank). When you’re not quite so mad come and sit with me and I’ll try to make it better, but first you need to get out your MAD.” (make up whatever expressive words work for you and for him).

3) The silly approach is just fine. Rest assured, he won’t be throwing fits forever just because you make it silly. It’s a creative way of shifting his mood and helping him get past it. The key to this technique is staying emotionally neutral and … well … silly. NOT gritting your teeth while pretending to be silly. Kids are geniuses at knowing the difference.

4) Enlist your daughter in helping him learn words like “mad”, “grrr”, any kid-friendly expressions she wants to help him verbalize those powerful feelings. Chances are he’ll do anything to be like big sister.

Hope this stuff helps while time and healthy language development do the heavy lifting.

~ The Mamas



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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?

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