Mother and Baby

Terrible twos: Tips from real mums for tackling tantrums

terrible twos

Toddler-hood comes with all sorts of exciting milestones, learning to talk, walk and becoming more independent every day. But with these exciting markers comes the dreaded "terrible twos" and inevitable toddler tantrums.

In this article: 

Whether it's a meltdown in your local shop, a splatter-fest at your toddler's dinner time or a bedtime screaming match, the terrible twos can truly be a terrible time for everyone involved. We know it can be really stressful dealing with these outbursts from your little one, so we've put together a guide, inspired by real mums' tips, on how to deal with toddler tantrums without having one yourself.

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What are the terrible twos?

The famous terrible twos are a completely normal part of being a toddler. They are defined by outbursts or tantrums, defiant behaviour or generally having a very frustrated toddler. They can start anywhere from 18 to 30 months and can even carry on until your child is four. They do become less frequent as your child gets older though, so there's light at the end of the tunnel.

Milestones during toddlerhood include walking, talking, having opinions, learning about emotions and learning how to take turns and share. They will want to explore their environment and do what they want on their own terms, but will sometimes lack the emotional, physical and linguistic abilities to do so.

Your toddler might experience tantrums during this time because with every milestone they're becoming more independent and curious, but lack the emotional and language skills to express how they feel or what they want to do. For example, your little one might really want to pour their own milk, but lack the dexterity to do so, so get frustrated when they can't do this for themselves.

Signs of a tantrum:

  • Crying
  • Hitting
  • Biting
  • Kicking
  • Throwing things

These are all totally normal signs that your toddler is having a tantrum.

How long do the terrible twos last and when will they end?

The terrible twos can begin as soon as your child becomes a toddler, which is usually between one and three years old. Usually by the time your child turns four, they have enough language skills to express how they feel and what they want.

How to deal with tantrums during the terrible twos

One of the most important tips from the real mums we asked was to stay calm. Children can pick up when you're stressed, and if you meet anger with anger then they'll think being angry is an acceptable way to communicate. Another top tip is to avoid common meltdown triggers. Stick to regular bed and meal times if you can, and avoid taking your toddler to the shops when they are hungry or tired. It's a really good idea to carry emergency snacks and drinks to keep your little one happy as you do your supermarket sweep.

Some tips from Mother&Baby's #mumtribe:

  • Distract your toddler with a favourite toy, snack or storybook. Young children have short attention spans and this can be a really effective way of diverting a meltdown.
  • Give them an element of choice without leaving them feeling overwhelmed. For example, red socks or blue socks, apple or orange. This will mean your toddler feels in control and gives them a chance to assert their new found independence.
  • Pick your battles - does it really matter if your toddler wants to wear wellies or an Elsa dress to the park? Some things aren't worth the tantrum.
  • Don't give in or try and reason with your toddler. They aren't old enough to understand why they can't pick up that bottle of prosecco from the bottom shelf of the supermarket so don't try explaining it to them. Remain calm and try not to match your child's anger with your own.
  • Don't rehash the bad behavour, your toddler won't really understand what they've done wrong. Make sure you praise the good behaviour when it does happen, and give them a big hug when they've calmed down and tell them you love them.
  • A good way to deal with a tantrum in public is to stay calm, acknowledge that your child feels angry about something and hold them firmly until they stop struggling, letting them know you love them but not their behaviour.
  • Sometimes you just have to let them be angry and take them to run around in an outside space, everyone feels angry sometimes, including your little ones.

When to seek help

It might feel overwhelming when your toddler is acting out, and if you're feeling low or worried then you can absolutely ask for help. If your child is displaying worrying behaviours during their terrible twos, tantrums are extremely frequent, or you find yourself always giving in to them, a trip to see your GP could do wonders. You could also try speaking to your health visitor, calling the Family Lives support line 0808 800 2222 or visiting the Family Lives site.

Examples of worrying behaviour for toddlers include:

  • Tantrums that include hitting, biting, kicking or other violent behaviour more than half the time
  • If your child tries to injure themselves during a tantrum
  • If a tantrum occurs 10-20 times in a day
  • If a tantrum lasts more than 25 minutes
  • If your child is consistently unable to calm themselves
  • If your child is withdrawn or not seeking attention from others or not making eye contact
  • If the tantrums are causing you a lot of stress

Keeping your tot entertained on the weekly food shop

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1) Know their limit

Not only knowing their limit, but knowing your own too, is guranteed to make shopping a whole lot easier.
If you know your tot gets bored of the shopping after 20 minutes, try to do your shop in that time frame, it's also a good way to avoid getting distracted by other bits you might not need.
Alternatively, give your little one something to keep them entertained while you finish the rest of the shopping such as a book, sticker book or healthy snack. 

If you can, it might be worth doing two shops a week so that you don't spend hours in the store. This is a great way to avoid food waste too as you'll only be buying what you need for a few days.
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2) Take a picture of what they want

No matter how hard you try, you somehow end up on an aisle where your child is begging for at least one toy off the shelf. It's amazing how the word 'no' can spark a meltdown so quickly, too! 

To save yourself a bit of time when you can see those toddler tantrums about to start, get them to pose with the toy that they really want and tell them you're going to send the picture to the Birthday Bunny, Easter Bunny or Santa, letting them know that they want the toy, (or say it's going on the list for next week).

You'll be surprised how quickly they forget about it after! 
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3) Get them their own trolley

Some supermarkets already have their very own mini trolleys for little ones, but if not it could be worth taking your own! 

Let your tot push around his own trolley and give him his own shopping list of things you need to buy for him. He'll feel very grown-up doing his own shopping and he'll be excited picking his own snacks off the shelf! 
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4) Take plenty of snacks

Snacks are a good way of keeping your little one distracted when they start to get restless.

Try to avoided sugary snacks and stick to healthy ones, as sugar can make them hyper, (and chasing a sugar-fuelled toddler down the shopping aisle isn't fun). There's also the dreaded sugar crash that you don't want to happen anywhere between the checkout and your journey home! 
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5) Make them a 'shopping officer'

Give your little one some responsibility by giving them a pictured checklist of some of the shopping you need, and get them to tick it off when you've got it. 

Get them a little high vis jacket as well so that they know how important their new role at the shops is. 
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6) Let them help

While making your tot sit in the trolley might seem easier, you might find yourself fighting to keep them sat down after 10 minutes. If you find your tot trying to wriggle their way out of the trolley, let them walk with you and let them pick out items from the shelves.

It might take a little bit longer than whizzing around with the trolley, but you'll definitely save a few minutes by having no toddler meltdowns! 

Got some tips on dealing with toddler tantrums? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!

  • Author: Louella Berryman Louella Berryman
  • Job Title: Audience Development Executive

After training as a journalist at Cardiff University and winning the BBC Best New Brand of the Year Award for her plastic-free magazine, Louella now works in Audience Development across Bauer’s lifestyle brands.
She has also written for The Sunday Times Travel, Grazia, heatworld, Closer Online and her food blog, Louella’s Kitchen. She's interested in writing about food, culture and women's health.

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