Q: My fun-loving, happy-go-lucky son turned 15 months old last week, and has suddenly started crying, whining, becoming clingy, and throwing tantrums. Is there some way to “nip this behavior in the bud” before it becomes difficult to take him out anywhere? I hate to see him so upset, but have tried comforting him which only seems to make him angrier. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
A: It’s in the second year of life (not after the second birthday) that the “Terrible Two’s” usually begin and, yes, there are some strategies that might make this phase easier. But, first, satisfy yourself that these changes in behavior aren’t the result of stress, especially if your son is very clingy and this is out of character. Have there been any big life changes recently that he may be having trouble dealing with?
If not, then your efforts should be towards preventing outbursts and, effectively intervening when they occur. Most temper tantrums in this age group are born of frustration, from wanting to do and have and say more than he is physically capable of. If you can spot these situations as they are building, for example, when he is eyeing an object he can’t have, or trying to express himself but can’t, then you can often use distraction or substitution to avoid the frustration, or try leading him to a different area where there are other things of interest to him. But not every trouble spot can be avoided. Once a tantrum is underway, remember that any behavior that gets a lot of attention from adults is more likely to recur, even if the attention is negative. Make sure he and others are safe, then calmly but firmly deal with the conflict with as little attention as necessary.
At 15 months, simply moving with him to a quieter place for a few minutes often helps. Once he has settled down, offer him a better way of dealing with his conflict (in a way he can understand and this part gets easier with older children), then move on. If, after trying these strategies, nothing seems to be improving, bring this up with your pediatrician, explaining the exact circumstances that bring on the behavior.