Over these last few weeks, around the time our toddler turned 2, we have noticed progressively more tantrums and ‘meltdowns’, sometimes up to 2 or more in a day. These crying bouts are noticeably different from the ones in earlier toddlerhood. Back then, whenever our little one cried, we knew it was usually due to a physical reason (e.g., real discomfort with teething, or a bump on the head). At such times, our toddler’s attention could be still relatively easily diverted with a toy or a book. Even if there was a day or two of prolonged fussiness and whining from a cold/flu or teething bout, our toddler would usually revert back to her happy-go-lucky self once she was feeling better physically. Then the Sunday morning of the daylight savings time change (‘fall back’ in the United States was on November 2, 2014 so an hour was gained), I blamed myself for the hour long meltdown during breakfast to the fact that she was overly hungry because I did not get her up earlier to help with the time transition. However, when she subsequently melted down again for another 45 minute screaming fit after a good afternoon nap, I started to question if the daylight savings time change had anything to do with it!
As I pondered on this, I began to see a pattern of meltdowns more related to the stage my toddler currently is at, rather than external or physical causes. Why? Because there are marked differences between her crying bouts now and her crying bouts in early toddlerhood. Now, the tantrums seem to start from something very simple such as a refused request (in terms of what she wants to eat or drink or a specific toy) or her not getting something she wanted quickly enough. Something could suddenly set her off, and then she goes into a downward spiral. The meltdowns are extreme in nature, with high pitched screaming and crying lasting 30 minutes to an hour. It’s like a boiling kettle suddenly going into a full steam siren-like wail with no one to turn off the heat and move it away from the hot burner. She is difficult to console, may become violent (wanting to throw something or push things, scratch her face in frustration, or throw herself to the ground). She keeps screaming a request but then pushes it away when it”s given to her, and even when we are near her she is not consoled easily with a hug. Sigh.
During one of these episodes, my husband remarked, “She doesn’t know how to calm herself.” I think that is probably very true. There is the new frustration too of being able to communicate in some sense what she wants, but not very well, especially when she is upset. As parents, I think there is not much we can do at this stage…except to support her and sit with her patiently until her tantrums subside, to be consistent in our disciplining and to calmly help our toddler talk through it afterwards when she is calm again.
If you have suggestions or similar experiences, feel free to share them! Hope you are having an easier time in these ‘Toddler Trenches’!