Tantrums for Two
Q. Do you have any tips on helping 2-yr.old twins who tantrum at the same time and very, very often? Most of the time I’m the only one there to listen and it just doesn’t seem like it’s enough!
A. It sounds like you’ve got a challenging situation on your hands! I’m glad you’ve asked for our help. It’s really hard when two children both have issues at the same time. And this often happens, because once one child is upset, the other child becomes very sensitive to whatever feelings he or she has stored up. Then, off they both go.
It sounds like you’ve got a challenging situation on your hands! I’m glad you’ve asked for our help. It’s really hard when two children both have issues at the same time. And this often happens, because once one child is upset, the other child becomes very sensitive to whatever feelings he or she has stored up. Then, off they both go. I think that it will be good to think of your children as each having an “emotional project” that they are working on. Maybe it’s frustration—two is an age when a child’s expectations of what they can do and how the world should work for them often runs far ahead of what they can actually accomplish. So they expect a lot, and don’t tolerate dashed expectations at all. This is actually a good thing–we don’t want children who are willing to go around feeling discouraged all the time! We want children who hope for a lot, try for a lot, and blast off a lot of feelings when it all doesn’t work out 100%. Their strategy–get the upset out of the way the minute it hurts –is really challenging for a parent (especially one parent with twins!) but also very normal, healthy and intelligent.
Small children are smart to tantrums. Smart to toss out the frustration or bigger feelings spinning around inside. Often, little frustrations can trigger a child’s storehouse of feelings left over from things we might not even consider. A crowded prenatal environment, a difficult birth, early separation because of medical issues, or other common occurrences with twins that no one considers out of the ordinary, might be quite hard on a vulnerable infant. So if a child’s tantrum goes on for more than about 15 minutes, you can guess that he or she has moved on from offloading a momentary frustration to working through an issue that has caused some fear or deeper uncertainty. And, as loud or maybe even uncomfortable as it may be for a sensitive parent, this is all perfectly OK.
So, to handle the situation (which will resolve over time, I promise) there are a couple of strategies that will help you. The first is to find a listener for yourself–someone who won’t interrupt you, won’t judge you or your parenting, who won’t give advice, and who will marvel at your love, your energy, and your resourcefulness, even when you’re describing your hardest moments. You’re working very hard and you deserve some caring attention!
We have a booklet on how to set up a Listening Partnership, in which you exchange this kind of listening with another person, perhaps another parent or a friend. You can find it at http://www.handinhandparenting.org/literature.html. The chance to relax, to talk about how hard you are working and the kinds of feelings that come up when both children are beside themselves is often uniquely valuable and helpful.
Second, just sit down, keep the kids from hurting themselves or each other, and listen. When they begin to wind down, ask them warmly as possible, “Are you still thinking about the toast I cut the wrong way?” or “Yes, your sister has the ball you want. I’ll help you wait for it” or “We really do need to brush teeth now. Are you ready yet?” and if they’re not finished being upset, they’ll go right back to an intense tantrum or cry, scrubbing out the emotional distress that has filled their mind. You can spend a minute offering connection to one, then turn to the other and offer a minute to him/her. Or longer. You can try to keep a hand on the one you’re not looking at, so that each of them have some sign of your willingness to connect. The longer the tantrum goes, the faster your child will move through the emotional project he or she has started.
If you are tired and out of patience yourself, as they begin, you can sit with them, manage general safety, and have a cry yourself. We all have days that can be improved this way! Just try to stay close to them, because they need a general eye out for them while they’re working things through, but it’s OK for you to release some feelings, too–your job is such a big one, and you’ve been struggling through for a couple of years now! The example brings your children that much closer to you, reminding them that Mommies and Daddies have feelings just like they do.
Times when you’re too stretched to pay good attention while they tantrum, try to at least stay close by–being abandoned by an adult while feelings are wide open is a scary thing for a child, and it prolongs the upset greatly. Closeness, attention, openness to the feelings, and reassurance that you’ll stay with them even when it’s hard is really all your children need from you–they’re doing the hard work of clearing out upsets and recovering from emotional bumps and bruises. They just need the space to do that, with your caring flowing toward them whenever possible.
Reprinted with the permission of Hand in Hand Parenting. © 1997-2011 Hand in Hand
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