Taming 'Terrible Two' Tantrums

Who knew a simple little word could solve my latest parenting headache - a head-banging toddler.

Those parenting magazines don’t tell you everything you need to know. I think they’re afraid they will scare you.

They don’t say that the "Terrible Twos" actually start around 18 months.  It happened to me and to many others that I have polled. They don’t tell you to anticipate temper tantrums that bring up deep-seeded fears. They don’t tell you that these tantrums could be tamed by something so simple yet so complex as the word “more.”

Emma’s had mercifully subsided. I was really enjoying the engaging, funny and curious little girl who took the place of the screaming, tortured baby that resided with us for the past six months. I often thought how smart our little angel was, how intuitive and inquisitive she seemed. 

As the time went on, I noticed that she wasn’t saying a lot of words, or even babbling that much. It didn’t seem to bother her, so I didn’t really pay too much attention to it. My pediatrician would ask, "How many words is she saying?” and I would answer, "Um…none?” Her one word, catch-all phrase was “ah-buh.” She said that for everything from her sippy cup to our Pomeranian.  She called her daddy “ah-buh” and she called me “ah-buh.” Sometimes I didn’t know if she was acknowledging me or the dog (a sure-fire way to knock a person’s self-confidence!). 

Then I noticed that Emma was starting to get frustrated, then angry, then full-fledged furious. The temper tantrums began in full force.  Sometimes there were warning signs, like a tornado siren that would tell you to run for cover.  Sometimes there was no warning at all. It felt like the littlest thing could set her off and keep her off kilt for quite a while. She seemed so frustrated and filled with angst. She actually resembled a mini teenager (Ok, ok, she resembled me at 14 years old. Just don’t tell my mother I said that).   

Her tantrums seemed to be so extreme that I began to think (again?) that there was something seriously wrong.  She would get so worked up that she would bang her head on the wooden floor, really hard.  I spoke with my pediatrician who calmly told me to just “ignore” the behavior, which seemed like good advice to me. I pictured myself sticking my fingers in my ears and singing “la la la” over and over again. It actually sounded kind of fun.  She told me that as long as Emma was in a place that was safe, she would be fine. So I steadied my nerves and when the next head banging scenario happened, I put Emma in our carpeted play room and walked out. I was pretty proud of myself until I heard a different sort of banging. She wasn’t getting any satisfaction in smashing her head into the carpet so she dragged herself to the wall and started banging her head against that instead. My pride and confidence dissolved. Now what was I supposed to do?

I could change diapers and wipe baby spit up out of my hair until the cows come home, but this? It happened everywhere, the park, the grocery store, the car. I have so many stories of my run-ins with strangers that I’ll save those tales for another time.

So, another call to her doctor and it was decided to get her evaluated for early intervention. The pediatrician thought that her lack of speech was creating her frustration.  I was all for it.  And to be honest, at that point, if the doctor had suggested I sleep hanging upside down like a bat, I would have done it without a thought.

The evaluation process was thorough and a little nerve-wracking.  Experts in their given field came in to our home, sat on the floor with Emma and played games with her. She was shy at first but really loved all the attention. I, on the other hand, was a stuttering mess. I felt foolish if I couldn’t answer one of the questions posed to me, as if I was the one failing their tests.  I found myself apologizing a lot, but for what? I have no idea. After the evaluator would leave, Emma would totter off, none the worse for wear, yet I was left spent and confused, like “Wait, what just happened here?”

After all the tests were complete and evaluations written, it was determined that Emma had a significant speech delay. She qualified for speech therapy, which took place twice a week. The woman, (whom we still refer to as our "breath-of-fresh-air") came wheeling a cart of toys and played with Emma while I sat nervously biting my nails at the kitchen table. I wasn’t in the room while they played but I could hear everything she was saying to my toddler. I started to get defensive and downright grumpy as I heard her repeat commands over and over. I thought “Oh, big deal! I do that and she never repeats anything. Hurrumph!”

Well, no surprise here folks, right? Ms. Diane wanted Emma to say “more.” Guess what my little princess said? With that one little word, our world started to shift. That one little word made Emma stop banging her head. I believe it was because she saw people begin to understand her, even with just one command in her vocabulary.  I could be completely off, but who’s to really say? Don’t get me wrong, she still had knock-your-socks-off tantrums, but seeing her words emerge with the tantrums made it (slightly) more bearable. There was a different air to them now. It wasn’t easier per se, but I was so grateful the head banging stopped that I could take it on the chin much easier when she flipped her lid in the grocery store. I could turn to the lady giving me dirty looks and say “Hey! This is nothing! She can say 'more' now, so consider yourself lucky!” Well, I never actually said that, but I sure did think it.

So to recap, within three years, I’ve dealt with , pregnancy, , and now early intervention services. This could only mean that the teenage years will be a walk in the park! I’m sure I read that somewhere in those parenting magazines….. if only I could find that article.


Eileen Wunsch September 04, 2011 at 05:28 PM
Another homerun from the author. It is seldom someone opens the door and lets you in to a world that is fairly common. Some parent(s) who are experiencing the "terrible twos" feel alone and totally useless. The author lets you know you are NOT alone and there is a light at the end of the tunnel....and once your reach it you will be victorious. Kudos to the author.
Melanie September 04, 2011 at 05:32 PM
Fabulous job!! I can so relate to what u went through in a lot of ways!
Betty Distefano September 04, 2011 at 05:55 PM
Early intervention really is the best thing since sliced bread! These therapist are worth all their weight in gold. How unfortunate that some parents still suffer from that, "oh no, not my kid" stigma associated with professional help for child rearing. But then there's the other extreme; "My son is 14 months old and he drools excessively-He must be autistic!" As loving parents we have to know the difference between "normal/main stream behavior" and when it's just not. As far as your article, Mrs.Shinsato? I want "more"...
Kristen September 04, 2011 at 06:29 PM
Many people are embarrassed, ashamed, and quiet about their struggles. You open up to strangers to allow them to learn from your personal life experiences. That is a quality of both a great writer and a great individual! Keep sharing with us - can't wait to read more!!!
WHMomOfFour September 05, 2011 at 11:27 PM
Great job, once again !! Emma is so lucky to have you, patient, willing to do anything for her. Most people like to think they would do anything for their kids, but when it comes down to it - don't.
Christine Gangone September 07, 2011 at 12:05 AM
i'll say it again....your amazing! im your biggest fan! love you!
Lillian Shinsato Ditta September 10, 2011 at 01:34 PM
Your writing puts me to tears. It sends me back to the time when dealing with my little ones was like learning how to deal with an alien. Your stories are funny, warm, and true to heart. You are so gifted.
Janet September 10, 2011 at 04:54 PM
Janet Scaturro Your articles take my breath away. Never stop writing, You are so gifted and your stories are the best and whats even better is I know they are so true. I look forward to each one.
Kathy Shinsato September 16, 2011 at 06:40 PM
I agree with Lillian. Your writing brings tears to my eyes and touches my heart. Not only do I feel closer to you and my niece, but I come away having learned something that I could one day pass onto someone else.
Kim Darling September 23, 2011 at 12:45 AM
I don't want it to sound like I'm loving your stories about how hard it was for you, but I'm loving your stories! Ang, your writing really is incredable. I'm just sorry I'm reading this so late! But keep it up!!! Please don't stop writing!


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