Toddler Years: Handling Tantrums


Putting her blocks away without being prompted.

Sixtine is a very bright, wild, energetic and strong-willed little girl. She loves her newly found independence but still needs a lot of attention. I think the hardest part of being 20 months (for my baby anyway) is that she is torn between wanting to be her own individual and needing us – just as much as her 3 months old sister does, but differently.

She has gone through moving out of the country twice, being away from her father half her life in total, changing homes, language, entourage, routine and last but not least, a difficult pregnancy (modified bed rest, hospitalization) and a new baby in the family. Sprinkle with a typical 20-month old attitude and you have a clear picture of what we are going through right now.

She is craving for stability, routine and order which is why the Montessori approach works so well for us. Look at her putting her blocks away at the exact same place! She seems so concentrated and content. I was actually extremely surprised to see that she knew to empty her dirty clothes basket in her sister’s hamper.

One thing though, she is amazing with her baby sister. She kisses her, holds her hand, tells her not to cry, tell her “go” when she wants her to nurse, pour water on her head during bath time (gently – she means to help), shares her toys, will pull my hand when “Coco” is up so I can attend to her right the second ( I think she hears her better than I do ;)…and the list goes on!

However, I have been finding it really hard to keep my cool lately. She whines and cries a lot more than usual, and can be defiant as well. I am not as patient either and I suppose she can feel it too. What I usually do is I will explain to her that I am not happy with her behaviour and will have her sit on a cushion. She knows she has to stay on it until I go get her (usually a couple minutes) and I tell her to think about what happened. She usually gets very offended and cries, eventually, when I come back, I ask her if she is sorry and she will answer: “Yeah” and give me a big cuddle and kisses. It usually works – but for big tantrums, I am totally at lost.

I know I should ignore them but it is easier said than done – raising two young children alone, I have very little time for myself, I get frustrated and tired, I get to miss my husband (and I know Sixtine misses her Daddy so much it breaks my heart) who goes away for work, and at the end of the day, we are all very tensed.

She has also been fighting against wearing diapers but also won’t sit on the toilets. I guess she just wants to say: I want to make decision for myself. And she can make some decisions; I offer choices when possible but it isn’t always.

It makes me very emotional just thinking of it – I love my baby so much and I wish things were smoother between the two of us…

I know that spending quality time together makes a difference – and I sincerely feel that I do that but maybe not as much as she would like – but I would really like to hear how you are going through the toddler stage or how you got through it.

ps: I need a serious plan for potty training. (I can’t let her run around naked anymore as we have mostly carpet in the house!)


  1. Hi Deb – with the exception of the health complications during pregnancy, we are going through EXACTLY the same things. Kenny is away for work a lot of the time, I am left dealing on my own with the baby and Katy – who is headstrong, determined and very stubborn. She shrieks a LOT just now, and has a lot of temper tantrums. I know its a developmental thing (I repeat it to myself as a mantra some days!) but its still a challenge. We are moving out of our rented house this week, back across Scotland to our flat that we own (we are trying to sell it just now and the tenants didn’t take very good care of it….long story). Once the flat sells, we are planning to move to PEI for the foreseeable future, but that’s another big thing to try to organize. Its very hard to keep my adult worries and stresses away from the kids – I think a lot of the time just now I am “grumpy Mummy” instead of “fun Mummy” and that is so upsetting for me. Katy has already had to move twice, this move is number 3. Its so much to have to ask her to get used to. I know she senses that things are changing (the house is being packed up around her) so her tantrums are so much worse right now. I am hoping that she will settle once we are a bit more settled. I have been reading a bit about Montessori and I think a lot of the philosophies will be good for Katy too. I was speaking to a child development worker and she said at this young age what kids crave is our attention – and they will get it anyway they can. When we are distracted we don’t always see the good behaviour they are doing to get our attention, but they learn very quickly that by doing something we don’t want them to we will pay attention immediately! I know I find myself using the time that Katy is playing to often do something else and that’s not always the right answer. I should praise her more, play with her and pay attention to her when she’s engaging in a positive way. I do notice on days that I am paying more attention in a positive way, Katy will have a lot less (or none at all) tantrums. When I am distracted and fretting over “adult things” – all hell breaks loose in our house! I think also with Katy, she is at the age that she knows what she wants, but can’t always express it which frustrates her, and doesn’t understand why I can’t let her have something she wants sometimes. (ie. sharp knife to play with!) I have no idea how to deal with them all – I try to leave her for a couple of minutes, and then give her a cuddle and explain why again. She will NOT sit still on a cushion yet – I give you a lot of praise for managing that one! At least Sixtine doesn’t bite…..Katy’s done that a couple of times to me lately when she’s really upset/angry. I REALLY don’t know how to deal with that one. I think you are doing all the right things though – given what you have to go through every day all on your own (and I do know exactly how it feels!) the fact that your daughters are both happy, healthy and smiling means you are doing a terrific job! I found this last night on the internet, and although its maybe a wee bit cheesy, I like the idea behind it and will try to remember it – especially on my bad days!

    • Oh wow Karyn, thank you for taking the time to share this with us! I can totally relate to everything you said. And you know what, as bad as it may sound, it makes me feel better to know that you are going through something similar with your daughter. It is so easy to feel guilty and start thinking that you are the only one whose child acts this way. Because really, it is not something people chat too much about (around me anyway) so I think it is all roses!
      I read a great quote somewhere (I think it was Dr. Sears but not sure) – it said: The “goodness” of your baby is not a reflection on your parenting ability.”

      I know Sixtine needs me a lot, and that is why I always plan for a couple activities for each day of the week together so we have that special bonding time. She loves when I sit on the floor in her room and either play with her or watch her play. She gets excited and smiles, and sometimes will just kiss me. Just because she is so happy to be with me, and see that I am there for her, just for her. I am getting emotional writing this.

      I eat breakfast and sometimes lunch and/or supper with her and she loves it. I engage her in daily activities (emptying hampers, dishwasher – I know haha – changing the baby, bathing the baby…) and I love to dance for her and her sister. She loves to see me dance – I think it is because she knows I am happy and Grumpy Mummy as you put it is no longer when I dance.

      Thank you again Karyn – looking forward to meeting you in person when you come in August!

  2. Shane is the same age as Sixtine and has also gone through periods of upheaval and stress. When he had his tantrums he would arch his back, fall to the floor (on purpose) then start kicking and headbutting. Patience is sooo hard to come by when this happens but getting mad at them just makes things worse.

    I remember reading somewhere that a common cause of a tantrum is frustration at not being understood. They know what they’re trying to say and get mad when you don’t understand them. A lot of it is also “But I want it NOW!” but even then it’s about not understanding why they can’t have what they want, when they want it.

    If it looks like she might hurt herself then make sure she’s in a soft area with no corners or hard toys. Try and stay near her, soothing voice etc. If you feel like shouting try and make an exit, it’s better to disappear for a cuppa than to be shouting at them.

    Hope that helps! Don’t feel too guilty if you do shout or get mad sometimes because we all do. Good luck 🙂

    • Thank you Lauren. I agree about the frustration, I think it is also a strive for independence – especially in my daughter’s case. If she could drive herself to daycare she would haha. I asked my SlL how she dealt with tantrums and she said: “lots of timeouts” and then added “for you”. I think about it often and do it occasionally. I put myself in time out, breathe, sing, just step back and re-think the situation. It helps.

      • Also if you find yourself preparing to shout, take a big breath instead. That split second can be all it takes to stop it from getting worse. Do you find yourself shouting to be heard over the screaming?

      • I don’t even try haha I just look at her and say something like: “Ca suffit, Sixtine” or “Stop, that’s enough Sixtine”. But I do have to raise my voice to get myself heard. I recently started whispering to have her stop screaming and it helps. I think it calms her down.

  3. May I recommend a couple of resources which have been vital for my toddler challenges . Becoming the Parent you Want to be is an amazing book. Another AMAZING resource that has been a lifesaver for us all and one that I return to on a daily basis is

    Dr. Laura is brilliant! I have a very short fuse and had to learn how to be a better parent, because patience does not come naturally to me at all. She has helped me to understand that time-outs don’t work because when a kid is naughty, the last thing they need is to be relegated away from their care-provider. That when a kid is really being a jerk is when they most, most, most need cuddles, eye-contact, affirmations and connection. If children are connected with their parents, they will want to follow the already discussed guidelines and rules. They want to please their parents.

    As for the whining, when Sabine whines, I have convinced myself not to be annoyed by it and just see it for what it is- another way of expressing herself. If I ignore it and just get her the glass of water or help her pick up the block right in front of her! She generally stops the whining. When before I used to say,” until you can say it in a way that I can hear, I will not help you”. Well, my point is … just remember that they are very little and their brains are still underdeveloped and it will get easier as the logic part of the brain starts to evolve.

    I love the time out idea for you, I have to do that as well. But what is more fun for us, is to put on a good dance song and everybody gets their groove on. It changes the energy of the apt and makes everybody feel happy. We listen a lot to ZIggy Marley. He does really great kids music.

    I sure wish we could have gotten together while you were here, but i guess it just didnt work out. Next time though! And your daughters, as you know, are absolutely radiant!

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