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My 18 month old daughter is quite a challenge. She is very strong willed and hot tempered. She can be happy and funny one minute and on the floor kicking and screaming the next. You never know what will set her off. I do not believe in physical punishment or putting a child in a corner. Time out always worked for my 7 year old (who rarely needed it anyway) but Lizzie seems too young for time out. When the tantrum starts I just lay her on the floor and go about my business. Holding her seems to makes things worse. She hits, scratches, pinches and tries to flip out of your arms. She even slaps herself in the face or bangs her head. Not very hard but enough to make her even madder when she realizes it hurts. I don't want to break her spirit or take away her independence. Keeping all this in mind how do I handle the tantrums?
Thanks for your time,

Dear Kelly,

Your story reminds me of my own children at that age. It can be frustrating and even a little scary to watch your child have a tantrum that is so intense. I won't be able to help you "solve" the problem, but I can give you some ideas that might be helpful.

First, recognize that you have good instincts. Children your daughter's age will not benefit from a time out in this situation. Punishing a child that is already overwhelmed is also not going to help the child learn anything.

Second, it may be helpful to you to know that having "temper tantrums" at this age is normal. Like adults, young children have strong feelings. But adults have learned lots of ways to handle those feelings. They can go spend some time alone, label the feeling, think about it, talk it over with someone, distract themselves, go do something they enjoy etc. Eighteen month olds don't have any of those tools. Not only that, they are sometimes tired or overwhelmed or hungry which intensifies things. Tantrums in an 18 month old do not reflect a parenting problem. For most children, tantrums gradually diminish as children learn to talk, learn to identify their feelings and gain the skills to soothe themselves. That doesn't help much right now...but might give you something to look forward to.

As she has more tantrums (which she will) you may begin to recognize some of the things that "set her off." Common triggers are a change in routine, tiredness, hunger and over stimulation. You can't always avoid those situations...but you will learn how to check in with her and be able to do some prevention (snacks, taking a little quiet time on a busy day, avoiding a late afternoon trip to the grocery store etc.)

Another tool that works for some families is to talk about tantrums with your daughter at a time when both of you are rested and feeling good. She may not be able to express herself very well, but she can understand you. Let her know that you know when she has a tantrum that she is feeling very upset. You can let her know that you would really like to snuggle with her and love her at that moment but you know that that has not worked. You might also let her know that when she has a tantrum you will let her be and every now and then you will check in with her to see if she is ready for a hug...AND that if she decides in the middle of a tantrum that a hug would help, to come ask you for one. Will this stop the tantrums? Absolutely not. Will it help you and your daughter know that you care about her? Probably.

Strong willed and "hot tempered" toddlers make for very interesting children and young adults. Learning to live with these little people who seem to want to be older than what they really are can be a challenge....but she will bring so much energy and aliveness into your life as she grows into herself. Continue to trust your instincts and don't be afraid of your lovable 18 month old bundle of energy.

Best wishes

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