I recently received the following question, and I realized it is likely something many of you are up against.


Can you give me some tips on handling my 2 1/2-year-old when he seems suddenly possessed by the devil? Ninety-nine percent of the time he’s an angel and the best big brother, but lately he’s been lashing out a lot.


Two-and-a-half year olds. You’ve heard the term “terrible twos,” and there’s a reason for it. There’s so much emotion for these kids. At two-and-a-half years old, emotion is a big thing, in the sense that they’re not familiar with a whole lot of it before this age. All these feelings are new and often scary.


What’s Happening

Toddlers don’t have the language to identify their feelings, or how they’re feeling, or what’s going on. Here are a few possibilities of what is happening when they seem to be “possessed by the devil:”


·      Maybe they’re still developing language, and language comes in different ways

·      Some of it is receptive—what they understand

·      Some of it is expressive—what they say

·      They may be engaging in non-verbal communication, which is waving and saying stop or come here with their hands


The more they develop language and learn how to articulate their feelings, the better they are able to communicate their needs.


Name = Tame

Dr. Dan Siegel uses the term, Name it to tame it. So if your two-and-a-half year old is going through this frustration period, or temper tantrums—or acting like the devil—you might want to say, “Hmmm, could you be feeling frustrated?” Just by giving the emotion a label, it begins to regulate your child.


Contributing Factors

Why is this happening? A number of factors can be partially responsible for this kind of behavior. Here are a few possibilities:


·      At two-and-a-half years old, maybe thay are potty training.

·      Maybe they are switching from a crib to a toddler bed.

·      In this case, the parent mentions the child is a big brother, which means there’s a little sibling, who I’m guessing may be new to the family.

·      Are they hungry or tired?

·      Is the one nap of the day on its way out?


At two-and-a-half years old, this temper tantrum is appropriate for them, developmentally. But we can’t just let it go, right? We need to teach them some skills so that they can begin to learn how to communicate their needs and wants.


Set Them Up for Success

First and foremost, take a deep breath.


Our job, as a parent, is to teach, which is what discipline means. So again, I would name it to tame it. See if you can give your son some vocabulary.


Another way to set toddlers up for success is to give them positive behavior to follow. We have these things called mirror neurons, which are amazing in the sense that if I walk into a room and I smile, the likelihood is you’re going to smile.


If I walk into the room with a frown on my face, you’re probably going to frown back.


So if your child’s lid is flipped, and they’re having a temper tantrum, and you’re also feeling agitated and annoyed at what’s happening with your son, there are mirror neurons actively working. Once you start to calm down, he likely won’t continue to escalate. With time, he’ll probably calm down as well.


Instead of him escalating, and then you escalating or trying to control or change the situation, bring it back down. It starts with us. Try to bring it back down and then do your intervention:


·      “Hmmm, seems like you might be feeling frustrated, tell me more.”

·      “How can I help you?”

·      “Do you need some quiet time?”

·      “Can I give you a hug?”


A Vocabulary for Expression

You want to start asking some questions, and giving the child the necessary vocabulary. Once you name it, you tame it. It actually begins to regulate your child back to a feeling of safety.


Even as adults sometimes we have a tough time expressing ourselves, when we’re angry and flooded with emotions. Holding them, holding a space for them, just allowing that expression helps. Say, “I hear you. I’m sorry. You seem so angry. Tell me more about what’s going on.”


We want to make sure he’s safe, so if these temper tantrums are just screams and hitting the floor and stamping the feet, and being angry, fine. Allow for that expression. Once you’re both calm, especially him, once he’s calm, check in with him later, and say, “Hey buddy can you tell me again what happened? What can you do next time?”


Ready for Next Time

You don’t want to tell him what to do next time, you want to ask him. At two-and-a-half they’re still growing and learning vocabulary, but you can practice this skill: “What do you think you can do next time” is a great opportunity for self-reflection. Have your child start exploring some ideas about how to handle that situation next time. Because there will be a next time.


At two-and-a-half he’s probably not going to come up with ideas by himself, so after you ask him, “Hey buddy, what do you think you could do next time you don’t get to play with the train you wanted,” and you give him a moment, you say, “Maybe you could let me know, you could tap me and say, Mommy I need help.”


It’s OK to start giving him the language and the vocabulary to begin advocating for himself!

Take a look at my calendar for some upcoming workshops on this topic!

And remember to reach out to me if you have your own parenting questions. I am happy to answer it in a video, blog post or both!