You are here

My Perfect Child: The Tantrum Years

Sarah Preston Gorenstein

I love my son more than life itself. He’s (normally) the sweetest, happiest, most cuddly little guy. He (typically) goes to bed with a smile, and wakes up just as happy. He (for the most part) is easy-going, especially in new places and situations. He’s even (usually) sociable with people he hardly knows. I’ve been calling him The Perfect Child since he was born, almost 20 months ago. But since he turned 19 months, it’s like the devil has taken over his body and mind. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration…or, wait, maybe it isn’t?

Why do they call it the "terrible twos," when it should be called the terrible 19 months? Friends of mine, with kids slightly older than Preston, warned me that the six or seven months leading up to him turning two are the hardest months. They’re just learning to walk (well, my kid at least), and learning to express themselves (in Preston’s case, he was always very verbal and has been talking for a while now), but they’re not quite able to spell out exactly what it is they want, but they're more than capable of telling you what they don’t want. And they know the difference between right and wrong, yet wrong is almost always the choice they pick. (So basically, they know exactly how to push our buttons.)

It’s within the last couple weeks that Preston has reached the point of difficult. Changing his diaper is a massive production that always winds up in tears and poop on my hands; I’m lucky if he eats one square meal a day lately; he’s skipped two naps in the last week alone, which is highly unusual for him (and totally throws off his bedtime routine); he’s sporadically waking up crying in the middle of the night, for no apparent reason (night terrors maybe?); and he’s been having these awesome Academy Award-worthy tantrums where he either lies on the floor facing up, crying and screaming till his face turns purple, or he bends forward, hitting his head on the floor (which makes him cry even harder).

And he’s totally inconsolable. If I try to comfort him, he pushes me away and squirms out of my grip, and I risk him head-butting me or a nearby hard surface. The tantrums are either triggered by his frustration (he only learned to walk at about 18 months old, so he still falls a lot), or it’s because I’ve said “no” to something he’s about to do…like climb inside our fireplace(!), or try to open the door to our 4th floor balcony. That one happened while we had friends over, and it led to such an epic tantrum that he ended up smacking me in the face -- twice! -- knocking my glasses off. The look on our friends’ faces was priceless though (I wasn't hurt just a little stunned). They have a four-month-old. You know that look of fear new parents get when they see a kid acting up that’s older than theirs?

He’s also been throwing things during these fits of rage. Sometimes it’s a sippy cup, sometimes it’s food; he tried throwing two books at the same time last night, but I was nimble enough to stop him.

Did I mention my son is almost as strong as I am now? And he’s already more than half my height.

Parents of young toddlers: How early did you start disciplining them? And at nearly 20 months old, what should I do to discipline him? My brother’s sage advice was to give him time outs in his crib, where he can’t (or is less likely to) hurt himself, during a tantrum. But I’m afraid that’ll make him dread bedtime even more than he does right now. I don't want him to see his crib as a form of punishment.

Preston is such a good-natured kid normally -- the tantrums came fast and furiously, as soon as I noticed his molars were peeking through. Could that be why he’s so crabby lately? Where did my perfect child go!? I still catch glimpses of that adorably sweet kid when the demons seem to have exited his body. Unfortunately he was in such rare form this weekend (my birthday) that we had to cancel our plans on Saturday -- he was also running a fever last week, from teething I’m assuming, and now he’s developed a cough and cold to add to his discomfort. (All that screaming probably took a toll on his throat.) The kid not only has a major set of lungs on him, but he has the endurance of an Olympic athlete. If only Hysterics were an Olympic event.

Of course, this morning when my nanny arrived he was in a perfectly fine mood; he barely fussed when she went to change his diaper. She says he doesn't throw these tantrums in front of her -- apparently he only saves them for us.

Moms, help!?

And p.s. Tune into the Cooking Channel for their "Unique Eats" program. Our very good friend Brad Rubin of Eleven City Diner (our favorite Jewish deli in Chicago) is featured on their "delis" segment. There's even a little cameo of Preston, Jay and me on the show!

I've been blogging again over at Or you can follow me on Twitter @thecosmomom, and Facebook at Sarah Preston Gorenstein.