How to Deal With the "Asshole Toddler" Phase

Whew. I said it. My toddlers have acted like assholes on many an occasion. Lucky for me, I learned that this asshole behavior is just a phase. I am not raising demon children whose main goals are to frustrate me and completely destroy my faith in my parenting.


When I had my first kid, I was NOT prepared for the so-called "Terrible Twos." Screw that phrase, PS. It is similar to the phrase "Morning Sickness" when we all know too well that it lasts ALL. DAMN. DAY. If you know me, I am about calling things as I see them, so the Terrible Twos translates to the Asshole Phase in my world because it lasted from before age 2 until age 5.

Note: I am not calling my kid an asshole. I am saying that he acted like an asshole. Big difference here. Big. Huge.

My son was a tough toddler. He is a very sensitive child who isn't always able to communicate his feelings or frustrations in an effective or productive way. That doesn't mean he was evil, it just meant he needed to learn. Kids aren't born with fully developed coping mechanisms, BTW. It is our job to teach them.

When my son hit 18 months, things started to change. When he hit two, the crap hit the fan. I couldn't take him anywhere without having the fear of a Fireman Carry Run out of there. He hit, he kicked, he bit. I think he might have even spit a few times. You should see the back of his bedroom door- plenty of proof that throwing objects was his way of releasing his frustrations and anger.

I was terrified that I was raising Problem Child, and it was all due to my ineffective parenting methods (Who am I kidding- what methods??!? I was new at this game!). Remember that movie series from the 90s? Where the kid was ridiculously EVIL and John Ritter goes through hell? I was constantly drawing comparisons between my life and this movie.

So what did you do? I bought a million books from Super Nanny to Have a Happy Family by Friday, scoured them for ages, and eventually sought a pediatric therapist. I called my mom crying, I implored friends with older kids to give me advice, and I blamed myself.

So what worked? A little bit of everything mixed in with a whole lot of hope and a IV drip of confidence.
  • Super Nanny proved awesome in giving me confidence in my parenting methods. 
  • Having my mom around to see how I was parenting and confirming that I was doing a good job also gave me confidence to trust my gut. 
  • The pediatric therapist tried a myriad of professional methods to deal with his frustration and anger. Some worked, some didn't. Just having a professional opinion and someone to bounce ideas off of was a relief. She saw firsthand what I was dealing with and told me she had seen much, much worse.
  • My own therapist talked me through the fact that this wasn't actually my fault. Kids aren't puppets. They are their own person. It is our job to be a receptacle for their massive bundle of emotions, the calm in the storm. Growing up is a learning process, and we are their teachers and coaches.
Great. So just give me some concrete resources, please! You got it! Here are a few links to things that helped:

Supernanny Site 
How to Get The Best From Your Children 
The Naughty Mat Technique 
Jo Frost's Toddler Rules: Your 5-Step Guide to Shaping Proper Behavior
Behavior Management Strategies

And I am on Asshole Toddler Phase #2 with my daughter. I have learned to do a few things differently.

Prepare your children for difficult/new situations. Before we head into a restaurant, I hold my kids just outside the door and crouch down to their level.
  • I tell them what to expect in the situation. This is going to be a busy restaurant with lots of people.
  • I tell them my expectations of them. I expect you to walk, not run through the restaurant. I expect you to sit in your seat. I expect you to use indoor voices.
  • I tell them the consequences of inappropriate behavior. If you run/scream/throw your body on the floor and demand dessert, we will go straight to the car. Make sure you are prepared to carry out the consequences you outline. 
  • I quiz them on my expectations. Is it ok to scream? It is ok to run through the restaurant acting like a maniac? What happens if you do?
Don't look at other people's reaction when your kid throws a tantrum in public or acts inappropriately. It is none of their damn business. Don't parent for other people, parent specifically the way that works for your child.

Be prepared to leave. At meals, I place my order, ask for the bill and a to go box all at the same time. You don't want to be stuck waiting for the bill, tempted to dine and dash when your kid is in full meltdown mode.

Don't lose your shit. I can't think of one instance where it was productive or helpful for me to lose my temper. It always ended up in an escalated situation with my children. If you find yourself losing it, step away. Ball up a scarf and scream into that. I walk away, cup my hands over my mouth, and swear like a sailor. No joke.

Head to the bathroom or outside. I have spent almost a solid hour in a bathroom with my child. My son had a meltdown at a work function on a business trip (it was a mom/child press trip to the Bahamas...there was no escape). I scooped him up as he ran around the restaurant wreaking havoc and hauled him to the bathroom. He needed to cool down. He was over-stimulated, over-tired, and needed a break.

Realize when the situation is out of their control. Last night, I was at a press event and my daughter lost it. She had eaten a whole bag of candy, met Santa, went shopping in the Disney store, didn't nap well and was up way past her bedtime. Recipe for disaster. At this point, it truly is out of her control and I can't expect her to keep it together. We left immediately when she started screaming and I didn't repeatedly lecture her for inappropriate behavior. Not the time.

I hope this post has give you a bit of hope if you are struggling with a tough toddler. Just know that yes, it is a phase and no, it isn't your fault. My 5 year old is now someone I truly look forward to spending time with. He is sweet, kind, thoughtful, caring and considerate. Yes, he still has his moments, but I make sure to praise him when he is doing well.

Stay strong moms, dads and fellow caretakers. Good times are comin'...and I give you full permission to talk crap about your kid to each other when times are tough. And have martinis. Lots of martinis.

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