We have all heard the term the “terrible twos”. This term is usually used to describe a behavior pattern in toddlers ages 18 to 36 months that is characterized by demands, noise, tantrums, the word no and all kinds of other behaviors that cause embarrassment to the adults that dare to take their children out in public during this time period. Does every child go through this phase? Not always and often not to the extent that we see on television and in movies. Does every child have to go through this stage? I really don’t believe they do and, if you keep reading, you will see why.
By the time most caregivers reach the stage where the child is a toddler, they are ready to leave the demands of babyhood behind. Most moms and dads would agree that a child who sleeps through the night, can assist in dressing and feeding themselves and who may soon start toddler training is a relief compared to the total care a newborn or infant needs. Though your child may be starting to show signs of independence in these areas, in a strange juxtaposition, she has a whole host of new, and just as demanding, needs.
As an infant, your little one’s world was pretty limited. They didn’t have the ability to take in much more than you, themselves and what was in their immediate environment.
However, around age 2, the world opens up wide to your little gal or guy for the first time. They are able to interact in new and exciting ways and are eager to experience the people and things around them, but they still need you to keep them safe from themselves as they don’t yet understand boundaries and danger.
Your child is going to want to experience everything that their rapidly growing brain can conceive of, but won’t yet be physically able to do so which can be very frustrating. She will also want to do everything right now, as she hasn’t quite gotten being patient done, and this can cause her to be impatient and demanding. He likely can also speak now and may have discerned that his words can have power over people, affecting their mood and behavior, but can’t yet verbalize his feelings effectively, leaving him seconds from bubbling over when he’s feeling overwhelmed by emotions, people or his surroundings.
Being confronted by strong words and emotions from your pint-sized person can leave a parent startled, befuddled and breathless themselves. It is important to remember this little one is still little. She cannot yet do things that you may find simple, like buttoning buttons and tying shoes and she will inevitably leave drawers open or run outdoors without her shoes.
Remember he is small and take a breath and a beat before responding or your frustration will hit his frustration head-on, only escalating a situation, leading to the kind of behavior we like to attribute to “terrible” two year olds.
I like to say to my son, “What are you, 18 months old?” I don’t do this to belittle or make fun, I do this to remind myself that he is indeed eighteen months old and I am so much bigger and know so much more than he does, including how to be firm, but gentle when he needs to be reminded of a boundary or safety rule.
Turning Terrible into Terrific
With some conscious effort, you can help transition your toddler our of the “terrible twos” and make them terrific! Your toddler needs the following things from you: eye contact, physical contact, focused attention and gentle discipline.
When speaking to your toddler about something important, whether it is about a task you require your child to complete or it is for redirection, lower yourself to his or her level, touch his/her shoulder, and look into his/her eyes. Keep your words or directions simple like, “Shoes now please” or “We are nice to our brother. Be nice”. Do not try to explain or pontificate for too long. For children this young, it is just background noise and overwhelming. They will lose the overall point of your message.
Try to remain calm and show very little displeasure. If you are angry or frustrated, it will simply ramp up an already emotional situation with your toddler and it will be very difficult to continue in a productive way.
Try to answer concisely and factually. If your little one is questioning something, try not to respond with “Because I said so.” This will prompt their questioning to continue. Instead give brief explanations such as, “Daddy is waiting for us” or “It is time for your nap because our bodies need rest to be strong and healthy.” This should end the discussion and diffuse their irritation.
Other things that help are following a daily routine as much as possible, giving choices, and avoiding yes or no questions. Having a routine helps your child to know what to expect from day to day, making frustrations and blow ups far less likely. It also underscores her confidence in your care for her, making it more likely that she trusts your decisions are in her best interest.
When you give her choices, you avoid arguments. You do not have to have war-like disagreements over your son’s daily wardrobe choices. Instead of what do you want to wear, use “do you want to wear the green pants or the brown?” He has choices, he is experimenting with decision making, but you are still the parent. You can also give options within your routine, “Would you like to read a story before your bath or after?” These opportunities also help you avoid times your child might otherwise be demanding, questioning or escalate into tantrum behaviors. If you do decide to ask (or forget not to ask) a yes or no question, accept your child’s answer. If you exasperatedly say, “Do you want me to call your father?” and the answer is a defiant “No!”,then scoop your child up and remove them from the situation so you can both have time to decompress and avoid amplifying a negative interaction.
For a more concrete approach, I highly suggest Dr. Harvey Karp’s book, “The Happiest Toddler on the Block.” The methods outlined are similar to my own suggestions but are laid out more explicitly in a concrete, easy to follow way with specific examples to aid you in the implementation process.
Despite the stories you hear about the “terrible twos”, this window in time can actually be a wonderful time for you as a parent.
Your child is growing physically, emotionally, cognitively, and linguistically. While they may be working really hard at expanding their boundaries, anger with their verbal and physical limitations may leave them short-tempered and irritable. Most of us don’t want to be constantly butting heads with our sweet baby turned little terror, however it can be difficult to pause before reacting. If you can find a way to take a step back and treat your child like the tiny being that he or she is, your relationship and your home life, will be much more pleasant and peaceful. Though quick to anger, these tiny ones are also capable of beautiful emotional expressions that weren’t possible before.
The second year is a time when cuddles, kisses, snuggles and a passion for play abound. While it may have been nice to nuzzle your newborn and kiss their downy head, it is far nicer to have a two year old climb onto your lap and say “love you mama” as he or she kisses your cheek. Welcome to the age of terrific twos.
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