Many of us have been led to believe that when a child turns 2 years of age, he becomes “terrible” and that this “terribleness” lasts until the age of three. What we know is that this age of independence can start much earlier and can even last beyond a child’s third birthday. So what’s a parent to do? How can we survive this most challenging yet exhilarating time? One word – PATIENCE!
It also helps to better understand some of the developmental issues that a 2 year old is dealing with. Once we have a better understanding of what their world is like, we have a greater opportunity to practice not only patience, but empathy as well.
To begin, imagine going from a world where everything is done for you to a world where the rules suddenly change and the adults who once catered to your every wish, now expect you to start doing for yourself; a world where you have to “use your words” to get what you want. This is exactly what the 2 year old is feeling. This is typically the time when power struggles and tantrums begin as the child is beginning to see herself as a separate being, able to do for herself. Yet, as she learns she can do for herself, she also realizes that she is still dependent on mommy or daddy and this dichotomy is the cause of much frustration. In addition, the emotional world of a toddler is like that of a roller coaster – all over the place! One minute your darling son is happy as can be and the very next minute, he’s in an utter rage because you gave him the red cup instead of the blue cup!
Taking these developmental issues into account, it is possible to enjoy this most exciting time in your child’s life. Here are some useful tips to help you manage your child’s ever changing moods, while maintaining your own sanity:
1.) Set clear limits and follow through – Children this age thrive on structure and routine, and need help controlling their impulses. When you provide limits for appropriate behavior, you provide the child with a sense of security, while also paving the way for the development of self-discipline.
2.) Ask for the behavior you want. Children receive thousands of negative commands every day. “Don’t jump on the bed.” “No hitting.” “Don’t do that.” It helps to give a child directions they can successfully follow. A child feels loved and capable when she can do what you’re asking her to do. Tell the child the behavior you want to see vs. the behavior you want them to stop. For example, “The couch is for sitting.” “Keep your feet on the floor/hands to yourself “ etc.
3.) Offer appropriate choices. Children have a need to feel powerful and in control. By offering choices, you meet that need and reduce the possibility of a power struggle. For example, “Would you like to wear the white socks or the purple socks?”
4.) Act as your child’s “emotion coach.” Use empathy to help your child understand what he is feeling. This is especially useful when you sense a tantrum brewing. For example, “You are so mad because it’s time to leave the park and you are having so much fun. I know you’d rather stay and play. Let’s come up with a game we can play when we get home.”
5.) Remember to pause, before parenting. Take a break, walk away, BREATHE and center yourself before reacting to your child. This gives you time to think about how you will respond more calmly, while also modeling self-control.
Above all, taking care of yourself (and knowing it’s ok to not be perfect!) allows you the opportunity to more fully appreciate and connect with your child, while riding the wave of these “terrific” toddler years.
If you are in the neighborhood, don’t miss Debbie’s workshop at the Kidville in Carlsbad, CA on Wednesday, May 22nd from 6-7:30 pm.