You are probably reading this article as you witness the first changes in your toddler’s behavior and start dealing with the terrible twos. Are you wondering what happened to your baby? And how you can help?
First off, let me tell you what you are experiencing is a normal part of child development and the term terrible two’s (one that I personally don’t like to use) is just a period of rapid development. Your toddler is gaining new skills both motor and language, and this is the first time in his life that he begins to assert independence and test boundaries around him. And as he begins to express himself, emotions also become a part of the picture. He experiences big emotions that he does not yet fully understand.
So at one end, he may be able to express himself and ask for more independence, which is great but this same independence means he now is willing to test the boundaries of his environment and see what else can be explored, something you may not be comfortable with.
Toddlers want to do things on their own but realize they are expected to follow certain rules. The “why” of these rules are not yet clear to them, which can lead to a lot of friction between the parent and the toddler.
Even before I get into what you can specifically do to deal with the “terrible twos”, I will recommend the awesome book written by Joanna Faber & Julie King called, How to Talk so Little kids will listen. This book will guide you through everyday parenting case studies with specific guidance on what you can say to your child so he will listen to you without much resistance. I have used so many of the strategies listed in this book; it has been a game-changer in my home and one of the key gentle parenting tools I use.
TRIED AND TRUE TIPS FOR DEALING WITH THE TERRIBLE TWOS
Here are 10 tips that can help you better communicate with your toddler and establish a more peaceful home life.
In a period of rapid development, toddlers crave a certain sameness and consistency. Development wise a lot is happening in these years. Your toddler is learning to walk, talk, develop new fine motor skills and social skills, discover his own likes and dislikes. Basically, your little baby is beginning to grow wings of independence. At times all this new independence can be overwhelming for him. A consistent routine helps the toddler feel a sense of calm and security. He knows what is expected in the day and feels reassured in the comfort a routine provides.
If you don’t have a routine in place yet, take a few moments and map out all the activities your two years old loves to do in the day. Then plan a daily routine with these activities and other essential daily tasks. Here is a look at our routine at 2 years of age. Bedtime in India is later compared to where you may stay, but you will get an idea of how the day flows for a 2-year-old.
Routine for a 2-year-old
7 am-8:30 am Wake up, read books, brush teeth, free play [he chooses what toys to play with. I sit close by with my cup of tea and we play together]
8:30 am-9 am Breakfast
9 am-12:30 pm More free play and on some days a few structured learning activities.
Activities and toys like puzzles, building blocks, vehicles, busy books, kitchen utensils, pretend play, water play, play dough, stickers, and artwork are perfect to engage 2-year-olds.
10:30 am-11am Snack
11 am-12:30 pm More free play/reading books/ watch a movie (Sunday is movie day in our home)
12:30 pm-1pm Lunch
1 pm-2 pm Listen to nursery rhymes, tell stories and naptime
2 pm-4 pm Naptime
4 pm-5 pm Snack and free play
5 pm-7 pm Park
7 pm-7:30 pm Dinner
7:30 pm Bath
8 pm-8:30 pm Bedtime routine [brush teeth, read books, tell stories, hugs, cuddles and off to sleep.]
Safe play space
They say a child’s play is his work, and two-year-olds are like busy bees tinkering and exploring all day long. Therefore, it is important to build safe play spaces for your toddler to use and explore. Instead of being anxious all the time about your two-year-old hurting himself and then passing on that anxiety to your child through too many instructions on how to play, create a safe play area.
Most of your daily struggles with your child will end when you baby proof your home and start giving the toddler the independence to freely move in his space.
If your two year old wants to help you with chores, that is wonderful too. This interest should be welcomed. Your child wants to be part of family life and there is no better life skill you can teach than self-reliance.
Relax your expectations on perfect work and welcome the messes. Buy age-appropriate tools for your two year old to be able to hold and help you around the house so you don’t worry about his safety around adult-sized tools.
Here is a look at some simple toddler chores most 2-year-olds are willing to try.
Coming to the big issue many parents face around 2 years of age. Anger.
Its hard to stay calm when it feels like all your child is doing all day is make life harder for you. But over a period of time, I have realized that a lot of the behavioral issues stem from the home environment and how much my child is feeling heard.
At age 2 it is still a lot of guesswork for the parents, understanding what exactly is the trigger for defiance and misbehavior like hitting, biting or screaming.
Before you jump the gun and conclude it’s your child fault or question him “why did you throw this?” or “why did you hit your sister?” etc, etc.
Think about what could lead to the child’s reaction. A 2-year-old cannot appropriately express his feelings in words, so him giving you an answer is quite rare. Instead, take a step back and assess what happened in the moment of the reaction yourself.
Once you know the reason you can comfort your child, make him feel safe and then verbalize for him what exactly happened so he starts to connect the dots and understand his emotions better.
For example, say your children are playing close to each other and your two year old was busy coloring. His younger sister comes along and pulls the crayon out of his hand. Your 2-year-old gets upset about being interrupted and losing his crayon and hits his younger sister. What do you do?
You can say, “ Our hands are not for hitting. I see you felt bad your sister took your crayon.”
Then offer a solution to his problem “Here is another one for you” or “Let us count to 5 until your sister uses the crayon and take turns.”
In the meantime let’s say the other child is crying because she got hit, you can showcase to your child how he can make amends and help her feel better.
Say “Looks like your sister is hurt, let us give her a tap on her hand and comfort her/bring her a toy/ bring a glass of water.” Whatever suits that moment, but a way for him to help make amends for his previous actions without shaming him.
If hitting happens consistently in different situations, that is a behavior that needs to be corrected. How do you do this in a positive and helpful way?
You can read books on topics around empathy, and sharing like this one. I love this book, it has beautiful illustrations and simple examples of how to show more empathy towards others. Most age-appropriate for the 2-3 year age group.
Books like, Hands are not for hitting is also another example of bringing in conversation around the behavior. Reading books leads to conversation and sometimes offers you new insight into your child’s behavior. You can use this insight in tweaking your solutions to current challenges.
This was an example of how you handle challenging behavior in your home without resorting to punishments and screaming.
Discipline using scare tactics like yelling and time out does not yield positive results. You can teach nothing by scaring or intimidating your child.
Instead by consistently teaching your child to name emotions and problem solve you help them see the reason why a certain behavior is wrong and how to manage one’s emotions in a constructive manner.
Having an emotional outburst is not wrong, in fact, it is normal and we want our children to know its okay to express. But how to express without causing harm and in a way that we are communicating effectively is what needs teaching.
Once parents start taking on a problem-solving approach many of the misbehaviors begin to disappear and you settle into a calmer family life with fewer tantrums.
This gentle parenting approach has helped us a lot. I would urge you to read these 3 posts to understand how to manage difficult situations better.
Easy to understand rules
Having rules sets expectations and gives the child certain responsibilities that make life easier for everyone. Do not make a long list of rules for 2-year-olds. Focus on 4-5 rules that give your child a better understanding of how to manage his own tasks.
We have some simple rules that we all follow together as a family, some are beginner-level manners to get him started on proper personal hygiene and others are around managing emotions through communication so it doesn’t escalate into a tantrum.
In the 2’s I only focused on these, and gradually added more in his three’s. It requires consistent work, but at age 3 I already see a lot of improvement in these areas.
Here are the rules we consistently worked on at age 2;
- Wash hands and face on entering the home from a trip outside.
- Wash hands and face before and after each meal.
- Table manners like using cutlery, glasses, no throwing food, keep on the side of the plate if you don’t like something.
- Use words instead of whining. Every time we are in a cranky or whiny situation we simply remind, “ Use your words please” This encourages our son to speak and articulate what he is feeling and we avoid tantrums.
Limit and replace the use of “no” with more positive instructions or messages.
Instead of Don’t touch, Use – Hands to yourself
Instead of No running, Use – Walk with me
Instead of Don’t run, Use – Hold my hands, please
At age 2 simple instructions get the best responses. Two-year-olds don’t need explanations on why safety is important or why certain behavior is bad they need to know what to do instead.
By age 3 you can start giving more information on why we do things a certain way. That’s when they are receptive to the “Why”, right now keep it short and simple.
In all things parenting, if you cannot stay consistent you will face challenging behavior. Deciding on your core family values and then consistently working on these values through the daily routine, stories, and conversations is very important.
It’s important that your child’s innate learning and exploration desires are not curtailed but certain limits for safety or managing emotional responses need to be in place. As parents, it is your job to set these limits for your children. This offers a structure that the toddler can fall back on when he feels overwhelmed.
Use play as a tool
One of the easiest ways to get your toddler to listen to you when you are in a rush is to make a game out of the thing you need him to do. We do this most mornings as we dress for school. We put on a 2 min timer and he rushes to dress before the time is up.
Storytelling also works in most cases.
An article I came across recently showcased how traditional Inuit parenting does not use yelling or scolding as a tool to discipline. There are no time outs and no punishments. Instead, the Inuit’s use storytelling and play to discipline. These are oral stories passed down from one generation of Inuit to the next, designed to sculpt kids’ behaviors at the moment. Sometimes even save their lives.
Storytelling is universal across human cultures. For tens of thousands of years, it has been the tool that parents use to teach children about values and how to behave.
So the next time you are in a verbal deadlock with your child and wondering how to get him to listen, spin out a story about that situation and watch him follow along.
Here is an example of how I use storytelling to get my toddler to brush his teeth happily every day.
Praise the good behavior you notice
All this talk about the terrible twos might make you focus on the areas that need work. This does not mean you ignore the times the toddler actually does things the expected way. Give him a little encouragement with your words, Example: “I see you put your toys back. Now we have a clean space for tomorrow”.
Set the expectations
This works for certain day to day activities or when you need to travel or socialize with your child.
Give the child a heads up of what is expected from the situation and prepare him mentally. This reduces possible stranger anxiety or tantrums.
Need to leave in 15 mins for the park and your 2-year-old is busy with a puzzle?
Give him a heads up. “ We have 10 mins to play, and we are done, off to park for us”.
5 mins later give another heads up. In most cases, the child wraps up his game on his own and the entire situation moves along with ease.
How we talk and prepare the child for different situations they will encounter is key to a happy and settled child at the moment.
Whenever you are visiting a new place/party, or a new set of people talk to the child beforehand about what to expect. Give him an idea of what will happen, who he will meet and how you will be interacting (includes social nicety).
When you arrive at the new setting allow your child to take his time to adjust. There is no rush to be social. The child is observing you as you socialize and connecting the dots between what you mentioned about this day and what is happening at the moment.
Give him time to go through the moment on his own. If he does not want to interact, do not force him. No need to force the child to say hello or thank you.
If he finds the new situation overwhelming take a breather and go outside for a moment. Mention to your hosts, “he needs a little more time, once he is ready he will join us”. Most importantly let him know you are there for him, helping him with this new situation.
Continue modeling the behavior you expect from your child. Definitely, do not stop socializing because of a stray event where your child was overwhelmed. And most importantly do not make your child feel guilty by scolding him about his shyness.
Managing emotions through messy play
Messy play or sensory play as we call it uses all the senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. This type of play allows a toddler to be able to identify what they are playing with more deeply and better than just seeing things. Sensory play allows the child to work out where he ends and where the world begins. How the world around him feels and is different from him. It allows children to develop a more expressive language as they grow. The more they touch and feel the more they understand about the world they are living in.
Sensory play also allows the child to calm down. This is why it can be used as a tool to teach emotional regulation to younger kids.
Here are some really simple sensory play ideas
Play with dough
Build a sensory bin
One of the reasons I am a strong proponent of baby-led weaning too is for this very reason. Getting messy is important for a child’s development. The more a child explores his food through touch, taste and smells the better his language skills. Better language skills mean you can better understand your child and help him with any unpleasant emotional state. Here is the post I wrote on why it is important for little children to self-feed and get messy when they eat.
Plan all activities keeping the toddler’s current state in mind. No child is going to be able to follow along when he is thirsty, hungry or tired. When you build a routine plan your activities considering these constraints and you won’t have a meltdown.
I understand sometimes it’s not possible to avoid certain social meetings or appointments just because it’s your toddler’s nap time. In such a situation brace your self and hope for the best. We all had toddlers throwing a tantrum in the wrong place at the wrong time, make a joke about it and try to ease the stress of those around you in that situation. Hopefully, there are not going to be too many such instances so we just breathe through it.
In the end, all I want you to remember in those tough moments is that this is just a phase and soon your kids will be learning how to regulate their emotions better and express their feelings to you. Stay strong until then mama, and give your child all the love he needs as he navigates this phase in development.
I hope all the tips listed here help you in some way in your motherhood journey. Let me know in the comments below some of the challenges you face when dealing with the terrible two’s and we can problem-solve together.