The “Terrible Two”: When, why and what to do about it?
October 10, 2013
With the advent of the notorious “Terrible Two,” many parents simply cannot understand why two tiny horns have suddenly started to grow off their little angel’s forehead. The following tips and information will help parents with children at this developmental level get through this.
The “Terrible Two” often emerges 18 months after birth. It may occur intermittently or until the age of 4, although each child is unique and develops at his own pace.
It can be identified by the presence of strong emotional reactions... to just about EVERYTHING!
For example, your child,
- does not want help putting his boots on;
- does not want to eat now;
- wants the red glass (or the blue when given the red); and
- slaps, pinches, pushes, bites, cries, yells and demands to get his way NOW!
As mentioned above, each child―with their own set of behaviour challenges―is different; each one has to be dealt with differently. For example, some children will be playing and acting like crocodiles while others will be more inclined to become hysterical and roll around the floor.
A child this age is in search for autonomy; he insists on doing things alone and everything right the first time. Soon enough, he experiences a mix of overwhelming emotions which he cannot identify or control.
From birth on, your child receives everything he needs without having to wait. As a result, we can’t blame him for hardly understanding why he must wait, or worse, take “NO” for an answer. When limits are set, a child must learn how to deal with wait times, and (particularly) anger.
These behaviours are all part of how the child communicates. Lacking sufficient vocabulary to make himself understood, he uses the best means he knows ―VERY effective for the most part―to let you know his needs. For him, simple logic applies: a bite in the arm is what it takes to have a friend let go of his toy truck.
What to do about it?
- Be clear about the start and the end of each activity: “In five minutes, when the timer goes off, it will be time to put the toys away and wash hands.” One way of doing this is to use a clock or a timer (one you purchased in his presence) at a dollar store. Thus, while a child may not have a good sense of what five minutes really is, he will nevertheless be able to understand the fact that his activity is coming to an end.
- Give the child a choice. Here is a very effective way for you to avoid confrontational behaviours. Whether it’s food, bedtime or the amount of TV time, everything is imposed upon children; it can get very frustrating for them. However, if you give the child a choice, he will feel empowered. There is some real advantage to making a “controlled” choice. Always present your child with a choice (knowing in advance you are ok with the outcome): “Do you want milk or water? ”
- Give the child some responsibility―however small―to make him proud. Children like to feel helpful.
- Stimulate the child’s language and foster vocabulary growth. It is through the expression of his feelings that a child will feel listened to and understood. Use short sentences with simple words: “You are angry because you wanted to continue playing. Say it! I’m angry!” or “I understand but now it’s time.” Cries, tears and aggressive behaviours will all diminish significantly as language skills develop. Songs and picture books are also useful to stimulate the child’s language.
- Divert the child’s attention to take his mind off things and have fun; for example, you could say: “Wow! Sweetie, come and see the cat in the yard!” or “Would you like a glass of water?”
- Use humour to laugh off the various situations you may find yourself in.
- Use selective ignoring and positive reinforcement. The more you ignore your child’s unwelcome behaviours, the less attention will be paid to his conduct. Ultimately, it is unlikely that such actions will be repeated, especially if you give a great deal of attention to what he does well.
- Observe your child’s behaviour and patterns. Doing so might end up being a revealing experience that will help you better understand him.
Yes, but when I get strict, my child starts crying and it just breaks my heart!
Just remember that teaching valuable life skills is the reason why you’re imposing limits upon your child’s actions. This lesson will help your child:
- learn to follow rules;
- cope with feelings of frustration when he’s upset and under stress;
- express his opinions and frustrations in an acceptable way; and
- take responsibility for the choices he makes.
While we all wish for an easy, trouble-free and enjoyable learning experience, we all realize it’s not always the case. Your job as a parent is neither about ALWAYS pleasing your child, nor it is about ALWAYS doing everything you can to put a smile upon your child's angel face. Nobody is happy all the time, but we sure can learn how to cope with adversity and have faith in the future. In the midst of all that crying and shouting, remember that you are a parent guiding a child through learning experiences. It’s not at all that YOU are the cause of all that crying; rather, it’s the choice HE made and the awareness of the consequences associated with his choice.
Consistency and coherence
Although you make a point of giving your child a choice and taking the time to make sure your rules are clear, if you lack consistency and coherence in your discipline and expectations, the unwanted behaviours you are trying to stamp out will persist. It is essential that your child can anticipate your reaction.
Have your child learn to bond with you
One of the most effective ways to bond with your child is by spending quality time with him. The closer you are to your child, the more he’ll try to please you. The best moments are often the simplest, just like the time you spend playing his favourite game, tickling, tinkering, and cooking, and so on.
Unfortunately, there is no miracle formula to eliminate the “Terrible Two.” Despite your focus on establishing a number of habits, this stage is always a tough time to get through, even for your little angel crowned with horns! You will surely need to be patient and plan time away from the children.
Hélène Fagnan, Family Coach
Founder of Nanny secours