How to survive the 'Terrible Twos' (you CAN actually survive)
"She’s not with me." *coughs*
“Who is that child?”
“ What has happened to my sweet little baby?”
“I’m so sorry. She’s not usually like this.”
Have you found yourself uttering these words?
Sounds like you have reached the 'terrible twos'.... even if your little one hasn't yet had their second birthday – the phase can start anytime from 16 months and last until they are three-years-old. Oh, and it has also been described as 'The First Adolescence' – not to scare you or anything.
Of course, I don't want to burst your bubble – newsflash –there is no such thing as a perfect child. More importantly, there is no such thing as perfect parents either! Life with a toddler is a game of cat and mouse. The 'terrible twos' is a very real and well-documented developmental stage that ALL children go through in some shape or form. Why? Because they are trying to show that they're becoming independent little beings with choices to make, just like you and I.
Take the two -and-a-half-year-old who insists on climbing into her car seat every time, without assistance (we had one in our family not so long ago!). By trying to speed up the process and help her, she would completely lose the plot. While frustrating and often time-consuming, this simple display of independence is so important to her and important for us to recognise it – as something she can do for herself.
Our challenge is to try and help the child navigate these choppy waters. Patience is key.
Infants respond to adults through imitation – they smile back when you smile at them. Simple. They want to make you happy so they communicate and engage to get a reaction. On the other hand, when you're anxious and stressed, they become agitated and feed off this. Your baby almost “mirrors” your mood and feelings.
All of a sudden, your child wants to do the direct opposite of what you want. It may even happen overnight. Try to remember (hard, I know) that your child isn’t being a pain on purpose, but simply trying to exert her own little bit of independence. Maybe she doesn’t have the necessary language or communication skills to express her needs, leading to frustration – resulting in biting, punching, kicking and those (quite embarrassing) temper tantrums.
Your day may be going great, normal routines in place. You lovingly prepare the dinner your daughter (or son) has asked for, only to have her change her mind the minute you put it in front of her. Something as simple as not wanting cheese on their pasta can become a HUGE problem. The wheels fall off and your perfect day is now a train wreck! As far as you were aware, she had agreed earlier to having pasta, so what happened in the intervening hour? The answer is: probably nothing. The task here is to allow your child the opportunity to make some choices.
Tell her: “You can eat this dinner or you can have no dinner. You decide.”
Once she is allowed to make the choice for herself, she will learn about the consequences of the decision, provided you stick to your guns and remain consistent.
Children are experts at reading and working a situation to their advantage. Try to understand that these moments of 'wanting control' are a really big deal to a toddler. They have decided they are taking control and do not understand why it’s not working out as planned. It’s important to be aware of your tone of voice when trying to get some control back. Keep it almost monotone. If you shout, they will too.
Some tips for getting through the 'terrible twos'
- Have a fairly structured daily routine regarding naps, mealtimes and bedtimes.
- What do you expect in terms of behaviour? What will you not accept? Don’t make empty threats; be consistent.
- Offer choices - offer your child LIMITED choices whenever you can. Two choices are plenty at any one time. She will become frustrated when she is given direct commands with no options.
- One of the big issues here is that quite often, children know what they want but they cannot express it. Try to help them by finding ways to give them the words they need. Read age-appropriate books. Flash cards, even home-made ones are ideal.
- Remind yourself that this is normal and try to keep a sense of humour. But try not to let them see you are amused. That’ll just backfire!
- Aggressive behaviour should not be tolerated – ever.
Finally, remember to cherish your little ones for testing their new-found independence. These difficult months are a sign they are healthy and growing up. It can be a really tough time for parents; but, remember, it's also hard on the kids too.
They’re growing up. My advice: enjoy the cuddles while they are still willing to give them.
Niamh O’Reilly is a sleep coach. She's also a baby and childcare guru, a 'parent nanny' and the answer to many a weary parent's woes. A regular in the Irish media, Niamh's book, No Fuss Baby & Toddler Sleep, is now available to buy from all good book stores or online from Amazon.com.