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It’s about time, in my family, for the Terrible Two’s to be our companion again. This will be our fifth time through the Terrible Two’s (which actually starts around 18 months for my kids). Here are our seven tips for surviving the terrible two’s.
Causes of the Terrible Two’s
It’s important to remember what causes the Terrible Two’s. There are two major factors in all the tantrums, “no’s”, and fights. The first is an inability the toddler has to communicate what she wants. She has experienced enough of the world now that she has some very decided opinions. Unfortunately, her language development has not kept pace with her understanding. This understanding to language deficit causes the toddler to have a lot of stress. The main way she alleviates that stress is through crying or tantrum throwing.
The second major factor involved in the Terrible Two’s is that the toddler has just reached a childhood development stage named “autonomy versus dependence”. In other words, the toddler has just figured out that she is her own being –separate from Mommy. She is also learning she has her own will and voice. And although the tantrums are very frustrating for the parents, they are how the toddler is expressing her voice, will, and separate self.
Now, Early Childhood Development class is finished. On to the nitty-gritty – How parents stay sane, and keep the household functioning while their toddler moves through the Terrible Two’s.
Seven Tips for Surviving the
Tip 1: Talk, talk, talk with the baby before the baby becomes a toddler.
If you’re able, teach the baby a few key sign language signs. Words we use include “finished”, “milk”, “eat”, “want”. Those are the basics. There are a lot of great books to help with this, but my favorite is “Teaching your Baby to Sign”. Another resource is “Signing Time” –which is a PBS show and is available in DVD’s too.
Talking with the baby (and later toddler) establishes a habit of communication. And although the baby/toddler might not respond all the time, the patterns of responses the baby gives will become evident and both parent and baby will be better able to understand each other. Also, teaching the baby the sign words will help because then the baby will have a way of expressing herself long before she is able to do so verbally. Signing has also be shown to help language development in babies and toddlers – an added bonus.
Tip 2: Offer choices, all the time.
This will help the toddler begin to express her individuality in ways that are acceptable to her adults. The trick with offering choices is to only offer choices that you are comfortable with. Meaning, no matter what the toddler picks, the outcome is acceptable. Also, only offer as many choices as the child is old, rounding up.
For example, I offer my baby a choice of two cereals in the morning. Both choices are okay with me, and there are only two for her to choose from. This simple act of letting her choose what she is eating lets her develop her autonomy in a positive way.
Tip 3: Repeat what you’ve understood the toddler wants.
That doesn’t necessarily mean giving it to the child, it just means saying back to the child what you heard the child say. I even use this with my older children. But when I do this with my toddler, I say back what I heard over and over and over again. I try to think of at least four different ways to tell my child what I heard. There are two reasons for this. First, it shows my child that I truly heard what was said and understood the message. And second, saying it so many times stops the frantic, stress response before it starts and helps the child calm down.
Tips one through three are designed to lessen the number of tantrums the family experiences. And they are habits that can be developed prior to the Terrible Two’s. The following tips are how I’ve learned to deal with a tantrum once the tantrum has started.
Tip 4: Assess the child’s physical needs.
This is a difficult thing to do, but a lot of tantrums occur because a physical need has not been met. These needs include: hunger, thirst, fatigue, and over stimulation. I’ll often go through a check list in my mind while the child is tantrum-ing and see if I can remember the last time the child ate, drank, or napped. If I can, then usually the child has received too much stimulation, and needs to be wrapped up in a soft blanket and cuddled until she calms down. It’s the unmet physical needs that are causing the tantrum, and once they are addressed the tantrum will dissipate.
Tip 5: Don’t respond to the tantrum.
This can be really difficult to do, but it’s often the best thing to teach the child that tantrums won’t get her what she wants. It’s very hard to ignore a child screaming and pounding on the floor. As long as the child is safe, and you’ve done what you can (without giving in), then sometimes it is best to walk away or put the child in her bed – away from you. This helps to teach the child that throwing big fits will not get her what she wants.
Tip 6: Don’t bribe or give in.
So, this also means be sure this point is one you are willing to be stubborn about before you start. Once a battle has started saying things like “If you stop crying, I’ll give you a treat”, or “Okay, fine, here you go”, only undermine your parental authority and will make the tantrums happen more often. Once you’ve said no – then you can’t go back on what you’ve said. This is also a really hard one to do, but it makes life a lot easier in the long run.
Tip 7: Say yes as often as possible.
This idea ties into the previous tip. When the child asks for something, as long as I’m not really opposed to the idea, I try to say yes. There are a lot of questions I’m asked and I really don’t have strong feelings about the outcomes one way or the other. So, in those cases I try to say yes. This really helps to make the times when I say no stand out and be more effective.
Some of these tips can be implemented earlier than when the terrible two’s hit, and some are exit strategies for when the terrible two’s are at their worst. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it contains the seven tools Iuse most when my children are dealing with this stage of life. Good luck to any of you currently enjoying this particular parenting adventure.
I’d love to hear any other tips or stories! Post them in the comments below.