Let us start out with saying that two has been coined “the terrible twos” and this typically comes about because children at this age are meeting milestones that are difficult to parent. It isn’t a terrible time for a two year old, but can be for parents. I wrote a post a few years ago about age appropriate behaviors (that we hate as parents) of a two year old. You can find it here. Children this age are looking for boundaries, exerting their independence, and noticing social situations and how they fit into them. Here are some tips that have helped families I’ve worked with and especially me as I’m parenting a two year old. I pair all of these tips with some reflective questions, to help you apply each tip. Be open about your parenting and you will find that you are more realistic about what changes you might need to make.
- Look for the good, and nurture it:
What behavior gets the most attention during your day (Positive or Negative)?
Toddlers are going to use what works, at this age most children thrive off of attention from siblings and caregivers. If they are getting more attention from negative behavior they will most likely keep doing it. And I might add that it doesn’t always have to be positive attention, children just want attention no matter how it is given. Knowing that we can make sure to give all of our time and attention to positive behavior.
SO what do we do when your child is acting out? I would suggest that you ignore it!
Here is a common example: You have a two year old that is hitting.
Naturally and typically what happens is we quickly reprimand the child or redirect them, or even send them to calm down or to their room. (these are three interactions with the child that probably wouldn’t have happened if they didn’t hit..) Already they are getting plenty of attention. Since hitting is a two man game (the hitter and the one being hit), I would offer that instead we give attention to the child that was hurt. If your two year old is hitting another child at a play date or a sibling, simply show the child that was hurt more attention and model for you child how we should treat others. Get down to the eye level of the child who was hit and say “I’m so sorry that he hit you, that must of hurt.” Offer any kind of love that you can. Over time your child will see how we should treat others and stop hitting because it isn’t getting them what they want. Remember a two-year-olds are incredibly efficient.
I’ve seen a mother use this with her toddler who was hitting an older sibling and she found her toddler replacing hitting, with hugs and kisses. This happened in a week. Guys it works! Look for the good in your child and stop giving attention to behaviors that aren’t working for you and your two year old.
We see a lot of defiance and push back during the toddler years. This just means that a child is looking for a boundary. They want to see how far they can go before Mom or Dad gives in. Hence the nagging, crying, whining.
Literally yesterday my son cried to my husband to have a Popsicle right before dinner, he cried, moaned, threw himself and my sweet husband gave in. When he got his Popsicle he immediately put on a smile. Guys he didn’t need that Popsicle! Sure enough today right before lunch he asked for a Popsicle and cried when I said no, he took it all the way to a full on fit. Can you blame him though? This exact behavior worked yesterday. We need to say no, and hold to it.
This means you have to be mindful of what you say before you say it. Will you always be spot on? No. But before you offer a consequence make sure you are able to carry it out. This is a common example, but I’ve often heard parents (myself included) say to their child, “if you don’t stop doing (fill in the blank), we will leave.” That child keeps up the behavior and it really isn’t feasible to leave (the park, the store, a meeting, church, disneyland… ) Every time you do this, your child is learning that your words hold no weight. We do not want that.
I would take a minute before you go somewhere and run through some possible scenarios and find some solutions that are doable for you and your family. And commit to yourself to follow through, even when it is more inconvenient than you would like. Following through once or twice will significantly reduce them continuing a negative behavior or being defiant.
3. Ratio of Yes to No
Looking back on your day how often are you saying no vs. yes to your toddler?
Your toddler is maturing cognitively and socially. They are starting to show their independence and how they fit in their family. Because of this, your child gets frustrated easily when they can’t do what they feel like they should be able to. To relieve this you might want to find room in your day to increase the opportunity for him to have more independence. A simple trick is to say yes as often as you can, and then save no for when you really need it (safety, compliance, etc.) I would encourage at least a 3:1 ratio of Yes to No. For every No, there should be three yes’s to go with it. When your child wakes up they might want to wear a pair of shoes that don’t match their outfit, let them. Maybe they want to eat their cereal with a fork, let them. These little yes’s can allow them to be more compliant when you need to say no.
Think if you were told no all day, you might be defiant or rebellious if you were going to be told No anyway…
Piggy backing on the idea of emerging independence, let them be in charge of their day. Encourage choices that you are okay with either outcome. This tip is especially helpful when you don’t feel like you can let them do whatever they want (like the ideas above).
If they want to pick out what to wear, offer two choice that you are comfortable with and let them pick. If they are fighting you on getting in the car seat, you can offer the choice for them to get in on their own, or you can help them. Even though we know the result is the same, they feel in charge of what will happen next. Allowing them some decision over their day will fill their independence bucket and they will be a much happier toddler.
5. Increase playtime and social bonding:
Schedule time in your day to make play a priority! Toddlers learn through play, they feel love through play and social interactions. You can encourage and foster your relationship through play time and following their lead. I can promise if your child is grouchy, if you take time to make them the most important thing for just a few minutes it will turn your whole day around. Toddlers crave undivided attention from their parents.
An extra note on whining, screaming, not using actual words.
Back to watering the weeds, is their screaming or whining effective, by which I mean are they getting what they want when they scream, whine etc.? If we can respond before they are screaming or whining, they learn that quiet calm voices get them what they need.
Sometimes our toddlers haven’t learned the skills to get what they want effectively, hence why there is so much whining and screaming. The best thing we can do is label what we want for them to do instead of whining. Asking them to stop or use their words isn’t enough for them to replace the behavior. Toddlers brains aren’t advanced enough to come up with a solution, they will just continue the same behavior. They need a model of what you would expect. This is actually a great skill for getting them to stop something you don’t want them to do. If your child is jumping on the couch, it feels natural to say “Stop Jumping!” But your toddler just hears, jumping. You need to say what you want them to do. “Keep are feet on the ground” or “we sit on the couch, remember?”
Encourage language development. The better their language is the less likely the screaming, whining, frustrations will persist. Read books with your child, take time to label and encourage them to repeat. Make a list of words that would be functional and helpful for them to use. Often times we teach fun words, but aren’t useful in the day to day frustrations. If your child is great at animal sounds, colors, and numbers but can’t get their basic needs met, than there will be a lot of tantrums.
All the luck, and three is even harder…