Bub sticking “birthday candles” into the sand
1. They are still learning how the world works
Miss A has just turned two. They don’t call it terrible twos for nothing. It’s not that they suddenly turn two and go crazy but it’s just that they are at this particular developmental stage where they are learning to communicate and figuring out how the world works. It is obviously frustrating to them when people can’t understand what they’re saying and they just cannot wrap their brain around why they cannot go out of the house without pants on.
At this age they have also figured out some basics of what they like and don’t like (e.g. ice cream good, brushing teeth bad) and they get frustrated when they realise they can’t always get their way. They also can be fickle and irrational e.g. they tell you they want to wear a certain shirt then when you proceed to dress them in it they pull it off and say they don’t want it, or they want juice but only in a particular cup and when you get it wrong they refuse it altogether. Fantastic age, isn’t it?
We deal with tantrums with a lot of talking. We personally do not spank. I believe all it does is create fear and resentment and not respect. Miss A’s speech is fairly advanced and she is able to understand things and express herself well. Of course it doesn’t stop her from still feeling upset or being irrational but it means if she does throw a hissy fit, she is capable of comprehending the situation fairly well and getting over it fast.
2. They can’t express themselves properly yet
Toddlers are still learning to speak and clearly they can understand a lot more than they can express in words. I imagine it would be pretty frustrating being able to think of something but not communicate that.
Verbalise and acknowledge
We continually encourage Miss A to talk and use words instead of crying or lashing out physically. We say “You’re a big girl now. Babies cry. Big girls talk. Now can you use your words to tell me what is it you want?”
If you want them to learn to control their emotions you have to give them the tools. In our daily life we talk a lot about taking turns, waiting, being patient, and being calm and trying again when she struggles to do something herself. They are a lot of great TV shows like Sesame Street and Daniel Tiger that talk about this kind of stuff and have songs you can sing to help remind them what is the right thing to do. If we can see she’s upset over something like not wanting to eat dinner, we give her the words and tell her to say clearly out loud “I don’t want to eat dinner”. Of course it doesn’t change the outcome – she still has to eat dinner – but we want her to be able to acknowledge and verbalise exactly why she is upset. This in turn also helps us acknowledge her which makes her feel like we’re not just being mean to her. Once she verbalises her emotions then we will say something like “I know you’re upset and you don’t want to eat dinner but this is what families do – we sit down and eat dinner.”
Role playing situations before they happen is very good at preparing kids to do the right thing and preventing meltdowns. You can role play things like having a toy taken away from them by another kid or them being pushed in a playground. We walk through what she can do and say and emphasise that big girls talk and not cry or whine. Preparation is key. We also talk through upcoming things that may upset her and emotions that she may feel e.g. “We are going to go to the playground but you cannot play with the water fountains because it is a cold day. You will feel upset and want to play with the water but remember we cannot do that.” So far this has worked pretty well for us.
If we need to we do sometimes do time out when Miss A is doing something she definitely knows is wrong e.g. pinching when she’s upset but this is more as a way of giving her space to acknowledge what she did wrong and calm down and not so much as a punishment. We usually don’t leave her alone when she is upset unless it’s obvious that she needs the space to calm herself down.
Countdowns have worked pretty well for us too. No one likes being suddenly whisked off when they are in the middle of something they are enjoying. So when it comes to things like going home from the playground, we give her fair warning e.g “You can play for 10 minutes more and then it’s time to go home” and we continue to give her another warning at 5 minutes and then 1 minute. Another example is that she likes to crank the cold water in her bath until she is freezing but will still scream when I try to turn it off or tell her she has to get out. So what I did was tell her she can go ahead and crank the cold tap if she wants but she has to get out of the bath in 20 seconds. Since she now knows the rules, she will actually now count it down herself then obligingly get out. A little bit of negotiation saves everyone a headache.
Another thing which V did was to start teaching Miss A about emotions from an early age. He printed out heaps of pictures showing kids expressing different emotions (e.g happy, sad, angry, frustrated, hurt) and pasted it along the wall at a low height so she could see it. We would explain the emotions, discuss why each child may be feeling that way and get her to point out different emotions. Before she was able to express herself, if she got upset we would bring her to that wall and ask her to point out what she was feeling. I really do recommend doing this. You will be surprised how quick they pick up on this.
End of the world
I have to say that of course sometimes Miss A just truly becomes irrational and starts melting down and that is usually a sign that we need to hurry her along to bed.
3. The world is suddenly a very exciting place
At this age, they are running, jumping and climbing and are full of energy. They love being outside and are now capable of playing with a wide variety of toys. This means nap time, bath time, bedtime and getting them to sit down for meals (basically anything which involves them having to stop play) can be a real struggle and a catalyst for massive tantrums. The countdown system and routines do help and personally I just pick my battles and roll with it. Your parents will probably tell you to crack the whip and “show them who is boss” but to me there is no harm in a bit of dinner on the floor every now and then. That’s my opinion anyway.
A piece of advice I read online regarding parenting strong-willed toddlers which has worked well for us is to give them options and make them feel like they have some kind of control e.g. Miss A is sometimes resistant to baths so instead of yelling out, “It’s time for your bath!” we say “Do you want your duck or your frog in your bath today?” She will usually go grab her toy of her choice and run to the bath to pop it in then voluntarily get in to play. If your child is resistant to dressing you may want to pick out a couple outfits and let he/she choose which one he/she wants instead of just proceeding to dress them how you want. In a funny way, by giving them options you are not really giving them a choice to opt out.
So that’s just a few things we are doing to survive parenting a toddler. Miss A is definitely not the placid type of child so we are continuously learning ourselves how to best deal with her in this stage lest she turn out a rebellious teenager. On the flip side, there are many delightful moments in having a two year old. I enjoy that she can now talk and run and climb. She often says the funniest things that just cracks us all up. She is not very independent when it comes to entertaining herself but at least at this age it is a lot easier for us to entertain her. Even though most days my ears are ringing from the endless irrational outbursts, I still definitely much prefer her as a two year old compared to a helpless newborn.