As a young parent, you may have heard your pediatrician, doctor, or even your local child care provider warn you of the dangers of child abuse.
Even if you’re not a parent, you’ve probably heard the term “terrible two,” and you’ve probably wondered how cute they are when you’re annoyed by the irrational little monsters that turn into them overnight. Maybe they’re not ready yet, or maybe you wait until they’re two, but now they’d be perfect. They are in the stage where an untied shoelace causes a complete melt – and turns lunch time into a war zone because they cut their sandwich the wrong way.
This can be a frustrating, confusing and stressful time for parents, so how can we navigate through this crucial time in our children’s lives? Once your child is a baby, all your needs will be met, but what is really going on here? The world and your life revolve around their life.
They are also reaching an age where they understand much of what is said and done, but they lack the vocabulary to express themselves properly. This is perfectly in line with the fact that two-years-old go through the same stages of development as their older siblings.
They want to do things alone, but the expectation to follow rules can be contrary to your wishes, leading to tantrums and irrational behavior. You will probably also have to contend with dependence on your parents and the desire for independence.
It can be shocking to see your child pushing or scratching someone else, and it can even make you wonder if you are a good parent. You might think, “Why are you doing this?” and you might even wonder what the cause is. This leads to conflicts between infants, but they are normal parts of a child’s development and will only improve over time, even if it looks like you are entering a scene that causes them and their parents a lot of trouble.
The truth is that aggression, while not encouraged, is perfectly normal and needs to be learned. It is simply the automatic response of an underdeveloped brain to threats, and it is actually a part of our biology that can potentially save lives. Without them, we would not be able to defend ourselves and others against threats and would probably harm ourselves or others.
What children need to learn, of course, is to suppress their aggressive impulses when they are unnecessary. As two-years-old mature, their brains develop, their ability to suppress aggressive behavior will increase. Their fighting instinct will diminish, and in essence they will gradually evolve into the age of reason.
Children at this age learn to deal with strong emotions for the first time, and it is the job of parents to guide them through these challenges. Recognizing the emotions they experience is crucial to teaching children to deal with those emotions.
If you have spilled something, tell your child that you are frustrated that you have spilled it, ask for help cleaning it up, or talk about your own feelings. Making them aware of how to deal with emotions and solve problems teaches them to do the same.
If you say, “I was really angry because I said I couldn’t have dessert anymore”, show your child that you understand their feelings. You can then suggest how to express your emotions in a healthy way, or confirm the feelings of your children with you.
Even small decisions can go a long way to giving your child a sense of competence. A two-years-old may be too young to decide what to eat in the evening, but giving him the opportunity to make his own choices gives him confidence and a sense of control. Maybe you give them two outfits to choose from and let them decide which book to read, or you leave the right decision to a child of all ages.
If you cannot open a juice container or find a toy your toddler wants to play with, you may have a meltdown. At this point, emotions are overwhelming, and the best thing you can do is to get yourself safe and wait for him to calm down a little and talk about the emotions he is feeling. This sounds harsh, but if you need to reassure your child in a different way before a temper attack, it is good not to follow him. The best thing to do, however, is to wait until he calms down and is sure before talking about it.
One may be angry at first, but quietly explains why, and he explains why it is better to ask for help than to get upset. This is not the best way to discipline your child, he says, so tell him. Having boundaries teaches self-control and encourages empathy for others, for oneself and others.
This is a classic strategy, and for good reason: according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AAACP), it works.
If your child has already been disciplined and continues to behave negatively, remove him from the situation as soon as possible. Wait until time is over – out is over ( A good rule of thumb is one minute per year of life) and do not react to anything he says or does during that time. Then you can explain why you took time off and why what he did was wrong.
Try your best to be patient and understanding, but remember that at this crucial stage in your life, your child must grow into a rational, emotionally capable adult. The terrible two may seem like they will last forever – but rest assured that this phase will come to an end. You will see the light at the end of the tunnel, which is full of temper tantrums, not the other way round.