Navigating the Terrible Twos with Patience and Humor
Now that I am embarking upon my fifth round of “terrible twos,” I think I’ve (finally) got it.
Over the past couple of weeks, I have spent time with several two-year-olds and have observed the respective interactions with their parents, other children and related adults. Interestingly, there is a common complaint most first time (and second time) parents express when it comes to their two-year-old child.
I hear it all the time. And, I was also one that would constantly grumble, “What am I doing wrong? Why is she so fussy, cranky, feisty, aggressive, antisocial, selfish, volatile…”
The answer is because the kid is two-years-old. There is a fascinating transformation that occurs when a child turns two. The once sweet, docile, smiley baby that everybody coddled and loved morphs into a whiny, belligerent, annoying little creature.
Folks, it is child psychology 101; your two-year-old is beginning the process of independence and seeking to establish an identity all of his own. He wants to break away, yet is insecure about how to go about it. He wants to make his own choices and feel like a big shot. He needs to feel his parents are there for him should he need them, but only on his terms.
When his temper erupts and he flings himself onto the floor in a rage, landing on his back floundering like a cockroach, leave him alone. Do not try to talk him out of it, reason with him or pressure him to discuss his feelings. He is furious because he is two and is going through the equivalent of puberty with all its accompanying emotional complications. He is confused and wants freedom yet simultaneously still wants to be a baby. He wants it all and still lacks the vocabulary to express his sentiments. Can you imagine how frustrating that is for the child?
My advice for any parent would be to first allow your child to have their attack of ire — just make sure nothing dangerous is in the designated tantrum area that could result in injury. Do not interfere nor give any credence to the wild passionate display of wrath. Stay out of it and give him some space to decompress.
Let him know, in a very stoic and nonchalant manner, that you’ll be waiting for him — to continue playing, eating, dancing, etc. when he has finished with his episode. This allows him to feel in control, albeit of his own fury. This way he can experience a little independence, which is what he so desperately (thinks he) craves. In essence, you are validating your little son or daughter as a free-thinker who chooses to enter into a well deserved frenzy, if he chooses to do so.
Secondly, do not engage the child in decision-making when in such a state of mind. Two options will suffice once his serenity returns. At this tender age, simple choices such as, “Do you want to wear the blue or the red shirt today?” are perfect. Open-ended questions with endless options like “What do you want to wear today?” will overload an already overstressed brain and take the kid hours to reconcile. The key is to encourage simple, independent decision-making when your child is sane — never in a moment of fussiness or exhaustion.
And lastly and most importantly, ignore your child’s negative behavior. Rest assured that he is normal and undergoing inner struggles to emotionally break-free, (but not too much) from his primary caretaker, YOU. Allow him that freedom and respect his developing individuality. Don’t be overbearing, over-analytical, or judgmental of his plight. Do encourage him to re-group during a spurt of alone time — without you trying to be part of his every waking moment. Give the little guy or gal some breathing room for crying out loud.
(If none of the above works, try sending your son or daughter to an orphanage until age three. I guarantee that with the lack of attention, doting, and special treatment, he will become more independent, self-confident and well-balanced as a result.)