The terrible twos couldn't be that bad, right?
Wrong! There is a reason the "terrible twos" is a particularly well known, well-used saying. Two-year-olds have not fully developed their language skills enough to communicate effectively, most of them know how and why to say "no", and they are beginning to learn that the world actually does not revolve around them. Many two-year-old children are watching their world change before their eyes, some moms get pregnant within that first year and siblings start popping up (and the ones that were already there start to matter), daycare and babysitters start becoming very real possibilities, and mommy's not thinking every single thing they do or don't do is soooo cute anymore.
"No" becomes the law of the land for almost 2 years, as a form of resistance, retaliation, just plain rudeness, and because it's just so easy to say.
If no doesn't work or get the attention desired, well then, tantrums are usually sufficient. How would I know, you might query... Well, not only do I have a two-year-old, I also have a four-year-old (who was previously a two-year-old), and I worked in a Montessori style childcare center/school with 18-month-olds to 3-year-olds for many, many years.
The knowledge I've acquired through my experience is here and now fused with thorough research, many studies, and pointers and tips from doctors. I've put it together in this neat little list to help any desperate mom who'd like to thwart the terribleness before it ever begins. Here are 15 things moms can do in the first year to prevent the terrible twos:
15 Sign Language
Teaching toddlers to sign does two things. First, it helps them to communicate non-verbally while speech is still being learned. Secondly, it gives them a little control over their lopsided, clumsy, and in between naps existence. Research suggests some if not most babies developing in a typical manner that learns to sign are able to communicate several months earlier than those only using verbal communication. How does this prevent or tame down the terrible twos?
One-year-olds that are able to tell their parents what they need, i.e. milk, potty, cookie, sleep; learn that mommy and/or daddy understand their needs and answer their calls. In other words, less need to roll around on the floor for a cup of milk because you can't say the word and mommy keeps offering water.
14 Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
For some reason, when children get around 18 months through 24 months, a lot of moms feel the need to "schedul-ize" their worlds. The child needs to be up at X time, the child needs to be asleep at Y time, the child needs to eat at Z time. Gone are the days where the baby could just sleep, and the families would work around it. There is a popular mindset that toddlers need to "clock-in" and "clock-out" like everybody else.
Now, maybe it isn't possible to let the kid sleep around the clock and make dinner at 3 am, but they should never be woken up from naps. Especially not because "they won't be able to sleep later", that myth simply is not true. Studies indicate the less popular saying "sleep begets sleep" is much more in tune with reality. The more a child is able to sleep, the more and better they will sleep.
Now, we aren't suggesting to put a kid down for a nap at 6 pm and expect them to sleep through the night at 8 pm (although it is possible). Smart nap times are smart choices, but if an 18-24-month-old child is sleeping (even til 5:30 or 6 pm) don't wake them. Even grown people are grumpy when unexpectedly woken from their sleep, so what would you expect from an almost two-year-old??
13 Potty Train Like A Pro
No wonder kids get so fussy around age two. Parents are changing everything up! Forcing them to potty train, teaching them to talk, and try new foods. The biggest war parents face, though by far, is potty training and so many parents get it wrong. When I worked at the childcare center with those wonderful little kiddos, we had a rule: If the parent felt their child was able or ready to potty train, usually around two (maybe right before with girls, or right after with boys) we all agreed to truly "go for it", meaning no more diapers. Sorry, pull-ups, and underjams...
If you want to potty train effectively and efficiently go for bare bottoms at home, or undies if in a preschool or daycare. Teachers and parents should be very involved, checking often, placing kids on the potty often, and also making a big deal when they (parents/teachers) have to go. This encourages the littles to "feel" what an accident really is, and see that when mommy/daddy/teacher have to go (because they are dancing around and hollering about it), they GO!
12 Stop, Drop, And Roll
Ok, don't actually drop the kid, but do stop and roll. A parent should never, and I mean NEVER pick up a kid that is behaving in a manner they deem inappropriate. A scraped knee, a sad feeling, or anything else unrelated to a behavior issue, by all means, deserves a scoop and cuddle. But if a toddler, aged one and half and up, is throwing a tantrum because they aren't getting their way, or got into some trouble, picking them up and coddling, only reinforces the bad behavior.
Time and time again, research indicates that rewarding the good, and ignoring the bad is the way to go. So stop (paying them any attention), and roll out to another room, until they drop the attitude. Once the child has regained their composure, swoon them, hug them, and squeeze them. Reward them for cutting the tantrum short. They will learn tantrums don't work well in their household and won't waste their whole second year throwing them...
11 But Some Tantrum-Ming Is OK...
Nope, we are not backtracking here. Tantrums should be ignored whenever it is safe and possible to do so... So, that rules out the grocery store, the mall, church, and so on. When tantrums happen out in public, try to get the child somewhere they can "go for it", like the car, or the breastfeeding room, or even the ladies room if it isn't too disgusting. Moms and dads should not be a menace to society by letting their kids reenact nightmare on elm street in public places.
Sometimes a kid (sometimes an adult) needs to flail around, cry and shout, and plead with the world for a way out. Occasional tantrums can be soothing for the soul, and tantrums can even be healthy within reason according to limited research. There is a time and a place for everything, and that includes tantrums, but again, children should not be rewarded, just given their space.
10 Snack It Up
What are two really great ways to make anyone grumpy? Mess up their sleep or prevent them from eating when they are hungry. As children grow from babies to toddlers to kiddies, their appetites will grow. While it may not seem like it because they are so darn picky, toddlers are hungry for the things they enjoy. Never, and I repeat never, leave the house without a few options.
Those squeezies that come with all sorts of meals, smoothies, fruits, and/or veggies inside are an amazing option, and there is bound to be one that even then the pickiest toddler will love. Thank goodness for multi-flavor packs. A well-rested, well-fed child, is less likely to challenge every instruction, say no to every question, and throw tantrums.
9 Acknowledge Their Feelings
Children between the ages of one and two may not be able to communicate as well as adults, teens, or anybody for that matter, but they can tell when someone "gets them". For instance, while mommy may not be able to do anything about her 18-month-old being trapped in their car seat while she is stuck in traffic, she can sympathize. Saying things like, "I know you are frustrated" or "It's ok to cry" or even "I don't like being stuck in the car either!", lets a child, even small ones know that they matter.
The best trick (sorry, but it is a trick) I pull on my two-year-old son, is to tell him "It's ok to cry..." when he is upset about something I can do nothing about. He almost always stops crying immediately. He's like "oh, this is not working on her..." and/or "this is not going to change a thing." Simply being acknowledged, is sometimes enough... (even for adults!)
8 Use Your Audience
A great way to train a kid not to throw tantrums or have epic meltdowns is to show them who is watching them. All mom needs to do is wait for the screaming and tears to start when things don't go the way the child planned or wants, watch for people to observe the negative behavior, and point those people out to the child. It's easy! "Oh, wow, look at that lady watching you scream, she doesn't like that! It's too loud.." or "Look at that little girl staring at you because you are being so loud, I hope you don't scare her."
Once a child realizes it's not just mommy and/or daddy that don't like their behavior, and that they are actually impacting their entire environment, most kids get shy and quiet down rather quickly. They learn that tantrums and fits get them the attention they would rather avoid.
7 Mirror Their Behavior
Mirroring bad behavior is not something most professionals would advise a mom or dad to do often, but it can be used sparingly to make a point. When in the right environment (preferably at home or in a car) it's the perfect thing to do to get a misbehaving child to stop. If the 20-month-old babe is screaming and kicking their feet, mommy and daddy should too, if only for a moment. Trust, the kid will stop and see what in the world is going on.
If the child is rolling around on the floor or throwing toys, mommy or daddy should too, only for a second. It lets a child *see* how ridiculous they are acting. They don't want mommy or daddy acting "crazy" and sometimes (a lot of times) they are able to connect that their behavior is also "crazy" and should be stopped.
6 Then Show Them The Right Way
Showing a child the right way to do something, often times requires more than one adult. Say, for instance, momma has asked little Suzie to put away her toy. Suzie screams "no" and proceeds to throw the toy and has a fit. If daddy or auntie or grandma is there, mommy can then ask the other person to do the same thing. Then they ever so graciously do exactly as they are told and are greeted with warm, loving, affectionate appreciation.
I.e. "Grandma will you put the doll away?" Grandma smiles, and says "of course I will" and gently places the doll in the toy box. Then mommy hugs grandma and says "thank you soooo much, that was soooo nice!" Hooray! Here's a life lesson: the more adults regularly act in the manner they want their children to, the more the children will do the same. But if mommy and daddy snap at each other, or cuss, or get loud, the more "Suzie" will.
5 Reward Good Behavior
Parents need to make a big deal when their kids get it right. This applies to all ages but especially little children. So often people harp on the negative, they go on and on about what people get wrong, why things didn't work, how terrible it will be, etc. What about the good stuff? If Suzie, yes, same little Suzie, throws her toy ten times, mom and dad should rejoice when on the 11th try, she puts it in her toy box.
Yes, it is hard to ignore bad behavior, sometimes its impossible, but it is not hard to reward the good. Parents should really make a big deal when their 18-month-old allows them to put on the car seat belt straps without melting down. I am not going to lie, and I don't do it all the time but I have been known to give a sweet treat for good efforts. Sweet treats can be anything from a raisin to an m&m (yes, only one works wonders), to a sticker, or a big huge hug, its whatever works for that situation. But it sends a clear message to a kid: be good to get good.
4 All By Their SELF
One of the main things little kiddos want is the freedom to do things for themselves. They want to buckle the seat belt (no), they want to pour the water (no), they want to get the snack (no), and they want to pay (heck no). How about finding them something they CAN do, all by themselves. No need to say no, no need to help. Give them something they can take care of on their own, like putting their bath toys in the tub at bath time, or giving them a small plastic pitcher of water to pour into a small plastic cup (over a toweled off area, of course).
Even letting them help with 'adult' chores can make a huge difference in helping them feel 'independent'. The more they feel they can do on their own, the more empowered they will feel and the less likely they will... Yeah, you know by now.
3 Find Out What's Really Going On...
I still remember shortly after having my first baby, I was laid up in the hospital room holding my sweet boy and he was screaming his head off. I had tried everything, feeding him, holding him close, and I had made sure to check if the little diaper thingy had turned green- it was bright yellow. I was bright red as the nurse entered to help, she checked him over and said: "he is soaking wet!" The little yellow indicator was not working. As soon as I changed his diaper, he fell asleep in my arms.
How many times do parents miss what's really bothering their children? Maybe its a diaper (or diaper rash), maybe they are hungry, or sleepy, the list really can go on forever. But most kids aren't just "bad", something is usually up, so moms and dads should make sure to do their best to get to the bottom of the issue.
2 Extra Lovin'
As mentioned earlier, that stage before turning two is filled with change: teeth coming in, siblings popping up, nursing fading away, new people, new places, new schedules. It's hard out there for a toddler. They want to do it all by themselves, but most often they need assistance. So the best thing a mom or dad can do, is to love them more. Spend more time snuggling, more time singing and reading together, more time just being together.
Sometimes a little extra loving is exactly what the doctor ordered. All kids are babies until they have a baby themselves. They need to be held, comforted and told and feel they are loved. Love really is the key to turning the terrible into the terrific...
1 Never Give Up!
At the end of the day, most two years are both terrible and terrific. Most moms and dads will say that about their 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds, all the way up to 55-year-old kids, and so forth. While parents can teach their children the best behavior and train them in the ways they should act, it will not always work. The only thing that always works, is time. Time never stops, never slows, never repeats.
So, parents should be encouraged to enjoy every moment, no matter how good or seemingly bad. There never yet has been a parent sitting at the college graduation (or wedding, or fill in an important event here) of their child fussing about how terrible their kid was at two. If they are, its in good humor. So, don't give up. It's uphill from here, until puberty, that is...
Sources: Kellymom.com, Parents.com, Pinterest.com, NBCnew.com, Herviewfromhome.com, Webmd.com, Scarymommy.com