My Kids Doc

Navigating the ‘terrible twos’

Two-year-olds are curious creatures – one minute they’re loving and cuddly, the next minute they’re behaving like screaming monsters for who knows what reason. I’d love to tell you that the terrible twos is a myth, but it’s not. This is actually a normal stage of your toddler’s development and can begin anywhere from 18 to 30 months of age. Two-year-olds are struggling with their reliance on their parents and their desire for independence. They’re eager to do things on their own, but they’re beginning to discover that they’re expected to follow certain rules. The difficulty of this normal development can lead to inappropriate behavior, frustration, out-of-control feelings and tantrums. During this time, expect that you and your child will occasionally lose patience with each other, but there are some strategies you can use to ensure that both you and your toddler survive this stage of their development.

Impose consequences. No parent likes to give consequences, but consequences are a natural part of life. A child going through the terrible twos is constantly testing limits. They need to know that there are expectations and consequences if those expectations are not met. You can decide what kinds of consequences you want to use, but avoid hitting or other violent behavior you wouldn’t want modeled.

Offer choices. The typical two-year-old is desperate to feel power and control over their world. They don’t like to be told what to do since this makes them feel powerless. Offering choices allows them to feel like they have some power. “Should we go play outside or stay in and build with blocks?”, “Would you like to wear the blue shirt or the yellow one?” Pick your battles and give them options when you can. Some battles are just not worth fighting.

Give them responsibility. Another way children feel powerful is if they are given responsibilities. A two-year-old can do lots around the house: empty their plate into the trash, throw out a napkin, or put a toy away. Allowing them to do these little chores helps to build their confidence and shows that you trust them.

Make sure they get enough rest. How do you feel when you haven’t gotten enough sleep? Moody? Irritable? Imagine your child who is learning about their world and their place in it and add a lack of sleep to the mix. Do your best during this challenging time to maintain a regular nap schedule. If your child no longer naps, make sure they are getting to sleep at a decent time each night and is getting 11 to 14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. It will make the following day a lot easier.

Learn to ignore undesirable behavior. Children get a lot of attention for negative behavior. But not all negative behavior is the same. Pick your battles with your child. Do not react to everything. Let’s say you are trying to teach your child to eat with utensils. Over lunch, you notice that they keep using their hands to eat and not a fork. This may be a time to step back and let it go. Do I suggest you never teach your children to use utensils? No, it is an important skill that kids need to learn. However, there is no reason to fight this battle on a day when they are really pushing your buttons. Think about what really matters to you and what you can ignore for the time being.

Praise appropriate behavior. Ignoring and praise go hand in hand. While you are ignoring little annoying behaviors, you are heaping on the praise for good behaviors or things you want to see more. For example, when you’ve noticed that your child has put away their toys, you can say “Wow! I can’t believe you put all these toys away! You got every single one! I need to give you a high five!” Be excited and animated. They will remember these reactions and want more of them.

Pack your patience. This will probably be the hardest step. A two-year-old is going through so many physical and psychological changes, that they have a right to go a little crazy. Being an adult means recognizing that and giving them the opportunity to pass through this stage without getting angry. It is very difficult to not get angry when a child is constantly throwing tantrums, but blowing your top won’t do anything to make the situation better. Take some deep breaths, walk away for a moment and respond once you are calm. You don’t want to say or do anything you are going to regret later.

Keep things in perspective. This will not last forever, I promise. Often, when we are in the middle of a challenging situation, it seems like it will never end. Remember that other moms have been through the same thing and survived, which leads me to point number nine.

Connect with others. Do not go through this alone. If you are not part of a moms’ group, join one. Look for one through church, your neighborhood or online. There are other moms going through the same struggles you are and talking to them will certainly help you. Plus, you can get your kids together for play dates – and my kids always behave better when there are other kids around.

Educate yourself. There are so many great resources out there for dealing with toddlers. Arming yourself with knowledge goes a long way to making you feel not so powerless.

Don’t forget that your pediatrician is a valuable resource for helping you navigate this stage of your child’s development. If in doubt about whether the behavior you’re seeing is normal or signaling some underlying issue, give your pediatrician a call. We’re here to help you raise happy and healthy kids.

• Dr. Tamarra Moss is a pediatrician committed to helping you raise happy and healthy kids. You can find her at Dr. Carlos Thomas & Pediatric Associates in Nassau, Lucayan Medical Center in Grand Bahama, or on Instagram @mykidsdoc242.   

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