Now that all my kids are 3 years old and over, I feel like I can look back with some impartiality at that trying year known as the terrible twos. Do all kids go through the terrible twos? How can you survive it with your sanity intact? Read on for my best 10 Tips for Surviving the Terrible Twos. If you have a little one, you might also find How to Prepare a Toddler for a New Baby helpful.
Surviving the Terrible Twos
Lets start off by defining the terrible twos. Parenting books will tell you that the terrible twos are a normal stage of development where a child's need for independence clashes with their need for adults. The result of this clash is often temper tantrums, oppositional behavior and all around moodiness. You never quite know what this child will do from one moment to the next as their moods change frequently.
Often the terrible twos start before a child's second birthday. For my youngest they started at around 18 months. They can also go past the age of 2. Will all kids go through the terrible twos? No, so you may be one of the lucky ones, though I suspect if you are reading this, you are not. Only my youngest went through the terrible twos. One of my twins has been pretty even tempered her entire life, while my other had a great 2nd year and went crazy at 3, just when I thought I was out of the woods!
10 Tips for Surviving the Terrible Twos:
1. 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. When my youngest was 2 she was a triple threat - a hair puller, a biter and a hitter. The expectation in our house is that kids do not pull hair, bite or hit when they get angry. Whenever she did any of these things she was told "No!" and she suffered of a time out and a loss of a privilege.
2. Offer choices: The 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. I am not talking about choices like "Do you want to go outside and play or take a nap?" I mean offer them the choice between two things that you would be okay with them doing. "Should we go play outside or stay in and build with blocks?" "Would you like jam or butter on your bread?"
3. Give them responsibility: Another way kids 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, help set the table at dinner time etc... Allowing them to do these chores helps to build their confidence and shows that your trust them.
4. Sleep: How do you feel when you haven't gotten enough sleep? Moody? Imagine your child who is learning about their world and their place in it and add a lack of sleep to the mix. You know how much sleep your child needs to operate. Do your best during this challenging time to maintain a regular nap schedule. If you child no longer naps, make sure they are getting to sleep at a decent time each night even if it means restructuring your schedule or not attending a late night event. It will make the following day a lot easier.
5. Ignore: 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. Lets 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 might 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.
6. Praise: 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 have noticed that your child has put away their toys "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.
7. Patience: This will probably be the hardest step. We don't like to wait for anything in our society, and we certainly don't like waiting for a difficult situation to get better. 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 when a child is constantly having tantrums or fighting you on EVERYTHING to not get angry. I have done it many times myself. What I have noticed is that when I have gotten angry or resorted to yelling, it always makes things worse and escalates the situation. So take some deep breaths, walk away for a moment and respond, don't react.
8. Perspective: This will not last forever, I promise. Often when we are in the midst of a challenging situation it seems like it will never end. It looks like an endless tunnel with no light at the end of it. But remember that other moms have been through the same thing and survived. Which leads me to point number 9.
9. Connect: Do not go through this alone. If you are not part of a moms group, join one. Look for one through church, your local neighborhood or even meetup.com. 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.
10. Educate yourself: There are so many great resources out there for dealing with a toddler going through the terrible twos. I have read and recommend the following:
Surviving the terrible twos is possible! If you have older kids and have respect issues here are 20 Ways to Teach Kids About Respect.
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