I remember a year ago on her birthday it was like she knew she turned TWO and she had to be terrible. It was a switch that turned on and has lasted until… now.
We survived though! I now have a big bad THREEnager. We’re still a work in progress. She has taught me patience I never knew I had and she continues to test me daily. She’s the complete opposite of everything I thought she would be – because she’s the complete opposite of ME. She’s not a pushover, she’s not shy, and she will NOT back down. This past year I’ve felt like I’ve failed as a parent, especially when unwanted advice and comments are thrown in my direction. Temper tantrums that have resulted in power struggles are far too common.
I’ve really had to put my behaviorist hat on to come up strategies to get through the terrible two’s and here’s what I’ve come up with.
- Routine/Schedule – Every day is different, we never had a routine as a family. I know it really, really helps when they’re on a consistent routine, and if possible try to keep a consistent routine– but with my job that isn’t possible. I found that it helped if we went over what was going to happen that day. As soon as she woke up I would tell her what we will be doing and when. She has a good memory, but sometimes I’d go as far as drawing pictures of each thing. It was our visual schedule for the day. It helped when she knew what to expect and how to behave when we were there. (Example: We’re going to eat at Cheesecake Factory today. You have to sit nicely on the highchair and eat your bread and quesadilla. After we eat, then we’ll walk around the mall)
- Verbal Contract – Her dad and I would always have her answer – verbally. Once we told her what we would be doing and how she should behave while we’re there – we followed it up with her saying “okay” or “yes Daddy/Mommy” or some kind of acknowledgement that she understands. This helped because it was something agreed to PRIOR rather than IN THE MOMENT. As soon as I sensed any precursor that a tantrum was coming on, I’d let her know – remember you said you would sit nicely while we eat.
- Timers – This was so effective for me. I used to set a timer for everything. She actually liked it and found it fun (I set different tunes for bath time, dinner time, etc). I’d let her know “in five minutes when you hear the timer the TV is turning off and it’s time to take a bath” and for the most part (unless she asked for more time- then I’d give her another minute or two) she knew what to do and complied.
- Choices – With her personality, I can tell she likes being in control and feeling empowered. I would always give her two choices when it came down to pretty much anything. “Do you want to eat broccoli with your chicken or spinach with your chicken?” or “Do you want to go to bed in 5 minutes or 7 minutes?” – providing choices allows her to make her own decisions but I only provide her with choices that are in my favor.
- Consistency and Follow Through– This was the toughest one for me. If I said something to her – I knew I had to follow through. It’s so hard staying consistent with my words, so I had to remember to use my words wisely. If I told her she needed to sit nicely and be quiet during dinner, otherwise she wouldn’t be able to go to park/playground after – I had to follow through. So all of our gear for the park was packed in the trunk – what do I do? She was loud and didn’t want to sit and eat. I wanted to go to the park – but since I gave her that ultimatum, she wouldn’t take me seriously next time if I didn’t follow through with it. Lesson learned for the both of us (use your words wisely, and mom means business).
- Wait It Out – This is where I look like the bad parent sometimes because “I’M NOT DOING ANYTHING” with a child screaming her lungs out– but honestly, when she’s on full tantrum mode – anything I say or do will escalate the situation. I could negotiate with her – but that turns into a power struggle. If I’m in public I’ll remove her from the environment to a safer/quieter place if possible and just let her know that I’m here when she’s ready and reengage with her when she is calm. If I’m at home, I just let her know to talk to me when she’s ready and I’ll be in the other room – and that’s when I turn the baby monitor on and just keep an eye on her. She usually calms down on her own – and when she’s done we talk about what happened, what she should have done, and the consequences of her actions.
- Do vs. Don’t – “Don’t run” “Don’t climb that” “Stop crying” – should be turned into “Walk” “Get down” and “Quiet please” because half the time your 2-year old is engaged in something – they’re not hearing the DON’T part. Also, if they’re not supposed to be doing THAT, are you sure they know what they SHOULD be doing? After all, they’re only 2. Word your directions to tell them WHAT TO DO rather than WHAT NOT TO DO.
- Don’t Compare –So and so’s child was so well behaved. Comparing children will eat you up inside as well your child. Just don’t do it. Focus on what you should be teaching your child. Everyone else is facing their own battle. Everyone else’s child will reach a certain milestone at a different time. Everyone else’s child is just different.
- Be Positive – With so much going on, and every day seeming like she’s just “BAD” all the time – don’t overlook the positive things. If you want your child to continue to do that GOOD thing – acknowledge it. To my surprise, my daughter was on her best behavior when we went out to eat with my out of town family. My husband and I really let her know that she behaved so well and that we were so happy about it. It was a lot of “you were so good sitting and eating your rice!” and “I like how you used nice words talking to your Aunties” – the positive words seemed to give her the confidence that she is capable of having a good time.
- Love Them – At the end of the day, it’s easy to send them off to bed exhausted and sometimes still mad at them for whatever they put you through that day – but don’t let it carry over to the next day. We always say our I love you’s and goodnights and even the “tomorrow will be a better day” if needed. At the end of the day… they’re only 2.
Despite the temper tantrums, this was a fun age filled with memorable milestones. Potty training was completed (I’ll save that for another post), her understanding of the world is increasing, she has shown her humorous side, and above all, we love her unconditionally.
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