The 'Terrible Twos'
The phrase alone can make new parents quake in their boots: the ‘terrible twos’. No doubt everyone has told you about it – how your child will go from sweet to sour adorable to deplorable, angel to devil – and all without there being anything you can do about it. In part, these experienced advisors are correct. Most children do go through the ‘terrible twos’ as a normal part of their development, but this does not mean that misbehaviour should be accepted or encouraged. Instead, empathise with your child’s desire to assert his or her own will, but remember that at all times you are still the parent, and you should always act like it.
The ‘Terrible Twos’ and Child DevelopmentAs a stereotype, most children over the age of one year become quite negative about daily activities and often begin to say “no” to almost anything suggested to them, sometimes even if it is an activity that they would normally enjoy. Often this behaviour can last beyond the second year, meaning that the ‘terrible twos’ can also turn into the ‘terrible threes’ for some lucky parents. While it can be disconcerting, this new behaviour needn’t cause great worries. It may seem like your child has become contrary and to a degree (s)he has, but there is an underlying stage of child development going on here. What is manifesting itself as negative behaviour is actually your child’s first attempts at becoming independent.
Before the age of one year, babies live mainly in reaction to their physical needs. When they are comfortable, they don’t require much and often end up mimicking your own mental state. Happy parents playing silly games usually result in happy babies, until they become hungry or tired and so will be unhappy until their need is fulfilled. After about the time they learn to walk, sometime after their first birthday, these babies become toddlers who are not only exploring the world around them but interacting with all of its new options. When the ‘terrible twos’ sets in, really what is happening is that these children are attempting to make sense of the world around them and their place in it. Unfortunately, without the ability to express these new needs, toddlers instead resort to whatever behaviours they can carry out – saying "no" and acting against parental instructions.
Coping with the ‘Terrible Twos’Since the ‘terrible twos’ is predicated on your child wishing to make his/her own choices, this is exactly the way that you should work through this awkward stage. Offer your child limited choices whenever you can, including what (s)he would like to wear, what (s)he would like to eat, which book (s)he would like to read and more. The key however is limited choice – usually no more than two options. Once your child has made his/her choice, you must also enforce it. Unfortunately, your child changing his/her mind may happen quite often because at this young age (s)he is still trying to figure out personal preferences, but this does not mean that temper tantrums are acceptable alternatives. If you have offered your child a choice and negative behaviour still occurs, consistent discipline should result.
The ‘terrible twos’ can be a trying time for any family, and even parents who understand this difficult developmental stage lose their patience with the constant negativity that toddlers often show. Rather than losing your cool, work with your child to offer him/her choices whenever possible but do not allow their preferences to run your life. As a parent, you must still provide structure and support for your child, so do not be afraid to do just that. Though it may take years, later your child will thank you for it.