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Sunday, 29 September 2013

Tiny temper : why two year olds get a bad rap

We’ve all heard the popular phrase coined in the 1950’s “ the terrible two’s”.  Many toddlers start to test their boundaries following their first birthday and this can last well past the age of three in some cases.  This is a totally normal part of your toddler’s development.  It’s how you respond to their frustrations that can mean the difference between calm and chaos.  

 Every age is special and every child is unique.  Some children have more spirited personalities than their playground pals.  There are challenges as you go through each but by taking a more relaxed but consistent approach, moving away from the Stepford-style perfect family model, you will be doing yourself and your family a big favour in the process.  There is no such thing as the perfect family but with a little resolve and a few rules, you can take it all in your stride without setting the neighbours tongues wagging!  Let’s look at the first three years of a child’s development to gain a bit of perspective.

During your baby’s first year, you will face the challenges that all new parents do when welcoming a new little person into the family.  There will be sleepless nights, endless chores, nights out become coffee mornings and there seems to be more laundry than you’re able to keep on top of.  That said, you will also enjoy hours of cuddles, excitement as you watch your little bundle of joy surprise you each day with just how special they are.  You may even be thinking about how lovely it would be to have another baby.

Year two starts approaching and all of a sudden, that idea has drifted off to some far recess of your mind!! Another baby? Err...  Your baby’s favourite word “no” has somehow brought the household to it's knees and distraction isn’t the easy little fix-all that it used to be.  You may still be facing issues relating to naps and sleep, food your baby once enjoyed is now thrown back at you with a look of utter revulsion and overall behaviour seems to be far worse than it was six months ago.  What happened?

It is very easy to fall into the trap of always focusing on the negative, you may feel like you are constantly snapping at your little one, the tantrums and defiant behaviour are draining you more and more as each day passes.  For this reason, it is so important to focus on finding a way to acknowledge the positives and to enjoy the good bits.  Two year old's are undeniably adorable but sometimes their mischievous behaviour can overshadow this stage of development.  

It can be a good idea to start considering planned activities for each day.  It may seem obvious but I hear so many parents saying that one day just seems to roll right into the next and there seems to be no time to do anything.  You run around like a headless chicken attempting to complete one household chore after the next, but never quite getting there thanks to the constant disruptions, needs and wants of your precious little angel.

Taking 5 minutes out to sit down in the evenings after your child is in bed, planning some activities that can be done safely and independently while you get on with a few household tasks, and also, planning some fun and interactive activities that you and your child can do together can be the difference between feeling in control and feeling like you're running out of steam.  The mix of encouraging independent play and supporting that with regular joint activities will help to build your child’s confidence and promote a less ‘needy’ more ‘can do’ attitude.  

There Internet is full of useful resources, simply typing in ‘toddler activities’ or similar search terms will throw up a host of inspiring blogs, websites, parenting hubs and forums where you can get lots of ideas for fun and unique activities that are age appropriate and fun for everyone.  Plan the day so that you can have time to do a few things yourself while your child does an independent activity and then follow that with a joint activity that you can both share in together.  

You will soon find that your little one is less frustrated and more able to communicate his or her needs more as time goes on.  Try not to reprimand or use the word ‘no’ too much.  You are your child’s role model, the behaviour you exhibit is what they will learn to mirror.  Distraction is always the best approach to head off a tantrum when you see it brewing.

Don’t feed into a full blown tantrum if you’re not able to head it off before the eruption!  As long as it is safe to do so, tell your child that you will leave them to it and that when they’re calm and have had enough of being upset, then you’ll sit down with them and play a nice game or do a fun activity.  It is a pointless exercise attempting to discipline your child during a tantrum as that can also be seen as ‘getting your attention’ even if it’s not the ideal attention they were hoping for.

In time, this will reinforce the positive through praise for good behaviour and avert the negative behaviour by using distraction or ignoring the unwanted behaviour if it is appropriate to do so.  

Your two year old is trying desperately to communicate with you.  They are also fully mobile and as such, everything is an adventure.  They will want to climb up onto, crawl underneath and generally go everywhere their little limbs will allow them to and beyond!  Setting boundaries is becoming a necessity at this stage and your little one is very likely to protest against them, they dislike hearing the word ‘no’ as much as you do!  Your two year old doesn’t yet poses the skills needed to communicate all of his or her needs and wants verbally and so they resort to their ‘default’ mode which is to cry and shout and scream until they have your undivided attention.

Unwanted behaviour seems to peak in the run up to age three and then as their vocabulary grows almost daily, you can use it as a tool for teaching your child about acceptable behaviour and the reason you need their co-operation.  Fortunately, after this stage, life seems to get much more manageable on the communication front and if handled well, any tantrum like behaviour can be stopped in its tracks before it’s too late.  

As with any behaviour modification or when implementing change, it takes time to teach your child to communicate and behave in a way that is acceptable at home and anywhere else.  Your commitment and consistent approach is the key to ensuring that you are on the right track.  Your child will soon learn that no means no and any attempts at tantrums are just not worth the effort in the long run.  Consequence is powerful if used correctly, it should be about teaching your child about what is acceptable rather than punishing him or her in the moment when you’re angry or upset.

From age three onwards, many children are starting to attend nursery or playgroups.  By helping your child to communicate without the need for a meltdown, you are also going to be equipping your child with the necessary social skills required to fit in well with other children and to respond appropriately to the nursery staff caring for your child.  Tantrums and unwanted behaviour are a very normal part of growing up, it’s how you as the parent or caregiver deal with the unwanted behaviour that really means the difference between chaos and a more content family life.  

Happy parenting!