The Terrible Twos? No, the Challenging Two’s

Let’s reframe the way we think about the twos and create solutions to the challenges.

Have you ever heard a two-year-old’s powerful voice yell: “It’s mine!” Have you witnessed them refusing to wear clothes or shoes? Ever saw or experienced a major meltdown with a toddler while eating a meal or even a snack together? How about witnessing or experiencing a tantrum with a two-year-old while in a grocery store or retail store…or anywhere? Even at bedtime a challenging behavior has the potential and possibility to implode or explode.

It happens all over the world and could happen at any moment 24/7. Anything is possible when you have a two year old. Families, when you’re in the middle of one: remember to smell the flowers and blow out the candles and remind yourself of this mantra: you got this! How can you as a family member or caregiver support a toddler during this challenging behavior? Remember the child is not terrible or bad, it is the behavior that is the challenge not the child. Here are several ways to help you to help yourself during this challenging time and your little one.

Empathize not sympathize

There is a major difference. Showing sympathy is when you are understanding and coming with your own perspective while with empathy you are putting yourself in their shoes and begin understanding why they may be having these feelings and behaviors. This doesn’t mean giving in to their demands but just validating their feelings. For example, when a toddler doesn’t want to leave the playground and his or her bottom lip is trembling about to cry: you can say something like: I know you may not want to leave the playground. It makes you sad to leave the playground, doesn’t it? When you get to the root of why they are feeling or acting the way they do, you can better understand and offer safer and healthier choices.

Giving a heads up / signal before leaving or transitioning to something else

Abrupt changes and transitions to something else are tough for some toddlers and is a source of challenging behaviors. In the example of the playground giving a heads up / signal before the actual time to leave may help. Let them know what is coming next in concrete terms. Using time may not be as useful or effective as they don’t have the same concept of time as grown ups yet. Instead, say, you can have three more trips on the swing or on the slide then we will walk to the car.

*Always follow through or they will not take your signals / heads up seriously and it may become a game.

Feel free to share your most challenging time of the day and we can troubleshoot how to solve it together in the comments below!

Give real choices

Children want to feel in control of their options, routines and rituals. When it comes to choosing something typically the magic number is no more than 2 or 3 choices / this or that. For example, you can choose these jeans or those sweatpants to wear. Which ones? Which toy did you want to bring this one or that one? Which two books should we read before bed time? Keeping it simple, direct and clear helps and goes a long way.

Be mindful of how you say it if

You sound like you are asking for permission then NONE of the strategies will work. I promise you that. For example, back to the example of the playground, when you say you can have three more trips down the slide then we have to walk to the car which will be catastrophically ruined when you add the word okay to the end of it. For instance, you can have three more trips down the slide then we have to walk to the car, okay? Your little one will think of it as a choice and most likely will choose, nope that is not okay, I want to stay and play I want to go down and up this slide 500 more times, now that is okay with me! Be simple, direct and clear. Practice both ways when you are alone. How does it sound?

Have fun and don’t take it too seriously

Back to the playground scenario when it comes to leaving the playground you can make it a game and say, “let’s see who can run to the gate the fastest!” Or while cleaning up, “Who can put the most toys in the box?!”
Be creative, use humor, laugh and be yourself. For example, children love when you talk in another voice, engage them and they will see that you can be silly and not be so serious while doing something serious. Cleaning up can be fun, leaving the park or playground can be fun and routines can be fun.

Notice the good stuff

Catch your little one doing good. Notice and comment on their positive behaviors. When you notice them cleaning up a spill, being gentle with animals, recycling or throwing something in the trash, putting their things away…comment on it.
When you do, you will definitely see more of it. Remember the adage: “You get more ofwhat you focus on.”

Create a positive environment

Set up an environment that sends messages of, “Go for it!”, “You can!” and “Yes!” Imagine hearing “no” all day long? How would you feel? Next time you hear or bear witness to the power of a two-year-old, take a step back and remind yourself of your power and choices as a grown up. You got this!

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