Two instances are seared in my memory: the first of my lovely little baby girl who comes in and my friend gives her a cookie. She flings it on the ground and gets ‘that look’, the arms folded and lip stuck out. My husband told her to pick up the cookie and say sorry…she said only one word – ‘won’t’. No amount of coaxing and threatening would get her to change her stance so we gracefully kept shut and in a few minutes she was her sunny self again.
The second is of my son wanting me to tuck his shirt in his shorts. He would scream if there was even a single crease. So while I held the shirt down my husband gingerly pulled the shorts up, often our efforts were rejected by a scream and we had to start all over again or we were regarded with a smile and he ran to admire himself in the mirror.
Yes, this was all a part of the ‘The Terrible Twos’, and I realised the second time around that this is a part of them growing up.
So, when does this start? What is this all about?
Well, this is a normal stage of development and can start at about 18 months and go on well into their third year.
This is marked by tantrums, defiant behaviour where the key words are ‘won’t’ and ‘no’ and a lot of frustration.
This period of your toddler’s life is when your child is starting to talk, walk, have opinions, likes and dislikes, learns about emotions, gets stimulated by the world around and also starts to take turns and share.
Children at this stage want to explore their environment. They will want to taste everything they see and we often find them licking mud, door knobs, shoes and just about everything. They also poke things their eyes, nose, ears or a plug socket. This is the stage where kids often push things into any orifice and if you are sleeping peacefully you will suddenly find a button being pushed into your nose or they will suddenly come close and peer at you and ask you to open your mouth.
Their frustration is normally because:
***They don’t have the necessary language skills to make you understand what they want to say or express.
***They don’t have the patience to wait their turn and we hear them say so often ‘now, mama, now’.
***They over estimate their ability to coordinate eye-hand movements and are frustrated by simple tasks like pouring water or catching a ball.
So how do you tell if your child is in the terrible twos?
Tantrums: These can be mild whining to a full blown hysterical meltdown, and your child may get physical – screaming, hitting, kicking, biting and throwing things are some ways in which they express their frustration. While the tantrum lasts it may seem never ending, but just let them be, it usually wears itself in less than five minutes.
As your child gains new skills and abilities, he/she wants to test these skills. So, suddenly they want to wear their clothes themselves or want to feed themselves or pour water into a glass or cross the road without holding your hand.
So how do we make this time easier?
• Stick to a regular schedule for sleeping and meals. An alert child who is not hungry is less likely to have a tantrum.
• Praise behaviour that should be encouraged. ‘Good girl/ boy you put your shoes back in the proper place!’
• Ignore behaviour that you want to discourage. (Don’t even talk about the screaming)
• Don’t spank or yell at a child as you want them to learn to be non-violent when they express themselves.
• Distract a child when you see the first signs of whining. Get out a favourite game or story book, play a favourite song or play with them.
• Have simple rules, “Hold daddy’s /mummy’s hand in the mall or you might get lost.”
• Let your child be encouraged to choose and feel in control. “Would you like a poiee with jam or a poiee with cheese?”
• Don’t give in to a tantrum. Take yourself out of the situation and allow the little one to cool down.
• Keep your home safe and child friendly. Keep breakables or anything they shouldn’t touch out of reach. Make sure plug sockets are not kept exposed (you get socket covers in the market). Don’t keep any sharp things accessible. Make sure doors don’t get locked easily. Mind fingers when you shut doors.
• Provide toys that will engage them and develop motor skills. Once again a reminder to not give them your smart phones to play with or unlimited TV watching time. This is an addiction tough to wean off.
This is a lovely stage; we see the world anew through their eyes, “Look at the pretty birdie!”
We find answers to questions we didn’t even think about, “Why do doggies have tails?”
Best of all is the love in their eyes when they say: “You are so beautiful. I love you.”
(Writer is a volunteer in local schools and a trustee with Sethu)