Dealing with the Terrible Twos

The age between 12 months and 36 months is called the "terrible twos" for a reason. Children in this age group tend to act up or become more demanding. Parents note that this behavior often happens when they are in public settings-almost as if the child is looking for an audience. In a sense, the child is. The terrible twos is a time when toddlers challenge everything in their lives. Not only do they want to know the how and why of things, they want to see how others react to their actions. In other words, believe it or not, this behavior is a normal part of a toddler's development.

Terrible Twos Are Part of Normal Development
Toddlers are developing physically, emotionally and intellectually. They no longer have to sit in one place or be carried about. They are learning to crawl, walk, talk and go places on their own. By this age they often had a 30-word vocabulary and understand a good portion of what you tell them. As they should, they are spreading their wings and exploring. This is an important part of your child's development. In the course of this exploration, it makes perfect sense that your toddler will, on occasion, challenge you.

Your toddler is adorable. It's hard to say no, but it's up to you to teach your child right from wrong. If you give your child whatever he or she wants every time a tantrum gets thrown, you teach that there are no consequences for inappropriate behavior. Your child needs to understand the word "no" means he or she cannot have something or behave in an inappropriate way. Don't be wishy-washy. Don't give in. No means no.

At this stage a toddler understands what no means. Your child needs boundaries and it's up to you to set them. Once you have established rules, do not bend them, no matter how your child challenges you.

Temptation Is a Huge Distraction
Your toddler does not know what items are harmful. Pulling the cat's tail or tugging on the dog's ears is just a harmless game to a toddler. Medications look like candy. Cleaning products look like food. Some things are best not learned through trial and error.

As the parent, your first job is to keep your toddler safe. Keep dangerous objects and pets far away from your toddler. And even though your toddler understands the word no, don't expect that you'll always be heard. Toddlers are learning about their world. They want to see everything and touch everything. Many things will still end up in the mouth, so make sure medication and anything harmful is kept well away from children at all times.

When an angry and unhappy toddler vents, he or she may feel that this is his only means of showing you displeasure and frustration. Respect your toddler's moods and give your toddler the opportunity to explain, but do not allow disrespectful behavior.

Short Attention Span
When toddlers want something, they sometimes have a hard time waiting for you to get it for them or accepting the fact that they can't have it. If they think they can get the item on their own, they will take matters into their own hands. This can lead to tugging on everything from electrical cords to curtain pulls, as well as climbing adventures involving chairs and bookcases.

It is very important that you respect this stage in your child's development and not scold or discipline too strongly, too often or for every little thing your toddler does. Remember, your toddler is developing and learning with every new challenge. Dangerous exploration should be discouraged, and you should be very clear about explaining the dangers to your child, such as a risk of electric shock or of getting hurt in a fall.

Safe exploration, such as pulling a magazine from a coffee table or trying to climb a tree with a parent keeping close watch, should be encouraged. Scolding too often only teaches your toddler to fear you and may teach him or her to be afraid of challenging activities. You also risk teaching your toddler that strength is the way to solve any dispute.

The best discipline for a toddler is to remove the offending item or remove the toddler from the unacceptable location. Children younger than 18 months are not bad. They are simply doing what toddlers are supposed to do. After the age of 18 months, toddlers are not only exploring the world and how it relates to them, but they are exploring their own independence, and this can be a very big distraction to them. During this time frame, toddlers' personalities may become more aggressive.

Your toddler may challenge you. He or she probably will question everything you or others do. And toddlers will come to their own conclusions based on your responses to questions and how you act in any given situation. On top of that, toddlers who have reached the terrible twos may become belligerent and uncompromising. This is especially noticeable in public.

If your child is actively involved in any of the following behaviors, he or she should be disciplined for two reasons: safety and to learn that these behaviors are harmful and will not be tolerated.

  • Hurting himself
  • Hurting someone else
  • Doing something that could be dangerous either to himself or to another person
  • Harming an animal
  • Being destructive

Other activities that your child might engage in during the terrible twos that require some action on your part include the following:

  • Verbal confrontation
  • Kicking and screaming
  • Throwing himself onto the floor
  • Spitting
  • Running off
  • Throwing things
  • Bullying playmates

Dealing with the Terrible Twos
Offering choices to a toddler usually works in controlling a temper tantrum. When it does not, consider the following:

  • If your child throws a temper tantrum over a toy, take the toy away.
  • If your child hurts another child, an apology is in order and your toddler may beed to be removed from the play group.
  • If your child is throwing a tantrum over a certain toy, that toy should be withheld. By giving in to the demand, you are offering rewards for bad behavior.

Make sure the punishment fits the crime. Toddlers have short attention spans, so don't expect them to sit more than two or three minutes. It is also important that your toddler apologizes to whomever has been hurt or disrespected. Even a dog will appreciate a pat on the head and an "I'm sorry" when he's been wronged. This also shows your toddler that others-even animals-have feelings and shouldn't be abused.

It's important that your child understands why it's wrong to take a toy away from another child or to kick a dog. Help your toddler learn that every action has a consequence, and that some actions have happy endings while some do not.

Never threaten unless you're prepared to follow through. Don't say you're going to put your child into a time-out chair if you have no intention of doing so. All you will accomplish by wishy-washy parenting is raising a child that does not respect you and has no boundaries.

Don't rely on spanking or physical punishment. Laying your hand over your toddler's hand when he or she reaches for something that's off limits is the most effective way of controlling behavior. Shake your head, keep a serious expression on your face and firmly say, "No." Your child will learn to understand your commands and your facial expressions and know when you mean business.

Don't Forget the Praise
Smile and give rewards and hugs and kisses whenever possible, but never reward for bad behavior. Making sure your toddler knows the difference between good and bad behavior and good and bad rewards is very important. Your toddler is forming a moral foundation. He or she needs to know the difference between right and wrong and understand that every action involves some type of consequence. Toddlers are also learning social and behavioral skills, and they need to realize that certain behaviors simply are not allowed.

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