We’ve all heard about the “Terrible Twos” but, in reality, the challenging behaviour we associate with two year olds often comes much earlier. From around 15 months your little angel may suddenly change into a furious little fireball, prone to throw themselves to the floor at any moment and treat you to the loudest, red-faced screams, usually in situations when you are praying for them not to!
Read on for tips and ideas to support your little one through the 'terrible ones'! ...
During children's second year, they are learning to be independent and need to understand how being your own person works. Strong-willed behaviour is their way of testing what is acceptable and what is not. For example, your little learner knows that their drink of water in their cup tastes good but what about mummy’s drink? Is it the same? Their inbuilt need to find out is so powerful that when you move your hot mug of tea out of their reach, it is almost unbearable for them.
They are also at that stage when their cognitive development is going through a massive growth period. Coupled with that is the fact that they understand so much of what you say to them (receptive language) but their speech (expressive language) has not yet caught up. The result is a little person who is desperate to explore but is not able to tell you exactly what it is they want to discover and why! Hence the tantrums!
Prevention is better than cure!
There are a few basics to consider at this stage so that you give your little one a head start in avoiding the frustrations ..
minimise over-tiredness, hunger, discomfort so they don’t start off feeling grumpy before you even try to do anything else with your day.
Have a predictable routine which creates a feeling of calm for your little one’s day; if they know what to expect then they are more likely to feel in control of their day and “Control’ is the number one aim in the average toddler’s day. If you are going to do something different than the usual routine, it will help if you pre-warn them by offering visual ‘clues’ as a preparation. So, if you are taking them out to the shops, get out a shopping bag, their coat and shoes and explain you are going shopping after snack/playing with this toy etc. Very young children can’t understand a long stream of information so keep it to a simple ‘we’re doing this now and doing that next’.
Offer your little one choices (back to the feeling in control thing again - do see a pattern emerging here?!). Work on the idea of "this or that", offering two choices whenever possible. For example, "do you want to eat your broccoli first or your fish?" or "Are you going to wear your raincoat or go in the buggy?". If you can anticipate the times when your child is going to oppose what you need them to do, always make it seem to them that they are choosing what happens rather than you!
Make sure you find ways for your little one to be actively involved in tasks they don't really want to do. For example, ask them to wipe the table whilst you wipe their mouth at the end of a meal or get them to put the toothpaste on the brush before cleaning teeth.
Finally, and this is so important, be CONSISTENT! Discuss with your partner and/or anyone else who spends extensive periods of time with your child, what is important in your family in terms of behaviour. Perhaps sitting at the table for meals is something you want to be part of your child's family experience or maybe you have strong views about how much screen time is acceptable. On a similar note, think about what you actually are communicating to your child when you say something like"hitting is not ok" and then go on to play 'rough and tumble' or when you say 'throwing is not ok' and you go on to throw your partner the remote to turn over the tv. How confusing is that for someone who is just starting to learn about how to behave? You need to agree your 'house rules' and commit to sticking to them so that your child doesn't end up totally confused about whether something is 'right' or 'wrong'.
What to do if your child is doing something potentially harmful:
(E.g. throwing, hitting, pinching, running away, biting, climbing …)
Remove danger from the situation first and foremost, using a minimal amount of physical force.
Try not to over-react, this may be frightening for your child and also reinforces to them that that behaviour gets your attention.
If they are upset afterwards, give lots of reassuring cuddles to calm them.
Once they are calm, gain their eye contact and explain why you stopped them doing whatever it was. For example “You hurt mummy when you bit her” or “climbing up there is too high. You might fall down”.
You should immediately follow that up with an alternative for them to regain some control and satisfy the desire they had in the first place.
Here are some ideas for suitable alternatives:
If your child bites “would you like an apple to bite?”
If they hit “would you like a drum to hit?”
If they throw their food “Would you like to throw the ball after tea?”
If they run away “Let’s hold hands and run together”
If they climb somewhere dangerous “ Would you like to climb on the cushions?”
What to do when a tantrum happens:
Don’t react – keep it understated. Shouting ‘No’ or similar is giving a response even if it is a negative one which may encourage them to repeat it in future. No response gives them no incentive to do it again.
Acknowledge their feelings – their anger is real and raw when they cant have what they want. You can say something like “You’re sad because you want mummy’s drink”. Keep emotions language limited at this young age – maybe just ‘sad’, ‘angry’ and ‘happy’ to start with. Use books and any other opportunities such as small world play to teach the meaning of these emotions words.
Help them to calm down by offering a cuddle – this may seem like you are rewarding unwanted behaviour but your child is not yet in control of their emotions and will have found getting very upset totally overwhelming.
Once they are calm, move on by offering a suitable alternative to the thing they weren’t allowed to have or do. For example “That’s mummy’s drink, would you like your drink?” or offer a simple, distracting choice “what shall we do now, story or blocks?”
There will always be days when, despite your very best efforts, nothing seems to work and your toddler's need to be in control wins out. Being a parent is exhausting and sometimes overwhelming and it's ok that sometimes things don't go to plan. If you've had 'one of those days' it might help to spend five minutes at the end of the day reflecting on what you felt challenged by and ask yourself a)how important was it? and b)what could I change tomorrow?
Once you've done that, give yourself a massive pat on the back - you got through another day of creating a human!