Your sweet little baby has changed. He now says "no" to every request you make. He hits. He bites. He throws his cereal across the room. Congratulations! You have entered a new, perfectly normal developmental phase. Your baby is growing more independent and is becoming aware of himself as a person entirely separate from you (perish the thought!) -- but how do you deal with the terrible twos?
Now: give yourself a big pat on the back for making it through infancy and then take a deep breath. Here are some parenting tips for getting through the next year of this toddler behavior and the terrible twos:
- Assist with speech development. One of the big problems for these little guys and gals is they know what they want but they cannot express it. Make a big effort to give them words. Read children's books whenever possible and if your child has a speech delay, seek out help from your pediatrician. Every state has programs to help you with this at little or no cost. If you are having a particularly hard time, try cutting pictures of foods and toys out of magazines so that your little one can point to them to communicate with you. Here are several starter words that will help ease the frustration for your little one: "Up, down, help, more, drink, cracker, cookie."
- Give her choices. Don't ask if she wants her breakfast. You know the answer to that one will be a resounding "no" even if she is hungry. Ask if she wants cereal or bananas. Give limited choices and be firm. Don't give in to inappropriate requests as this will create uncertainty for the child.
- Let him dress himself. Again give controlled choices; blue or red shirt. They key is that he needs to feel he is in control and he should be (in a very small and safe way). You just don't want to go overboard and present him with ten pairs of shoes. Most grownups would have a hard time with that sort of decision making. Offer small controlled choices and help him feel like the big boy he is becoming.
- Offer praise when you find her being "good." This may seem a tall order, but thank her for all those cuddles, and for trying to help you unload the dishwasher, even if she puts the Tupperware in the dog bowl. She wants to think of herself as a big girl who helps mommy and daddy and it is your job to make this true for her. Catch her being good and make a big show of praising her.
- Stay out of the tantrum. Tantrums are normal and you should not get involved. Validate and walk away. Say, "I know you are upset because I wouldn't let you play with the glue. When you stop crying we will find something safe to play with." Then step over him and wait for the storm to pass. Do not get angry or involved in any way. This will prolong the tantrum. Just tell yourself that this is normal and try to see the humor in it.
- Don't give in to public pressure. If your beloved is having a tantrum in the cookie aisle of the grocery store, you have two choices; gently take her to the car to settle down or simply wait for the storm to pass. If you choose the latter, you will inevitably have five elderly people asking your child what is wrong, but you'll never see them again anyway.
- Plan ahead. Public places, such as the grocery store, are particularly tough for little kids and you might consider giving her a cookie before you hit the snack section, a special toy that is only for the grocery cart, or playing a distracting game. It's boring sitting in a cart and when she gets bored, she starts looking around for something to entertain her and chances are it is going to be a bright blue bag of Chips Ahoy cookies.
- Do not spank a child who is having a tantrum. In addition to being just plain wrong, it is scary for the child to be out of control and she needs to know that you are in control. Stay calm. Tell her you love her, but that her behavior is not appropriate. Remember that you are parenting for the long term, not just for the moment. Don't do things in the heat of the moment that you will regret later.
- As a stress reliever, keep a log of the worst tantrums. They will seem pretty hilarious later and you will find yourself embellishing how bad it was. Older kids get a certain glee out of hearing stories about how awful they were and it will help you stay mindful of the fact that this is just a stage.
- Stick to routines. If you stick to your bedtime and mealtime routines, tantrums will be reduced. Your child will be less frustrated because he knows what is happening next and you will have more energy to deal with the terrible twos when they do strike.
Finally, remember to cherish your little one for her new independence. These difficult months are a sign that she is healthy and growing up. Enjoy those cuddles while she is still willing to give them and try to see the humor in lying on the floor screaming in public. Don't we all wish we could do it sometimes? And remember, as this toddler development stage passes, you'll most likely need to keep up to date on good parenting skills for the next stage. As you probably know by now, it is a tough, yet rewarding process.