The Terrible Twos: Myth or Reality?
Are toddlers truly “terrible?” Have the “Terrible Twos” earned their reputation? I am asking these questions because my previously sweet and easygoing baby has turned into a screaming, demanding toddler. Is this behavior normal?
I turned to parenting expert and family physician Dr. Deborah Gilboa (popularly known as Dr. G) to answer some of these pressing questions about toddler behavior.
So, why has my toddler seemingly become another person? Dr. G says, “Some kids have a startling behavior development at age two. For some it's not until age three. The really wily ones wait and have you convinced [that] you got through clean and then start to really test you at four!”
There is also a difference in toddlers who are being raised as an only child as opposed to toddlers who have an older sibling. According to Dr. G, tantrum throwing in 2-year-olds is usually an expression of frustration and more common in younger siblings. This is because they see their older sibling communicating complex ideas and getting their wants met on a regular basis. Because toddlers don't yet have the language skills to express complex thoughts, feelings, or ideas, and they don't have the motor skills necessary to make it happen themselves, they express frustration. It's upsetting to them because they possess the cognitive skills to know what they're missing out on, by they can't do anything about it. On the flip side, however, Dr. G says, “It is a great motivator for them, and they often hit milestones a little sooner because of it.”
Toddlers are “experts” at whining because it works.
“It is a natural inclination to start whining once a child has [learned] a few words,” says Dr. G. “This is because the tired and frustrated and but-I-really-want-that-and-you-just-don't-understand-me seeps into their voices. I've even heard cats and dogs whine a meow or a woof! But here is the truth: they'll keep whining if it works. On anyone. The trick is to start strong. If he whines ‘Miiiiiiilk, Mooooommmmmmyyyyy!' turn back to him and say calmly to him without whining, ‘Milk please, Mommy.' Help him get the request in the tone you find acceptable before he gets the milk. This takes repetition, but you (and his preschool teacher) will be so happy you did it!”
The next issue I asked Dr. G about was the concept of sharing. For my toddler, when he says, “Share,” he means, “Give it to me.” What should I be doing or saying instead?
It is no surprise that 2-year-olds want what they want and want it right then; they have no sense of fair play or concern about anyone else's feelings. To correct this behavior, Dr. G suggests, “You need to show him [or her] that it does matter … It's great that he uses the word ‘share.' The rule in my house (4 boys!) is [that] any child can say ‘Share, please.' The child with the toy must say ‘Yes' and hand it over or ‘in two minutes.' If the child without the toys grabs it anyway, they don't get a turn at all. If the child with the toy says ‘No!' or doesn't hand it over in two minutes, then they don't get the toy again for a long time. This sort of back and forth takes patience to teach, but [it will carry] on without you for years. It's a worthwhile investment!”
I have an additional problem of a very bite-happy toddler. It is of great concern to me because he has already bitten his older brother fairly severely, as well as a child at preschool. Dr. G assured me that biting is a very natural (though, of course, unacceptable) instinct. He may be angry or frustrated or both.
But what do I do? How do I stop this unacceptable behavior?
Dr. G suggests that if my son bites a sibling or another child, I should pull him away and clearly and strongly say “No” to him. Then I should set him to my side and focus my attention on the hurt child.
“In this way, you comfort the hurt child and give your [your child] the message that hurting someone does not get him [or her] anything he [or she] desires (especially your focus). Keep in mind that this is a phase and most kids grow out of it without much intervention. However, this can take several months. If [your child] goes to preschool, make sure his [or her] teachers have experience with this and have a plan in the classroom whenever a child bites. They should already–this is that common.”
Last, but not least, are time-outs. Is it too soon to impose time-outs on a toddler?
I love Dr. G's answer. She says, “Here's how I've always known my child was ready for a time-out. We have a dog water bowl, and we constantly had to pull our crawling babies away from it. Over and over and over again, they would go to play in or try to drink from the water bowl. But one day, around 13 months (or so) old, each of my kids would crawl over, sit next to the water bowl, stick one hand towards it, and look at me instead of the bowl. ‘What are you going to do, Mom?' The look clearly said. That is the moment that a child is ready for a short time-out. The time when he [or she] is looking to you to see what the consequence is rather than towards the object of his [or her] intention. After that age, you know they understand the link between their behavior and the consequence.”
In conclusion, yes, the twos are a little terrible–some more so for some others. However, as Dr. Gilboa has assured me, this phase will pass. Thank goodness.
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