They’re called “terrible twos” for a reason. Sometime around 18 months, your cute, cuddly toddler turns into a little tornado that makes a lot of noise and knows exactly how to cause a lot of destruction in very little time. But knowing the reason for the shift makes it possible to deal with it in a constructive way that will hopefully decrease the chaos, at least a little.
What happens in your toddler’s brain that puts them in tornado mode? Basically, they’ve just realized that they’re their own person. They become aware that they’re different from you, and that they have a mind of their own. The result is an attempt to figure out who they are, how their mind works and how it’s different from yours, and what
The rules are that govern their world.
Part of the process of becoming an independent person happens because it becomes evident to the two year old that what they want isn’t necessarily what you want. They want another candy; you don’t want to give them one. The next step, of course, is to try to make you want what they want. Obviously screaming at you is the best way to do this. Right? Hence, the temper tantrum. Your job here is to teach the child that screaming is not the way to get anything. The best way to handle it is to acknowledge the source of the tantrum, but firmly state your position. “I know you want another candy, but I’m not going to give it to you because you’ll spoil your dinner.” If the tantrum continues, walk away. If it’s’ the fifteenth tantrum of the day, it may be hard to do this. But ignoring the tantrum both teaches your child that it’s not going to get him what he wants, and also that a tantrum isn’t an effective way to get your attention.
Now, what about destruct-o-baby? Why is it that the two year old feels the need to dump the full bag of flour on the floor, or climb unto that piece of furniture that you’ve repeatedly told him isn’t safe? Two reasons. One is to find out what happens to X when you do Y. He’s a regular scientist. But also, he is trying to find out what you will do in a given set of circumstances. He’s testing his boundaries. “Okay, Mom doesn’t mind when I do this. What about when I do this? Now, I’ve got a reaction. What if I do it again?” Decide what your child’s boundaries are, and keep consistent. Try to react to the same bahavior in a predictable way. This will teach your child what he can and can’t get away with, and give him a consistent and firm set of boundaries to work with. That doesn’t mean he won’t push them, but it will make life easier as he grows older.
So, your child is discovering he’s his own person. As this awareness grows, so does the in-built need we all have to take control of our world. His tendency to say “No,” is the most evident sign of this. He is asserting his independence. You can help decrease the terrible twos by giving your child a limited amount of control over things around him. Do this by giving him choices. “Do you want a Tuna sandwich or a cheese one?” “Which pyjamas do you want, the Superman or the Spider Man?” This will help your child feel like he has some say in what goes on in his world. This may decrease the amount of times he tries to get control on his own, and you’re left dealing with temper tantrums. Be careful, though. Don’t offer a choice unless you’re equally okay with either option.
Try to use positive reinforcement instead of negative. I’ve had days where I look back and it seems that all I’ve said all day is “No, no, no, no, no, no, no.” Try to tell your child when he is doing well, instead of only commenting when he’s doing something wrong. “Wow, that’s a really nice picture.” Or ‘Good job. You stayed at the table for the whole meal.” Or “You put that down when I asked you to. Good listening.” This will let your child know that he has your attention when he’s doing well as much as he does when he’s doing wrong. He won’t be as tempted to do something he shouldn’t just to get your attention.
So, knowing that the terrible twos are caused by your child’s growing awareness of his independence and his own mind can help you to deal with the issues that come up in a productive way. You can cope with him in a way that gets your point across, keeps the boundaries firm and helps him become more confident all at once. Although you may still find yourself counting the hours until bedtime and the months until three, keeping these things in mind should make the twos at least a little less terrible.