The Twos: Terrible or Charming?
People think of two year olds as very difficult. The age has gotten a very bad reputation and labeled the “terrible twos.” I find two year olds adorable. A simple understanding of their phase of life makes them usually quite easy to deal with.
Two year olds have a reputation for being “difficult” and “disagreeable.” In many books, this phase of development is referred to as the “terrible twos.” If you know a few simple guidelines, your potential “terrible two year old” will turn into a sweetheart–most of the time, of course.
Two year olds are exploring the stage of saying “no.” They are learning that they can have a different opinion than those around them, and beginning to assert their separateness. It’s a very useful part of growing up.
One of the things that can make two year olds easy to deal with is that when they are interested in saying no, they’ll say no to anything. All we need to do is reverse what we request of them, and they are compelled to do what we want.
Two year olds often enjoy “Yes-No” games. Darian at two enjoys saying “No, no, no” occasionally. I’ll join him and say “No, no, no.” Then I’ll say “yes” and quickly and emphatically say “no” to my own Yes before Darian can. Usually after doing this once or twice, he is saying “Yes” and I am saying “No.” And it’s all in good fun. Darian can assert his
independence comfortably by saying “yes.” This kind of game takes the two year old’s developmental theme into the realm of play, and allows the child to experience it in a positive “fun” state.
Putting on Darian’s diaper–age two. As Darian develops his independence, he is rapidly acquiring opinions of his own that don’t necessarily coincide with the needs of the day. As I took Darian’s dirty diaper off, he exclaimed, “No, dat’s ‘nouf wiping,” closing his legs tightly.
“That’s enough wiping?” I responded. “I need to get you all cleaned up, Darian. After I wipe this poop off, your bottom will be all clean and dry,” I said, gently opening his legs and wiping.
“No, close!” he exclaimed, immediately shutting his legs again.
“Close…Close,” I state emphatically. “Close… Open-Close” I say. Darian joins in the game. It started with me wanting Darian’s legs open, so I could clean him up, and Darian wanting them shut. When I take over Darian’s role, and say “No, legs closed.” Darian begins to say “open” and open them up. I quickly say “No, closed.” “Open,” Darian insists.
“You’re poopy, Mark.” says Steve, noticing the telltale brown signs on the edges of Mark’s diaper.
“No,” Mark says.
“Yes you are.” says Steve.
“No!” Mark becomes more insistent.
“No!” repeats Steve with Mark’s tone and volume.
“No!” repeats Mark, now smiling. What could have become an issue becomes an enjoyable yelling game. After Steve has switched sides of the issues, it becomes easier for Mark to. In his desire to disagree, Mark may shift to saying “Yes.”
Their Own Opinion
Two year olds often have their own view of things. This morning Darian, two, was interested in his legs.
“Want socks on knees!” he exclaimed, putting his socks over his feet.
I wasn’t sure if Darian really meant knees or thought some part of his foot was a knee.
“These are your knees, Darian, right here,” I said cheerfully, bending down to touch both of Darian’s knees.
“No, these are knees,” responded Darian with a smile, as he grabbed his heels.
“Those are your heels, Darian.” said I, wanting him to hear the label most people use for that body part.
“No, knees!” Darian insisted sweetly.
“Oh,” I smiled back, not making an issue out of it.
As I turned to go into the next room, Darian reached up to his knees and said, “Knees,” down to his heels saying, “heels.”
By not making an issue out of it, I made it easy for Darian to shift to the usual labels when he was ready to. Had I insisted that Darian was wrong, I would probably have made him angry. “No, Darian, those are your ankles!” “No, those are your knees!”
Different children are different. Each of our three boys has gone through a phase of yelling and screaming when they didn’t get what they want. It’s a normal thing for kids to try out this behavior at some time during their lives to find out what happens and how it works. (This is different from the child crying for some other reason–being cold, hungry, not feeling well, etc.) Many children explore this behavior around ages 1, 2, or 3.
Mark began this close to the age of 2. He had definite ideas about what he wanted and when he wanted it. Once in a while, when he didn’t get (or have) what he wanted, he started flopping on the floor and crying. Any time Mark did this, I immediately left the area and paid no attention to him. I might move to a chair farther away from him, or go into the next room. Without making a big deal about it, I casually removed my attention, and focused on something else.
After Mark had stopped crying, I could say nothing, and let the child have an opportunity to redirect himself more positively, or I could help redirect him: “Do you want something, Mark?” or “You can come to Mommy if you want Mommy, Mark.” (You can find a question appropriate to the child’s age and the situation.)
I’m sure if I had picked him up when he cried and fell on the floor, he would have done it more–it worked. A successful way to get picked up. As it was, he soon stopped doing it. Later on Mark tried another version–flailing his arms and shrieking. Again I left the area.
If I wanted to stay in the same room, I moved the child into another room, saying “If you want to cry, you can do that in this room. When you feel better, you can come back into the living room.”
“Do you want to do it yourself, or shall Mommy or Daddy do it?” is a great line for children approaching two, and continues to be remarkably effective for over a year. This, and several other methods can transform “terrible two year olds” into “Charming two year olds.”
Reference to section on choice—an excellent method for two year olds. Particularly the “Shall I do it or do you want to yourself?
Basic Guideline of the Parent of a 2-year old:
- Use choices to redirect the independence of the two year old.
- Make games out of the child’s “resistance.”
- Occasionally experiment with asking for the opposite of what you want. (Be careful not to overdo this.)
Notice the response you are getting. Issues like toilet training, which come up during this phase, can become highly charged because the parent requests something important, and the child resists to maintain independence. You can make it seem like you prefer the child to remain in diapers, but you will give in to the child if the child insists. “Do you want to stay in diapers today, or do you think you are big enough to wear pants today? I will let you wear pants if you will go pee pee in the poddy when you need to. I don’t know if you are old enough to do that. etc.
I used to experiment with slight nuances of encouragement or discouragement. Just the right worked better to get the child to do something. It changed over time, and I needed to have patience.
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