Dealing with the dreaded terrible twos
When children are nearing two years old they go through a cognitive development which enables them to see themselves as separate individuals from others, most notably their parents.
While they were previously the centre of their own universe and felt indistinguishable from the world around them, they can now differentiate between themselves and others.
This leads to what could be described as toddler puberty, where children assert their own individuality, usually through clashing with their parents and the rules they set, having tantrums and displaying a lot of unwanted behaviour.
If this is the case in your household at the moment, welcome to the dreaded terrible twos.
What we need to understand is that when a child is in this terrible phase, it seems to us sometimes that they are purposefully vexing us, but nothing is further from the truth.
Your child is going through scary and big changes and needs us, the adults, who know what is best, to help them through it. We can see the end of the tunnel and can guide them through it. If you know the goal, you know the way, and having conviction that what you’re doing is the right thing will enable you to show your children you’re in charge, too.
This is important because you are showing them you are trustworthy and reliable, which they especially need at this confusing and tough time. Now, knowing what’s going on and knowing how to tackle it can be two very different things. So, what can you do to help your baby rebel go through life more smoothly at this age?
Unfortunately there is no quick and easy fix. The solution is fairly simple, even if it takes a lot of energy, effort and concentration. I come back once more to my core principles of acknowledging emotions and setting boundaries, consistency (say what you mean, mean what you say) and hugs.
These three work best when you have been applying them from a much younger age, but any course correction will help at any time, and knowing how to tackle the toddler puberty will also help you tackle the ‘real’ one later in your child’s life.
Acknowledging emotions and setting boundaries: a simple example of this is when you need to leave the house, but your child has decided it’s the perfect moment to read a book together. You can say: "I can see you want to read a book with me right now and I would love to do that later today. Right now, we need to go outside." Then you immediately go outside without paying attention to the rest of the drama that will most likely follow. At a later point the same day, when there’s time, ask your child if he or she still wants to read a book as you both have time, now.
Consistency is a pattern you need to build up within your child’s life. The more you react in a similar way, the more your child feels safe and secure in your guidance. You are the same no matter what, and you mean what you say. When you say "we’re going outside now" this needs to happen straightaway nine times out of 10, and you say it once before it really happens. No more. The more this happens in the same way throughout the day, week, month and year, the more your child learns to rely on you and the world around them.
Which brings me to the last but most important part of helping a child through their Terrible Twos: hugs. Whenever your child is displaying unwanted behaviour and you have the time, ask them: "I can see you’re struggling, would you like a hug?"
Again, as I’ve said before, respect their answer and do not take a rejection of the hug in the moment as a rejection of you as a person. The more you offer, the more your child will be open to this positive way of breaking tension and reconnecting. Hugs will go a really long way to healing, sustaining and improving your relationship.
None of these strategies will take away the behaviour of your independent two-year-old, but it will make them feel safe and heard in a difficult time of their life. The more confident and consistent you are, the easier it will be to guide the whole family through this period.
Merel Miedema is an early childhood educator in Amsterdam, where she works at one of the city’s oldest independent and green crèches.