It may be more commonly referred to as "The Terrible Twos" in child development literature, but really, there's no reason for parents to be apprehensive.
As your child advances into the toddler stage, he will likely exhibit some behavioural changes. His favourite word may be the limit-testing "no" and he may display a stubborn streak marked by tantrums. Instead of getting stressed out by this turn of 'naughtiness', understand what your child is going through and arm yourself with strategies to manage this milestone. Outlined below are five things to know about the "Terrific Twos".
The period from birth to two is really just another developmental milestone in your child's life. The "Terrific Twos" can begin when a child turns two, but it can also occur any time after a child's first birthday, when emerging autonomy leads to seemingly vexing behaviours. "The Terrific Twos" don't automatically end when a child turns three, either. Some experts suggest that this developmental stage can last until a child turns four. It's important to remember though, that every child develops at his or her own pace, and every year brings new joys and memorable moments.
The todddler years (from 13 months to 3 years old) are an exciting stage of growth. This is the period he encounters greater mobility. He can now move independently and has a greater sense of his surroundings. Parents will find their child curious about everything: he pops food scraps that are on the floor into his mouth; he picks up a discarded tissue at the playground; he climbs on sofas; refuses to hold your hand when walking down the street; throws his toys everywhere. "Don't run!" and "No climbing!" may be some common, exasperated phrases your toddler hears from you and he doesn't appreciate it, of course. Your toddler may not mean to be defiant, all he wants is to assert his independence and make his own decisions. At this stage, his language skills may not be developed well enough for him to articulate his needs, leading to further frustration on his part.
WHEN TANTRUMS STRIKE
Tantrums, in the form of tears, wails, screams, are a noisy result of toddler frustration. Toddlers want to explore their world around them. Responsible parents will veer them away from potentially dangerous and harmful situations gently and positively. When his actions and your protective instincts collide, the result is often a meltdown, caused by a toddler's frustration at not getting what he wants. Instead of getting angry too, recognise that your child is being swept up by strong emotions he can't control. By keeping calm, you are able to show him that feelings can be controlled. It may take a while for him to learn how to keep his emotions in check, but he will eventually, if you commit to being a good role model for him.
KNOW THE TRIGGERS
Tantrums can occur easily when a child is tired, hungry, disappointed or ill. Anticipating the factors that trigger an emotional outburst will lead to less angst all round. Providing a fixed routine of sleep, snacks, and play can help keep tantrums from becoming full-blown. Look out too, for situations that can frustrate him and intervene. For example, difficulty in fixing a particular toy may result in a teary tantrum. You can offer to help him fix the toy; let him play with it only after a meal or a nap; tell him beforehand not to get angry if he can't fix it right. In other common situations, your child may be upset at having to leave the playground and his friends. One way to avoid a show of tears is to give ample warning. Say, "We're leaving in 10 minutes." Followed by, "5 minutes more to go. Get ready to pack up." If a tantrum occurs in a public place like a shopping mall, move your child to a quiet corner so he can calm down.
Dealing with Tantrums. When your child screams and cries simply because he can't get his own way (like having more ice cream, for instance), show him that such manipulative behaviour is not acceptable, by coolly walking away for a minute or so. Try speaking calmly to him and explain why he can't get his way. If he throws a fit because he has difficulty completing a task (such as fixing a toy or putting on his own shoes), show empathy and help him with the task.
Use Words, Please. Between the ages of three to four, a child should have the necessary vocabulary to express himself. For example, "I am hungry," or "I am scared." Some children may even be able to explain why they feel a certain way. Encourage this and stress that you will listen to his complaints but not entertain anger fits.
To Love and Hold. If a toddler becomes out of control, consider holding him lovingly, but firmly, for a minute or so. Assure him of your love as you hug him and let his feelings subside.
Set Clear and Consistent Boundaries. Your child is more likely to listen if your rules and reasonable and clearly defined. Rules related to safety ("Always keep your seat belt fastened in the car!") and health ("Always wash your hands after toileting!") are non-negotiable. It may be helpful to explain why these rules are important and caregivers should be consistent in adhering to these rules.
Allow Autonomy. In this period of emerging independence, allow your child some say in daily activities. If he insists on wearing the green shirt instead of the blue or eating only orange-coloured vegetables today, let him do so. There is no point getting annoyed over small issues. Let him have a say by offering (limited) choices, as in: "Would you like banana or an apple for your snack?"
Discipline Issues. Don't be surprised if your toddler finds ways and means to test your limits. Be gentle and talk to him. Model positive language and describe why certain behaviours are not acceptable.
Enjoy the Journey. No one ever said that parenting was easy, so arm yourself with information, a calm head and prepare for the ride. "The Terrific Twos" can be tiring at times, but on the flip side, you can delight and find joy in your child's growth and development. He can now move about on his own; feed himself; have a conversation with you; amuse you with his questions and worldview. Best of all, you discover the world through a fresh pair of eyes - your child's. So while it can be terrible at times, it's an equally terrific and triumphant journey.