Many of you may have heard about the “terrible two’s” phase which is basically the stage in your child’s life where they begin to struggle between their reliance on you and their strong desire for independence.
Two year olds go through very big changes. Their motor, social and intellectual skills develop and of course, they want to practice their new skills. However – most two year olds don’t grasp the fact that they have to follow certain rules. This can lead to severe frustration and temper tantrums. Those of you going through this or have been through it know that it can be both tough and exhausting!
I bet a lot of you thought this would end as soon as your child reached their third birthday! This however is not always the case as most children’s desire to be independent increases. A lot of parents find this year more challenging than the previous year.
Children begin to show signs of independence between 18 and 24 months and by the age of three, the child is saying “Im my own person”. The ‘threenager’ is that age when your 3-year-old continually acts like they are 13. They are defiant and stubborn and they know what they want and when they want it! They are caught between two battling needs – the desire for independence and the need for comfort, security and whats familiar (Mama and Papa).
By four, your child is becoming self sufficient. They are most likely out of nappies, in a “big bed” and going to school. They are, however desperate to “do it myself!”. They dream of being independent without Mama and Papa interfering but sadly they are incapable of achieving their visions of independence. They know exactly what they want and can often even describe it. The trouble is, what they want is usually beyond the realm of the possible. This is when the anger hits and the “furious fours” come out to play! Like the two’s and threes, there can be heavy temper tantrums but usually at four, your child has quite a vocabulary so some strong words can come out as well!
Here are some tips on how to cope with your children during these few years:
1. Acknowledge your child’s feelings
When your child starts to lose their temper, it is possible to nip the tantrum in the bud. Try reasoning with them. For example: “I’m sorry you’re frustrated that you can’t wear your ballet costume to school. How about I keep it ready and you can wear it as soon as you get home?”. Get down to their level and show you care about their feelings. Showing that you understand their frustration and offering them a solution really helps.
2. Answer “why” questions.
When a child asks ‘why,’ some parents say ‘just because’ and move on but they are missing an opportunity to teach them something. If you stop, go to your child’s level and explain WHY you have said what you said, it teaches your child about emotional intelligence. This is your child’s ability to understand his/her feelings and have patience and empathy towards others feelings.
For example: If your child is being silly by the side of the road and you say “Harry, please hold my hand” and he replies with “why?” – you can then go onto say “I need you to hold my hand because this road is very dangerous and I don’t want you to get hurt”.
3. Teach self Control
If your child wants something “right now!” but unfortunately you are busy cutting vegetables, make it clear that your child has to wait for five minutes until you have finished. This will teach your child to have patience and respect for you. Make sure you follow through with the time you gave though. Its a good idea to set a timer and then they see that you have meant what you said as often “five minutes” can seem like a lifetime for these little ones.
4. “You get what you get and you don’t get upset”
A lot of children throw a tantrum for something which to you seems ridiculous but to them is quite major. For example, your child could go into meltdown mode if you give them the orange plate instead of the pink, or you give square sandwiches instead of triangular ones. When this happens acknowledge that your child is angry or sad, and then let them know that this is how it is. Life is full of little disappointments, no matter what colour your dinner plate is “You get what you get and you don’t get upset”. If you take this stance early on and don’t give in to these little demands, then they will see your authority and not try and push it with everything and anything. As soon as you “give in” to what they want in order to stop the tantrum, you are increasing the amount of future tantrums your child all have.
5. Always Give a Warning When a Transition is Coming
This one is basic, but very important. If your child is playing but dinner is going to be served in ten minutes, let them know. Give a countdown such as “You have ten minutes before you have to tidy up”, Then “You now have five minutes before dinner, shall we start packing away the toys?”. This gradual countdown lets them be prepared and they don’t get shocked by an immediate transition.
Routine is so important for these little ones. A predictable routine allows children to feel safe, and to develop a sense of mastery in handling their lives. As this sense of mastery is strengthened, they can tackle larger changes. Routine also has another important developmental role as well. It teaches your child how to constructively control themselves and their environments.
7. Make sure they have enough sleep
Sleep is key for cognitive function, and at age two and three, children can need as much as 14 hours of sleep each night. Make sure your child gets the adequate amount of sleep so unnecessary tantrums don’t occur because of being “tired and grumpy”.
8. Be realistic about their behaviour
You know your child’s behaviour better than anyone else. You know when they are going to kick off, so don’t antagonise this by doing something unnecessary. If you need to go shopping but it is nearly nap time, done take your tired baby to the shop, take them home, get them down for a sleep and then nip out. Little hurdles like this will give you both some space and you can get your job done without a world war on your hands.
9. Give them independence when you can
The meaning of independence is different for each child and each age group. What I mean by give them independence is don’t do things for your child which doesn’t need to be done by you. It is important to let your child be themselves and this can start with giving them little responsibilities. Teach them to be responsible for their actions as well as their objects. Let your child do things such as dress themselves, get their bags ready for school, tidy up their toys, help with the dishes and laundry etc.. This could be something small for you but this is a BIG DEAL for them. When you give them the opportunity to do things independently, without your help, you are showing them that you care about what they want and you are valuing them as an individual.
It is so important to have a sense of humour with these little ones! At times it can be so frustrating and you just want to bang your head on the wall but other times, it can be hilarious. Whats not funny about your child wearing 32 hair clips?
11. Reward Charts
Two year olds, three years year olds and four year olds need consequences and lots of positive praise. Reward charts are a great way of showing your child that their good behaviour is being recognised. If they tidy up all their toys when you asked them to, then they can get a star or a sticker. However if they mis-behave and don’t do what you have asked of them, make sure you remove a sticker. This will teach your child about action, reaction and consequences. It will teach them about responsibility and will encourage them to go about their “independence” in the right way.
This behaviour is normal and all of this ends at some point. In a few years you will look back and remember these years fondly and laugh about them. It is important not to take things too seriously.
The temper and the tantrums can be tough to handle as the parent, they can make you weary, and zap you of all your patience and energy. But on the flip side, this time can be very rewarding. As your child’s independence blooms so does their development. Their vocabulary is getting better and sometimes, the most wonderful words and sentences come pouring out. Don’t always dwell on the difficulties but be positive and dwell on the beauty of your child, inside and out.