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  • Rosie Alexander

The Terrible Twos — Cliché or Reality?

Hands up who recognises this annoying scenario? Your baby woke early, and you had to too, but now your child is clean, fed and watered and napping. In that precious sleep time, like a missile you’ve showered, flicked a comb through your hair, and completed a billion tasks. Finally, you leave the house, you’re out, about and proud, contented offspring in stroller, and you’re feeling on top of the world, when a total stranger, possibly even “a friend”, wanders over and drops in that unhelpful remark: “Just you wait till they hit two. Then you’re really for it!”

One, it’s not supportive and, two, is the threat of the so-called terrible twos even justified? Is it an actual event? Well, for a start, just as physical developments – smiling, waving, crawling, walking, jumping – occur over a range of months for different children, children can hit emotional milestones at different ages. Between one and three, toddlers have an explosion of brain development and on top during their second year, they move around more and become increasingly aware of themselves and surroundings. As a result, they will show greater independence and defiant behaviour. This may or may not manifest itself as a meltdown in Tesco, a rage in a restaurant, a flinging to the ground when it’s time for a bath, a hissy fit over your “No” to an ice-cream.

But stress not!

Don’t be ashamed, embarrassed or despondent. “It’s children doing what they are supposed to do,” explains Joanna Fortune, a psychotherapist at the Solamh Parent Child Relationship clinic in Dublin, who reckons the terrible twos should be renamed the less catchy Developmentally Appropriate Twos. “It’s such a negative phrase and gives the impression that it’s something to be stopped, when really it needs to be “supported”.

So, do we just have to ride out the storm?

Not really, there are subtle changes we as adults can make to our own behaviour which may avoid and deflect the tantrums...

  • In her book, The Significance Delusion, Therapist Gillian Bridge argues that meltdowns are not inevitable but rather are the result of bad parental decisions regarding where adults take their children and how they deal with the strops. Sounds harsh but she justifies her view by describing how some toddler rages could easily be avoided by not taking two-year-olds to inappropriate “adult arenas” – such as loud restaurants and shops where they are going to get overstimulated and fed up. Joanna Fortune supports this line of thought: “Bright lights, loud noise, lots of people, heat… that’s a lot of sensory stimulation and two-year-olds don’t have the regulatory capacity to deal with it.”

  • Entertain your child in ways they will want. A play in the park is more their line than meeting your friends and their toddlers in Starbucks.

  • Be firm about your decision when you say ‘No”. All adults want to be their child’s friend but being consistent and clear in boundary setting is kinder in the long run.

  • Don’t let your toddler get hungry or over-tired. We all get cranky when we’re either of these, but toddlers don’t have the ability to rise above it in the way older people do.

  • Avoid transporting a child long distances in the car. Walk where possible, giving them your full attention.

  • Stay calm and always keep your tone of voice low so they know you are serious; get down to your child’s level and try to make eye contact; distract them and keep offering your love.

  • Respond to wanted behaviour, more than you admonish for bad (keep time-outs brief) and tell a child afterwards what they should have done instead, how they could have explained what they were feeling.

Whilst toddler behaviour can be frustrating, exhausting and testing,

it is a normal stage of human development. And it passes.

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