Toddlerhood is an amazing time. Each day brings new words, wild imagination, the fun… the strong wills, the tempers, the tears. It’s a busy time full of big feelings (for everyone involved).
I’ve never liked the phrase “terrible twos”. I know that toddlers can come with a fair amount of drama and can sometimes be challenging (understatement of the century), but I’ve always felt that description to be slightly dismissive.
Soren is 2.5. So far, as well as all the lovely stuff that this age has brought, there’s been a few moments (read: several days) of slightly challenging behaviour (read: at times, it’s been hell. No word of a lie.)
But I don’t like generalising people, and in the same way that I wouldn’t have liked to have been labelled a lazy teenager or irresponsible 20-someting, I can’t imagine that labelling your little person with “terrible” really does much to help them feel good about themselves, or you feel good about them.
There’s research to suggest that the “terrible twos” isn’t even a real thing. I mean, it’s real because we believe it’s real; but in some societies it doesn’t exist, so perhaps, it’s more that our societal demands and parenting styles have more impact on a child’s behaviour than developmental changes.
Our family has definitely experienced some tough times recently, and while I am in no way suggesting that I’m someone you could look to for advice on the matter – I’m only a year in to having a toddler, and only one toddler at a time, at that – I thought I’d share a few things that I’ve found have helped with difficult behaviour and difficult times in general. (Sometimes. Maybe. A bit.)
Acknowledge the behaviour.
Accepting reality can make all kinds of situations better, and I’ve found that it’s no different with toddlers. But knowing what to do beyond that can be tricky. I found How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen by Joanna Faber and Julie King helpful. Many of the suggestions are actually things that my mum did with my brother and I – things like try and make boring tasks fun. Not in a full on Mary Poppins way, but just by, for example, giving inanimate objects funny voices – “Oh hey, I’m Mr Sock and I need to eat your feet!”. You’ll probably feel like a tit, yes, but its worth it if your kid actually co-operates.
So much of the advice in the book centres on acknowledging behaviour instead of distracting from it. It seems odd at first – surely you don’t want to make the kid feel worse by honing in on whatever it is that’s wrong, or make them focus on it? But in practice I’ve found this really works.
The times that I’ve acknowledged what is happening, and vocalised to Soren what I’m seeing – for example, if he’s starting to freak out about me turning the TV off, or doesn’t want to brush his teeth, I’ll say “I know you want to watch TV, the thing is we have to do X,Y,Z so we can… etc” , he tends to calm down quicker.
Remember they actually Can Not Help It
One of the reasons I don’t like the phrase Terrible Twos is it implies that toddlers are choosing to be terrible. They’re not. They’re two – they can’t help their behaviour at this age.
There are so many developmental changes going on – new words, learning to use the potty, weaning from night nursing, not to mention situational changes: maybe a new sibling, or a new nursery. It’s worth taking into consideration what is going on in your little person’s world and trying to understand how they view things to see if anything could be contributing to their behaviour, and that they’re not choosing to be difficult. It’s really hard to do when you’re feeling frustrated yourself, but at least you can understand why – toddlers have no idea why they’re feeling the way they do.
Punishment won’t work because, again: they can’t help it.
In line with this, there’s really no point punishing difficult behaviour. At this age toddlers are starting to experience some big new feelings, and a lot like hormonal teenagers can’t really help needing a lot of sleep and being grumpy, toddlers can’t help not knowing how to communicate whatever it is they’re feeling.
They also can’t grasp concepts that we take for granted as being socially acceptable, such as sharing, until they’re around 4. To a 2 year old, sharing just doesn’t exist. That’s not to say we shouldn’t talk about these ideas and why they’re a good idea, but lowering our expectations of how much they’ll actually take on board these ideas might mean everyone is a little less frustrated.
Let them help
This is a big one: so many tantrums have been narrowly avoided by letting him help with little tasks. Obviously I’m being generous with the word “help” – often it’s no help at all to have a tiny person slosh water all over the kitchen floor in an attempt to “washsa disses” or put things in totally random places while unpacking the shopping, but I’ve found it really helps. Letting him do things himself has a similar effect, and even if it does mean I have to do things twice, I’d rather that than deal with an epic meltdown.
Say it out loud: SELF CARE
I’ve put this in full caps because how you look after yourself – especially during the hard times – is potentially more important than anything else (not including how you treat your kid – I’m going on the assumption that, on the whole, you treat them pretty well).
Exercise. Walk. Get outside. Take deep breaths. Do yoga. Have a bath. Eat ice cream. Whatever it takes. Now is NOT the time to start beating yourself up about how much you’ve not achieved, or trying to bake homemade bread and keep every room in your house spotless (unless of course those things help you relax, in which case… can you come and live with us?).
Getting to bed early is such a boring piece of advice, but it’s probably the thing that helps me the most. That and finding time to run. When we feel better in ourselves it’s much easier to be patient and empathetic. There’s a lot you can’t control about life with a toddler, but things relating to yourself, you can. Simply put, try and make things easy on yourself where possible.
In the words of Michael Jackson (and Olive, though no-one remembers that one, so I’ll stick to referencing MJ): you are not alone. Every parent has moments they can’t cope with, and in those times friends and community are so important.
Call a pal, and be honest. Saying “I can’t cope today” is fine. It’s more than fine, it’s normal. Have a cry, if it helps. This stuff is HARD. I mean, I’m writing this as much as a reminder to myself than as to (maybe) be helpful for anyone else. We all have these days, and usually, they all pass. (Obviously, if you’re feeling like you can’t cope more than you’re feeling that you can, it’s worth speaking to your GP, because there’s nothing worse than trying to feel better and getting nowhere.)