Surviving the Terrible Twos

By Katie Moosbrugger

In less than 24 hours, my then-two-year-old son managed to take a ball point pen to our leather couch, color with crayons all over our plasma TV and coffee table, and shove every penny, nickel and dime he could find into my car’s CD player! A few weeks earlier he also drew crayon designs on our painted living room walls. All this while our house was on the market, no less. Yes, we did manage to sell the house…and get all the crayon off (thanks to WD 40 on the walls, fyi), but there are still traces of ink on our leather couch.

As if that’s not bad enough, a friend of mine told me her two-year-old daughter combined Comet and cooking oil and poured that fancy concoction all over the back fabric cushions of their couch. Those cushions are now in the trash, and she and her family have resorted to sitting on cushion-less couches for the next five years or so. So, what is it with these cute little demons? How do you manage this behavior?

The “terrible twos” (a misleading term because this phase can start as early as 18 months and last past age three), is pretty much a given no matter your parenting style. It’s not that we’re giving our child too much or too little attention, or too much or not enough discipline. You can try your best to not spoil your child, and chances are they will act spoiled anyway. And let’s fact the facts: play dates for children of this age are more for moms since toddlers rarely “play” with other children. It’s hard enough to get them to share a toy or even interact.

Well, all this is normal – and for those of you who have gone through this phase once or several times – you know what I’m talking about. This is part of normal child development – and it’s actually good, so I’ve been told. It’s their way of creating independence – a character quality we should all help them achieve.

For those of you who are in this stage – or getting ready to enter this stage – I thought I’d share advice and rules that helped me to survive!

Be Quick to Judge
Children live in a short time frame. The upside of this is that toddlers don’t carry grudges. So any management of toddler behavior needs to be immediate. Your child won’t get it if you wait to discipline him until later. Positive reinforcement needs to be immediate as well.

Be Clear and Consistent
Your child needs to get clear messages from you and you need to be consistent. It’s no use laughing about a particular toddler behavior one day and then the next day being cross about it. Both parents need to be giving the same message, as well. Your child doesn’t understand mixed messages. Make sure your body language doesn’t give a different message from what you’re saying.

Don’t Sweat the Small Things
Give your child a break. He’s not going to behave perfectly all the time. Don’t get upset at every little thing. Concentrate on the big stuff (the toddler behavior you find unacceptable) and get that right.

Consider the Behavior Not the Child
Your child will exhibit unacceptable behavior and be “out-of-control” from time to time. That doesn’t make him a “bad” child. When you are unhappy with your toddler’s behavior, make it clear that it is the behavior, not the child, that you don’t like.

It’s Not a Democracy
Not everything that happens in your family is by consensus. You have right of veto. You are the parent. There are times when discussion is not appropriate.

Don’t Fight with Your Toddler
It is pointless to get into an argument or fight with your toddler. You are the adult and you have to resist.

Positive Reinforcement Works
Positive reinforcement is the best form of child and toddler behavior management. Give lots of positive attention for behaviors you want to see. Your child needs the positive feedback. So, when he is being “good,” tell him, make a fuss about how good he is and how much it pleases you.

Ignore Unacceptable Behavior
Ignoring, or just failing to give reinforcement, works. Your child’s motivation is to get attention (and sometimes he doesn’t care how) – if he doesn’t get attention, he will try something else.

Use Time-Out
They way you choose to discipline your child is up to you, but time-out can be effective for changing toddler behavior. It is actually “time out” from positive reinforcement.

Model “Good” Behavior
Show your child how you want him to behave – it’s very powerful. If you don’t want your child to swear and curse, for example, don’t do it yourself.

What are some of your best tips for surviving the Terrible Twos?


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