Getting your way with a 2-3 year old…
“The terrible twos”, I actually found to be an amazingly cooperative time on the children’s part. It’s a highly under appreciated period of life the little ones are facing. Although it is a period of hard work for our general patience as parents. Mainly because they tend to mess things up when trying to help, or learn.
They misinterpret everything too, because they can’t possibly know better. Not yet. They try to figure out how to use our tools, and try to find out what they do by practicing, e.g. by trying out the computer or smartphone. In my case there was a couple of near-fire experiences when the deeply concentrated mini chef had placed his small plastic sauce pan on the stove and switched it on. Or the incident with the “cleaning” of the floor using toothpaste.
So yes, they need a lot of monitoring and supervision, for their own protection, and in the interest of keeping your home something close to what it used to be like. But more than anything they need to know stuff. They want to know. So the best way of getting a cooperative 2 year old is to take on the task of educating him or her in the field of interest they have. Show them how things are done. Allow them to participate. Take them seriously, listening to their ideas and answering them respectfully.
Then come the tantrums. Yes. It’s hard not getting your way. Hard to be misunderstood when your intentions are so pure… No matter how much they want to help, they don’t really see their own limitations, or lack of perspective. Flexibility is not what characterizes them just yet. I’m wondering if I’m describing parents or children here…
There are some pretty useful ways of getting our way with a 2-3 year old:
– Make a game of it!
Use a playful, slightly mischievous voice and pretend you forbid the child to do what you actually want it to do. Giggling, it may then hurry to do this, while you pretend to stop it (e.g. getting dressed: you may pretend to steal the clothes but letting the child catch up and steal them back). It’s not the most pedagogical approach as it will encourage a bit of playful naughtiness. If you change voice back to a more serious, or relaxed, one when the game is over, and give the child the chance to adapt, it works fine.
– Always show appreciation for good behavior. Tell your child when it is polite and respectful in its demands, and that you appreciate it, for example. Be thankful for the help you get, even if it always means more work for you when a young kid tries to “help”. An interest in helping is a good start, skills need time and practice.
– Tickle the ambition of being good, by telling the child how helpful it would be, or how happy you would be if…
– Also – try to keep focused on what your goal is when a tantrum happens. Not focusing on the tantrum itself, but sticking to the decision causing it. If you need to get out of the house and into the car with your child, this is what you must end up doing. Even if your child ends up without his or her socks, shoes or even any clothes on, because they were torn off and thrown away. Those can be put in a bag and be put on later.
To hold on to your direction, not caring so much about the fusses that may be thrown at you as a general protest, gives credibility.
Wanting, but not quiet being able, to
Try and see the bigger picture: the child is growing. It discovers more abilities and examines what it wants. It examines the decisions you make, the rules and boundaries around it: what do they mean? Can they be changed? What happens if I don’t? Like a little scientist they search for answers. This is not because the child is bad. It’s because it wants to know. It’s curious, or sometimes insecure. Simple, clear instructions with a minimum of choices does help.
The toddlers need continued loving care and advice in a world they don’t really get, even when trying out their independence. I don’t mean you should cuddle away when a child is throwing a tantrum though. Wait it out and cuddle after, when comforting it.
This is a period of ambivalence – The feeling of increased control, harshly put down by the constant feeling of inadequacy. Children often act like they can do and know everything, are in full control – because they really feel the opposite way. They compare themselves to older children or adults, and try to mimic, but fails. It’s heartbreaking to see sometimes.
It’s a discouraging time, and the child needs much more support than they want to ask for. One way of supporting them is teaching, and leaving them little responsibilities that you show a lot of appreciation for. To feel like they take part, are useful, gives great confidence. It makes the other disappointments less important. It encourages the independence they want, without letting them out of control. They can’t handle control, complex decisions or feelings very well.