What Happened to My Baby? Dealing with the Terrible Twos
One day your sweet baby is cooing, snuggling, smiling, playing kissy face, and you can’t get enough. The next they’re running around, pulling things off tables and counters, grabbing everything within reach, throwing meltdown temper tantrums, screaming and screeching, and you have had enough. Funny how the terrible twos have a tendency to come stomping in whether you are ready or not!
For example, when your child is playing in the other room. Suddenly you realize they’ve been quiet for a bit too long, so you go check it out only to discover that he has repotted your plants all over the floor; redecorated the bathroom using toilet paper; or created their own coloring masterpiece all over the furniture, walls, and themself. What is the first thing they do when they realize they’re caught? Either they flashe that winning smile and innocently say, “Hi, Mommy!” as they proudly stand in the middle of their creative mess or, if they are a dramatic child, turn on the waterworks so loud and overly dramatic that you would swear they were severely injured.
Child development experts would say that this type of behavior is just a child’s way of pushing the boundaries to see where the limits are. Some parents would say that the child is just creatively expressing themselves and should be encouraged. Other parents would say that this is their child pushing their boundaries to see where their limits are, and wonder how to make it stop. Who’s right? All three.
A large part of the toddler stage of development is figuring out the world around them. This includes pushing boundaries and discovering their creative abilities, like singing, dancing, playing imaginary instruments along to music, making up different scenarios while playing, or drawing pictures. It also includes social skills and activities of interest. Is she super shy or a social butterfly? Is he into sports or drawing pictures? Is she a natural born leader or easily led? It is at this stage that their true colors start to shine through.
Although children should be encouraged to use their imagination, there should be limitations to the amount of freedom they are given to do that. For example, rather than repotting plants inside, let them start their own or help in a preexisting garden outside. Rather than drawing all over the walls, furniture, or themself, teach them that their artistic talents should be limited to paper only. Display any completed works of art in a special place such as a large bulletin board in their room or on the front of the refrigerator with magnets.
Discipline is another important aspect teaching limitations. It teaches children that there are consequences for any negative behavior. Things to keep in mind when determining appropriate discipline for your toddler is that it should be age appropriate, short and direct to match their attention spans, and the “punishment should fit the crime.” Screaming at your two-year-old who just toilet papered the bathroom is probably not going to do anything but scare them. However, getting down to their eye level, speaking in a low but stern tone of voice, and saying something short and direct about their inappropriate use of toilet paper, followed by putting them in time-out (number of minutes equal to age) will have a much more effective and long-lasting impact.
Another thing to remember about discipline is the need to be consistent and follow through. Sometimes they do the same behavior to see if you are going to have the same response. Don’t say it if you don’t mean it, and don’t give in just because they don’t like it. If your toddler is throwing their toys, don’t threaten to throw all the toys away if they don’t stop, unless you actually intent to do it. If the rule is no dessert without a happy plate, then don’t give in to your child who is screaming, begging, and pleading for dessert but is refusing to eat more than two bites of dinner.
It may seem at times that you are talking to a wall, and you might even want to bang your head against the wall. However, trust that all the rules and consequences that you have put in place for your child are sticking somewhere in that little brain. The best evidence of this is when you hear your child correcting another child who is doing something you don’t allow. It makes you want to do a little victory dance, or smile a very proud smile at the fact that they were actually listening one of the thousand times you told them not to do something.
At the end of the day, when you are tucking them into bed, they put her short little arms around your neck, squeeze, give you a kiss, and say, “I love you, Mommy”. Your heart just melts right along with any residual frustration regarding the havoc that was wreaked throughout the day. It’s at that moment that you realize that although they’re no longer a baby, they will always be your baby!