Once upon a time there was a pretty little princess. She had a rosebud mouth, and delicate features. Her eyes were big and beautiful. Her hair was the finest baby down, and when ever she would stir, someone would jump to her service. She learned that if she fussed just a little, she was brought warm, fresh milk. If she fussed some more, she was made comfortable with clean, dry clothing. Sometimes she fussed just because she was bored or lonely. Someone always came. Sometimes they didn’t understand what she wanted. Sometimes they would change her when what she really wanted was food. Sometimes they would try to play with her, when she was really so tired that all she really wanted was to be put to bed. But generally they meant well, and she loved them for it.
Sometime Between One and Two, Children Discover that Crying isn’t as Effective
But then one day everything started to change. Just fussing wasn’t enough. Now they wanted her to learn their language. When she was hungry, she had to say, “ba-ba” first. If she wanted to be cuddled, she had to say “up!” When she wanted to play, she would say, “down!”. That was very annoying. There were so many words to learn, and sometimes she couldn’t remember the right one. If only things could go back to the way they were before, she would be truly happy!
Then, the most terrible thing happened! She wanted a cookie. She said the right words. She batted her big, beautiful eyes. She even fussed a little. But mama said “no.” The pretty little princess did not like that word. It was fun to say, but it always made people mad when she said it. They weren’t proud of her, like they were when she said, “Mama, Dada, Gampa,” or “thankyou”. They got cross. And now Mama was saying that word to her! And Mama did not give her a cookie.
The pretty little princess batted her big beautiful eyes again. She said the word “cookie” again. She tried to reach for it, and grunted, and fussed. There was simply no way that Mama could not understand what she wanted. But Mama only got angry, and said “no!”. The pretty little princess was so frustrated, that she did not know what to do. She sat on the floor, then threw her head back. It hit the floor with a thump, which did not feel very good. She kicked her feet and shook her fists. She drew in a big, deep breath, and she screamed.
This was not just about a cookie any more. If Mama had given her a cookie, it might have quieted her down, but the princess was really angry that Mama didn’t even try to understand her. Laying down and kicking her feet and hurting her head and making her voice sore were a lot of work to make her desires known. If only her servants would go back to understanding her needs and fulfilling them without making such a big deal of it.
But the instances of frustration only increased. Every day, it seemed. Even two, three, for four times a day now, she had to scream and kick and fall, and still she did not succeed. Instead, Mama got mad. Dada got mad. Sometimes they sat her – none too gently – on a small rug, and would not let her get up until she stopped screaming. Not only did they not understand her any more, but they didn’t even want to understand her! Big tears filled her beautiful eyes and trailed down her delicate cheeks. Her lower lip quivered. Once she had been a princess. Now she felt like she didn’t even belong any more.
This is just a fairy tale. I wonder if anyone could know what goes on in the mind of a two year old.
While there is no magic cure for tantrums, there are some guidelines. Never give in to a child who is having a tantrum! If it works even once, they will keep trying. If your child has a tantrum in the checkout aisle of a grocery store, the best thing to do is to remove the child from the store at once, and not allow the child to come to the store with you again for a period of time until he or she is ready to demonstrate better behavior. But who is going to leave all those groceries behind after spending an hour and a half painstakingly picking them out, comparing prices versus quality, and placing them in the cart? The ice cream will melt before a store clerk can return it to the freezer, and you needed that frozen entree for dinner tonight!
Don’t Try to Reason with a Two Year Old
They haven’t reached the “age of reason” yet, which a child doesn’t attain until age six or seven. You can’t explain to a two year old that it is time to leave the sandbox now, because it is getting dark, and colder, and you need to get home to make dinner. The two year old only understands that he wants to play some more and you won’t let him.
Don’t resort to bribes. We all do it. “If you’ll stop screaming, I’ll give you a sucker.” When our ears are ringing, and our heads are ready to explode, we’d do just about anything to make the screaming stop! Bribes work, but only temporarily. A two year old can end a tantrum on a dime with a sucker hanging in the balance, but he won’t learn to control his actions in the future.
I’ve read several books on discipline techniques recently, as I try to help my daughter deal with my granddaughter’s tantrums. I don’t remember my own four having such tantrums! Maybe I was blessed with naturally compliant children? I can’t say I was a better parent than my daughter, as she is a lot like me. And I’m the one who is babysitting, anyway! I have degrees in education, and many years of experience, but just this morning my darling precious granddaughter threw a public tantrum when it was time to leave the sandbox. It was rather embarrassing.
I think that right there is the main problem with tantrums. It isn’t so much that two year olds behave like two year olds. It’s that when they are being loud and disruptive, they are alerting the entire neighborhood of our failure to control them. Our parents or grandparents may have “solved” the issue with a few well placed smacks, and the neighbors would nod approvingly. Now they’ll report you for abuse. And while the smacks may have eventually taught the toddler not to scream, it did nothing to build a mutual relationship of trust and respect.
The Wrong Method, the Right Goal
One thing I’ve gleaned from the books on discipline, is that when a child is behaving badly, he is using the wrong method to achieve the right goal. Children just want to belong. They want to be loved, and to feel like they are a part of the group. A child who swears in class, bites other children, or destroys public property is a child who feels distanced from the group. Sometimes addressing the root issue and ignoring the behavior will bring about change. There were many examples in the books of instances where this worked, but none of the stories were about two year olds. They were all school-aged children, some even in high school, whose behavior improved when the teacher applied the suggested method of reassuring the child and helping him work out more appropriate responses rather than disciplining them. I was really impressed by that particular book. I want to read it again, and think on it a while, before I share it with you here.
In the mean time… when my granddaughter screams, we do send her to a “time out” until she is done screaming. Then, I heard a child psychologist talk about the importance of a “time in” – of welcoming the child back into the group afterward. The entire idea behind a time out is to remove a child for a short period of time from a situation when he is not behaving appropriately, then returning him to the same situation to see if he can find a better way to behave. So the “welcome back” step should be inherent, but maybe we don’t focus on it enough.
Hug Your Two Year Old Often
Spend time with him. Don’t push him away, as that may only increase his tantrums. Teach him how to do simple tasks, so he can be with you. Let him do the silverware or napkins when you set the table. He can load silverware into the dishwasher, and put silverware away in the drawer. Maybe it won’t be correctly sorted, but at least the job is done. One of my favorite quotations is “Housework done incorrectly is still done”. I just love that. I’d love to frame it and hang it on a wall somewhere, to remind me as well as my family.
Maybe spending more time with your two-year old won’t speed him through this difficult stage and onto a more pleasant one, but it will certainly assure your child that he is loved and worthy, no matter what. And that, dear readers, is the precious gift we can give our children, no matter how old they are.
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