Coping With Terrible Twos

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If you have traded the days of quite strolls in the park, naps-on-the-go and the baby daze for bouts of kicking on the floor in a fit of temper, you have likely entered the world according to toddlers.

They call this phase the terrible twos, but in reality the tantrums and moodiness that come from a self-asserting, budding toddler can begin as early as 18 months or as late as 30 months. For parents, it is important to jump into action at this point in their toddler’s development.

“Your toddler is now learning to be himself in a group,” says Frans Plooij, Ph.D., author of the “The Wonder Weeks” and a top specialist in infant/child development and parent-baby interactions. “All the nagging and temper tantrums are just his way of saying ‘Hey, Mom, give me some guidance here!'”

In order to make toddlerhood easier for both parent and child, parents need to understand what’s happening in their child’s brain and embrace what he is going through.

International research on infants has shown that 64 weeks after due date, or at roughly 15 months, a baby’s brain makes a gigantic leap forward. Babyhood is over and life as a toddler begins. This leap is significant as it is the basis for the person your child has the potential to become as he grows.

By understanding what is going on in the brain at the age of 64 weeks and 75 weeks, you can moderate the behavior of your “teenaging toddler” and help him navigate this period of development, says Plooij.

According to Plooij, the developmental leaps are tremendous, as it is during this time that a child begins to learn about – and set – values and norms that will carry him through life. He refers to the phase as “teenaging toddlers,” because it is similar to a first adolescence.

“Temper tantrums, manipulation and a healthy ego are all part of a baby’s sense of self as they enter toddlerhood,” says Plooij. “Much like a teenager, a toddler will pout, push buttons and challenge to norm in order to get his way.” For both the toddler and the teenager, it amounts to learning how to assert himself and separate himself from everyone around him.

For the first time, a child understands he is a different person than mommy and his family is a different family than another family. Once he comprehends these differences, he learns to “play” with them. How? By tempting the rules and even acting out. At this age in development, the now-toddler has figured out how to push the right buttons until he gets what he wants.

This doesn’t have to be a dreadful time between parent and child if the parent is prepared.

“If you know what is going on in your child’s brain, you know what you can demand from him. If you don’t know this, you may ask too little, giving no challenge to the child and allowing him to be the boss,” says Plooij, “or you demand too much, which can be frustrating for the child because he is simply not able to meet the too-high standards. So the key is to set reachable, but still challenging goals.”

A child doesn’t need to act so “terrible,” as long as you know what to do and, more important: why he is acting this way. By understanding these leaps you can make the transition into toddlerhood the “tremendous two’s” and beyond. “Tremendous,” says Dr. Plooij, “because it is with these leaps that a huge part of socialization is set for life. And tremendous because good values and norms start now. If you invest in your toddler in this time, it will pay off for lifetime and especially in puberty.”

Tips to Cope With the Terrible 2s

• Offer limited choices. Give them only a couple options for what they want to eat, wear or do.
• Don’t give into tantrums. If you give them what they want, expect more tantrums.
• Give direction. Don’t ask them if they want to take a bath, as you are likely to get a “no.” Instead direct them.
• Distract. Offer distractions to help them get past whatever has them upset.
• Schedule. Be sure your little one is getting enough sleep, and try to stick to a consistent schedule.
• Provide a balanced diet. A balanced diet helps prevent sugar spikes and can keep a toddler feeling their best.
• Cuddle. Don’t forget that a toddler craves cuddling and it helps them feel secure.