You’ve probably heard the term “terrible twos” to describe the stage of development that typically occurs when a child is two years old. This usually brings to mind behaviors like screaming, crying, not listening (or not wanting to listen) to directions, and the ever-present “NO!”
So, why are the twos so tricky? And how can we support our children’s need for independence at this stage without being totally overwhelmed ourselves? Here is an explanation from a Speech-Language Pathologist.
Toddlers are constantly looking for ways to find control. If we think about it from a toddler’s perspective, so much is decided for them by adults- where they go, when they sleep, what they wear, what they eat, and more. Of course, parents have to make many decisions about what children do, especially when it comes to their safety, but know that your toddler is likely feeling overwhelmed by their lack of choices. We need to give them some independence by:
-Giving them two choices whenever possible. It’s most helpful to show and tell them their choices, so hold up two physical items (e.g., an apple and crackers) and label them to encourage your child to make their own choice and therefore control the situation. You can do this with snacks, clothes, books, toys, etc.
-Avoid yes/no questions when you really mean to make a statement. For example, when it’s time to leave a fun place like the park, if you ask your child “Are you ready to go?” most likely the answer will be “no.” Technically, you asked them a yes/no question, so their answer is valid, but this leaves you stuck since you actually need to leave! Instead, give them a warning like “we have 10 more minutes, then it’s time to go” and follow-through with the limit that you set. Of course, your child may still have a hard time leaving and this is understandable. You can support them by validating their feelings (e.g., “I hear you- leaving the park makes you really mad!”) while maintaining your limit (e.g., “we will come back next week.”).
At this stage, toddlers need a lot of patience and support from us. By giving them many opportunities to make choices throughout the day, we hope to give them a sense of autonomy while building the trust that if we do what they want to do, they can also listen when we need them to do something. It’s important to understand that your child isn’t saying “no” or having meltdowns because they are giving you a hard time, but rather, they are having a hard time.
If you feel that your child’s behavior is escalating past a point that you would expect, or that decision-making or transitions are especially difficult, consider an occupational therapy evaluation. Call or email us any time to schedule and our therapists will be happy to help you learn to navigate these tricky times!