Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Terrible Twos

This is how I found Noah one morning. I ran to get the camera!

I have recently been reading a lot on this phenomenon, since I am currently in the midst of it with my 23-month-old son. And, I have to say that merely reading about it is THE best strategy I have found in dealing with Noah's highly emotional, highly irrational psychotic episodes -er - I mean - quests for independence. Why? Because the worst part of these tantrums is that I'm never sure if I'm dealing with them in the right way. Enter mother's guilt. Did I cause the meltdown?  Am I perpetuating the meltdown? Am I reacting in a way that will ease him through this phase?

Having now read about the terrible twos, I at least know that this is a normal period of development. Sure, I knew this superficially before, but when you're a stay-at-home mom dealing with a child having perhaps 20 of these meltdowns per day, you need to be reminded of this. The article I found most informative on this subject is by pediatrician Dr. Greene. He states the following in response to a frazzled parent's letter:  "Children of perfect parents (if there were such a thing!) would still need to go through the developmental phase your son is going through. Ideal children do NOT always agree with their parents. Ideal parenting does not prevent the "Terrible Twos" -- it helps children navigate them." ( ) It is helpful, as a parent, to read this and know that this is actually a healthy behaviour in your child. (Believe me, it looks anything but healthy!)
Greene goes on to explain " irresistible urge to make his own choices began to well up inside him. This is an exciting development, but the difficulty with his making an independent choice is that he must disagree with you in order for the choice to be his own." Aha! This explains why reverse psychology works so well with Noah! More importantly though, it helps me to understand his need to have  some control over decisions made. He is starting to see himself more and more as his own person, separate from mommy and daddy. He needs to feel that he has some say; that we respect his need to confirm his unique identity.

Dr. Greene's advice is to offer your child 2 or 3 choices, when possible. But he warns: "Your son still needs the security of knowing that he's not calling all the shots. When it's time to eat, say something like, "Would you rather have a slice of apple or a banana?" He feels both the reassuring limits that you set and the freedom to exercise his power within those limits." In recent days, I have been trying this strategy, and it has definitely minimized some of the meltdowns. For example, Noah became angry when I told him he couldn't go in a certain direction at the park. I explained to him that I didn't want him to go towards the road where the cars were because it was dangerous. Then I gave him the choice of two other directions he could go in. Success.

Upon our arrival home, I tried to take Noah out of the wagon. "Neeeooooo!!!" he said irritably. I was going to just take him out - he has no choice, right? Then I thought better of it and created some choices for him. I asked him if he wanted to get out now, or if he wanted to wait until I pulled it over to the window (before I put it out on the balcony). He went with choice number two. No fuss. I know there are times when it is really impossible to give choices, or perhaps times when we as parents are just too tired to think of choices, but for the most part offering choices will make the situation go much more smoothly.
Me? Cause a fuss? Pffft!

There's another technique I've tried that works well with Noah (sometimes, not always). Let me give you the scenario first: Noah asks to go to the playground. I say yes, and try to get his shoes on (or, ask him to get his shoes). He says no. I tell him he needs his shoes on if he wants to the playground. He still says no, even when I tell him we cannot go to the playground then. I do something else, telling him to let me know when he's ready to get his shoes on. This is giving him the power to decide when something happens.

I have to say though, that in recent days, Noah has stepped it up a notch, and this technique is not working as well. I have had to give him different choices of playgrounds, and he's even becoming picky about which playground we go to! Offering him a plum in the wagon, on the way to the playground, worked for a while. Crackers worked for a while. I guess the bottom line in this scenario is to keep the ideas novel and fresh, so that they are distracted from the power struggle and are instead focused on the activity.

Are there any other moms out there who have ideas to share? I would LOVE to hear them! I need all the help I can get!

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