How to react

How to react
Protests, tantrums, refusals… living with a 2-year-old is anything but restful! Luckily, there are ways to avoid or lessen the ‘terrible’ during the terrible twos.

Protests, tantrums, refusals… living with a 2-year-old is anything but restful! Luckily, there are ways to avoid or lessen the ‘terrible’ during the terrible twos.

Your child is asserting herself, and that’s very good. But you need to provide structure and limits even while you give her some control over certain things. “You need to choose your battles with a 2-year-old,” says France Capuano, professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal’s Department of Education and Specialized Training. “For example, bedtime is non-negotiable, but does it really matter if your child wants to wear her blue pyjamas rather than her red ones?”

If your toddler opposes you, what she actually wants is to decide for herself. So, if you let her make small decisions, she’ll resist less. “If you tell her to put on her shoes, she’ll say no. But if you ask her which foot she wants to start with, she’ll be happy to oblige,” offers psychologist and psychotherapist Isabelle Filliozat as an example.

Giving your child choices empowers her, reduces her resistance and gives you a break from confrontation.

“It’s really not that complicated,” says Virginie, mom to almost-3-year-old Mérédith. “During meals or snack time, she chooses which fruit she wants to eat. I also let her choose what she wants to wear from a set selection of clothes. When she can decide on her own, she feels big.”

When you set limits, you need to consider your child’s abilities. For example, not touching certain fragile objects is not an easy rule to follow at 2 years old, since many children are still unable to stop themselves from doing something that’s forbidden. “Sometimes it’s better to just remove plants and trinkets,” says France Capuano. “Better to make sure the environment is safe than to have expectations that are too high.”

Here are a few more tips on how to react to certain behaviours in 2-year-olds.

She often has tantrums

To prevent tantrums in public places, Isabelle Filliozat suggests giving your child a little job to do to keep her brain busy. For example, at the grocery store, ask her to put the oranges in a bag or to show you objects that are such and such a colour. This trick can also come in handy at home. “When we give the twins little jobs such as putting their clothes in the hamper, they resist less and have fewer tantrums,” says Annie, mom to 2-year-olds Emy and Zac, and 4-year-old Charlie. However, if your child does have a tantrum, it’s important not to give her what she wants. Otherwise, the message she’ll understand is that a tantrum is an effective way of getting what she wants. You can try to calm her down by talking to her, but she probably won’t be in any state of mind to listen. The best is to remain calm, stay close to make sure she doesn’t hurt herself and let her scream. When the tantrum is over, you can show her affection and help her to talk about what happened.

She doesn’t listen when you call her

A good technique is to approach your child and make eye contact. An even better one is to touch her shoulder or to place your hand over hers. When several senses are called to action, the brain decodes the message more effectively,” notes Nicole Malenfant, early childhood education professor at Cégep Édouard-Montpetit. If she doesn’t listen to you when you talk to her, if you’re at home, the best thing to do is to go and turn off the TV or the music. In a public place, you can bring her to a calmer area and get down to her level. Then, ask your child to look you in the eyes while you talk to her. To make sure she has understood you properly, you can ask her to repeat what you said or ask her questions.

She hits or bites

This is common before 3 years old, since the child doesn’t have the words to say what she’s feeling. Plus, she has a hard time controlling her emotions. The best thing is to show her how to express her needs. For example, you can say: “When you want something, say it. Say: ‘I want to play with the doll.’ You need to ask with words.” Or “When you feel mad, take a deep breath. Then say: ‘I’m mad.’”

No is her answer to everything

It’s normal that she uses this little word: after all, she hears it so often! Why not set yourself the challenge of saying it less? Instead of forbidding something, give her an instruction. The difference is that when you forbid something, you’re saying not to do something (don’t run); with an instruction, you’re telling her to do something (walk). “Forbidding directs the child’s attention towards what she’s not supposed to do, which can make her want to do it,” notes Isabelle Filliozat. “And a toddler’s brain still has a hard time understanding negation. If you tell your child not to touch the stove, she remembers “touch stove” and she may run over to touch it to make certain of exactly what’s expected of her. Instructions are more effective since they describe the behaviour that is expected. Another trick is to help your child think. For example, you can say, “It’s raining. Should you put on your shoes or rain boots?” Chances are that your child will give you the correct answer!

She’s afraid of new things

Knowing what comes next gives a child a sense of control over events. It’s not surprising that she likes routine! But you can help her face change and new situations by preparing her. For example, you can describe where you’re going, what will happen and who will be there. It’s always better to introduce change little by little. A comforting object (stuffed animal, blanket) can also help your child control her anxiety when her routine changes.

She misbehaves

Of course, accidents happen. And if they do, you can show her how to repair the damage, by, for example, asking her to help you clean up a mess she’s made. This way, you give her the chance to behave properly and regain her self-esteem. However, sometimes children misbehave for attention. “If you’re busy, you can tell her that you will do a certain activity with her when you’re done with what you’re doing,” says Nicole Malenfant. When your child knows you’ve heard her, she can wait a little longer. Malenfant suggests regularly giving your child positive attention by congratulating her on good behaviour, playing with her, talking to her and so on.

She refuses to end a fun activity

This situation becomes easier to handle when you give your toddler cues she can understand. Another 5 minutes and you’re going to bed is too abstract for her. Instead, tell her: “One more story, then it’s lights out.” Or: “I’ll push you 3 more times on the swing and then we’ll go home.” An even better idea is to offer her a choice: “Do you want me to push you once or twice more on the swing?” You can also acknowledge her wish. Say: “I know you like playing with your blocks, but it’s bath time now. You can play with your blocks again tomorrow.” A child who feels understood cooperates better.