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Toddler Clinic


Terrible 2s - myths and reality

Should parents brace themselves for bad behaviour as their child hits 24 months or can the toddler years actually be a more peaceful period than you would expect?

Parents of babies and young toddlers always shudder in fear of ‘the terrible twos’ – visions of red-faced infants having a screaming stand-off with their mother in the middle of Sainbsurys, weary fathers busily scrubbing acres of crayon off lounge walls, a stubborn refusal to live off anything other than jam sandwiches for two years.

But in reality many parents may never experience the phenomenon.  Before you breathe too big a sigh of relief, there can be some truth in the notion of the ‘terrible two’, but perhaps putting this seachange in behaviour from charming baby to tricky toddler in context will help next time you find all your potted plants unearthed on the kitchen floor…

Two-year-old turning points

It’s a toddler’s world

Around the age of two your child will start to get a more defined sense of himself – pride in things you praise him for, awareness of what colour his hair is, referring to all his belongings with his name tagged on as a declaration of ownership.

Although full understanding of good and bad is still a way off, the appreciation of the impact of his actions will now be much more developed. If you are chatting too much to a friend and your child discovers that doing something ‘naughty’ or making lots of noise gets you to stop and focus on him, this will become a useful trick to add to his repertoire of behaviour.

When your child has done something ‘wrong’, try to step back from the situation and assess what the reason was. At first it will be because of a frustration or boredom or to get your attention, so try to address this gently with him, or to avoid such situations as much as possible. If you don’t, this behaviour will become a habit because the reaction will start to amuse your child and before long he won’t recall behaving any other way.

Awareness of other children

Although smaller children notice other babies and toddlers, most of their interaction until now will have been initiated by grown ups or will actually have been ‘parallel play’ (where they are amusing themselves without really being aware of what another child is doing).
This new awareness can bring about all kinds of challenges like having to share, waiting to take turns, noticing when another child is happy or unhappy, self-consciousness around new faces.

Some parents fear that fussing too much now, guiding their child through these experiences, will mean he does not learn how to share or negotiate for himself. However, a two-year-old is still too young to solve these problems independently and has a long way to go before concepts like empathy kick in.

If you leave your child ‘fight his corner’ with other small children the first one to use strength to push or hit may well come off the winner in squabbles over a toy (for example) and all this leaves your child with is the lesson that brute force works – whether he is the victim or the perpetrator. Instead, calmly show him with gentle encouragement that sharing, listening and interacting nicely can be an enjoyable experience.

‘But why, mummy? But why, daddy?’

Some of what parents associate with the exhausting phase of the ‘terrible twos’ is actually just the reality of first-hand experience of this incredible leap in a child’s ability to communicate through talking, and his growing understanding of how his little life relates to the bigger world.

You’d have to be a saint to never utter the words, ‘Oh, just because it does,’ when your child has asked you for the hundredth time about how a bus works or why the sky is blue. However it’s best if, when you have the energy, you answer his questions as enthusiastically as you can. Obviously you don’t want to bamboozle him, but encouraging him to observe the daily world for himself, beginning to play counting games with things you see, or enjoying funny made-up-word sessions will feed his desire for info-overload.

By about two-and-a-half many children (especially boys) will have an obsessive knowledge of something like dinosaurs – complete with their complicated proper names – or have created a world of imaginative play in their bedrooms. Encourage this without turning it into hard work for your child, it’s a wonderful spontaneous way for them to build on what they are experiencing for themselves.

Having fun is hard work

Your child is still growing, and while there is an essential need to expend energy and be physical, some quiet time is important too. Tiredness is one of the big causes of tantrums and bad behaviour.

Even if your child has grown out of daytime naps, set aside a period each day when he goes into his cot or sits on his bed with some books or cuddly toys. Also, make sure the house isn’t constantly noisy – some family chaos is good for the soul, but sometimes the television and the radio should be off so your child begins to appreciate that all of us need a little mellow downtime in our days.

Parent worship

Toddlers soak up everything you do – from your fears and moods to your eating habits. If you make a fuss when you see a wasp, shout at traffic when you’re driving, or you always put too much salt on your meals, it’s no surprise that your child is getting into bad habits, no matter how well-intentioned your parenting regime usually is.



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