I don’t know who came up with the term “Terrible 2s,” because in my personal experience, and based on pretty much every parent I talk to, it really isn’t the 2-year-olds that are the problems — it’s age 3 that’s TOUGH.
I think in my mind, when my oldest was throwing a fit in that 2-year-olds range, it was more of a problem regulating emotions and communicating, whereas at age 3, she is totally manipulating me and it’s on purpose (this isn’t quite true, but it sure feels that way sometimes!!)
So how do you deal with the dreaded threenager? I am not an expert on this topic, and every child is different, but here are some things that are tried and true.
Catch them “being good” — nothing promotes good behavior like positive reinforcement. “My child is never good!” you may be thinking — but it’s the little things, like sharing a snack with a sibling, or listening to you and doing something when you tell them to the first time, that you can give them a quick pat on the back for and tell them “good job!” They look up to you and crave attention, so give it to them when they are doing the right things and over time they will do more of these.
Ignore the minor bad behavior — like a tantrum over brushing teeth. When you repeatedly give more attention to things like tantrums and crying, they learn this is how they get you to attend to them. You need to be prepared that often the crying and tantrums get worse for a short time before they get better, but stay strong momma and BE CONSISTENT. It will get better and stop over time.
Don’t yell — I know it is definitely hard sometimes to maintain your cool when you’ve told your child 15 times to get their shoes on, or eat their dinner, or get in their car seat (my personal pet peeve!!), but try to maintain a calm voice whenever you can, as escalating your emotions can demonstrate to your child that this is how to react when you’re upset about something. The same idea goes with physical punishment.
Contracting — just as with potty training, sometimes having a reward system for good behavior can help. Make a picture chart with whatever it is you want them to do; for example, brush their teeth, make their bed, pick up their toys, etc. Give them a sticker each time they complete the tasks, and then they can earn a reward or one on one time with a parent or whatever you choose.
Choices — at 3 going on 13, children want to feel in control of what is going on. Give your child choices, including the consequences of not completing the tasks requested. For example, “You can go brush your teeth, or you can go to your room and go to bed without a story tonight.”
Timeout — as above, kids crave attention, so removing them from positive attention from you and others, as well as from any possible fun/interaction, helps make an impression for the child. Generally speaking, time out should last 1 minute for each year old they are, and time restarts if they get out without permission.
Here are some web resources as well if you find yourself at your wits end!
- Tips from the American Academy of Family Physicians
- Essentials for Parenting Toddlers and Preschoolers from the CDC
- Parenting Tips from the American Psychological Association
Good luck, and hang in there!!