I have to admit that before I had a child I would often look at the mom in the store with the screaming 2 year old and wonder what she was doing wrong and why he wouldn’t just calm down. I couldn’t imagine my own child someday having that reaction. On some level I thought it might be different with my child. Then I had my own child and wow was I in for a surprise! My cute and cuddly baby was suddenly at times a completely irrational 2 yr old. If he didn’t want to stop crying he wouldn’t and suddenly I was “that” mom in the store. I once overheard two moms talking and one said to the other “I’ve learned that I can never judge another mom who has a child older then mine.” I thought that statement was very true and I’ve learned that we moms have all “been there” at one time or another. While I don’t have all the answers, here are some of the things I have tried to make the terrible twos a bit more tolerable.
Keep a schedule as much as you can. At this age toddlers like some predictability in their schedule and knowing your child well will help with this. Allow for flexibility and know when not to push their schedule. If they have had 2 days in a row with no nap then don’t schedule a big activity the next day.
Keep them distracted. Your 2 year old will be more likely do what you are asking of her if she is engaged in something that is happily distracting her from the unpleasant task at hand. For example, one of the things that helps get my 2 year old dressed in the morning is putting on a television show that he likes. Otherwise the alternative is sometimes a 20 minute negotiation in getting him dressed. I have also heard of other parents dressing their toddlers in comfortable day clothes the night before so in the morning they don’t have to change their clothes. Other things that work for distraction are music, books, giving her a toy to hold or play with. Keep a bag of toys and books in the car with you and rotate them often so they will not get bored. When you’re going to the supermarket or running errands give your child these toys will help keep them distracted while they are with you. You can also distract them by getting them involved in what you are doing. If they feel like they are helping you or doing it partly on their own, then they may want to engage in the process more.
Try not to focus on what others think. Focus on your child and the situation. When your child is screaming in the store because you won’t give her a toy or because she does not want to put on her coat, this can be embarrassing. We worry that the people around us will be judgmental. It’s important to remember that there are two types of onlookers, those that are empathetic because they have children of their own and those who have no idea how challenging a simple task can be with a 2 year old. You need to remember that most people fall into the category of being empathetic. Additionally, when you have unwanted stares or bystanders the main thing that they want to see is that you as the parent are remaining calm and in control of your own emotions. So stay calm and focus on what is happening between you and your child and not what others are thinking. Remember if you appear to have your emotions under control on the outside then others will be at ease.
Get support from friends who understand. This is one of the best things you can do. Make sure you talk to a friend whose child has recently gone through the same stage or is currently going through it. They will better be able to recall the emotions and experiences that go along with having a 2 year old. The feeling of not being alone in this journey and having someone else validate and confirm that they struggle with similar situations and feelings is powerful and can make you feel refreshed as a parent.
Books. Go online and browse through websites that sell parenting books. You can find books on almost anything, including how to handle tantrums and the terrible two’s. When you don’t have the answers, sometimes it helps to get some ideas from the experts.
Sometimes it’s not worth the battle so don’t get stuck in it. Sometimes the power struggle that is going on between you and your 2 year old can be solved by letting it go. You can ask yourself “is this really worth all of this?” Pick and choose your battles. Do they really have to put on their jacket? Do they really have to wear a new shirt and not the one they wore yesterday? It’s normal for a child at this age to assert their independence and sometimes letting them have their way ends the problem and the power struggle that is occurring. Also, sometimes if you back off a bit and give them some time to digest what your asking them to do, in their own time they will actually do it. 2 year old time is completely different then adult time. It’s frustrating when my son takes 15 minutes just to get into the car and his seat on his own (all of which he must do without my help or else he has to restart the entire process). However, sometimes if I just take a deep breath, remember this is a normal stage and let him do it in his own time we avoid a battle.
Keep them happy with snacks, food, toys, games, drinks, etc…. A hungry and/or bored 2 year old is a recipe for disaster. It’s probably common sense to all who are reading this but it’s so important to remember. Keep snacks in the car. A friend of mine keeps a large bag of pretzels in the car, just in case. Think of your car or handbag like a 7-11 store. Always have something for them to eat and play with.
Use rewards: My son goes through a new stage from week to week. All of a sudden recently he decided he didn’t like to take a bath. After a few nights of screaming and stress I decided to go out and get some cheep matchbox cars and used these for rewards. I explained to him ahead of time that for every day he took a bath, he would get to pick out a new car. This worked great and he willingly and happily took a bath after this.
Make sure to take care of you: Don’t forget that we mommies and daddies need a little TLC too! Make sure to take some time each week or every day if possible for yourself. It doesn’t have to be a long time but even a 20 minute bath or going to the gym or for a walk is necessary to distress and come back feeling like a person again.
Let it go. 2 year olds live in the moment and one minute they can be screaming and crying and then suddenly they move on and are happy again, as if it never happened. We can learn a little something from this. When we feel the stress of a tantrum that just happened in the store, remember that we don’t need to hold on to these feelings for the rest of the afternoon. Just do what your 2 year old does and forget about it and move on to the next thing. It doesn’t have to become something more then what it was in that moment.
This too shall pass. You have to recognize and remind yourself over and over that for a 2 year old their behavior is a normal developmental process and your child is trying to be independent and have their own opinions. This stage is only temporary and will pass like all of the others that you have been through.