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Is it really the terrible two's or just the toddler years?

I have a two year old. Everyone we speak to will ask how old he is and respond with 'oh. terrible two's!' This gets me thinking why? Why do others feel the need to say about the terrible two's? Does society really just expect all 2 year olds to be 'terrible'? George can throw a strop! We are only just into the 2 year age bracket, but generally he is pretty good. He has his moments just as other children who are older or indeed younger have their moments. The main difference from him being 1 to turning 2 is that he can now consistently say no (or in George's case, he says 'no no no no no, in a Northern accent like the dog from the Churchill insurance advert!) I decided to do some research into what the 'terrible two's' are, the traits that toddlers show when going through this stage and what evidence there is that it exists.

The research bit

From research, toddlers go through a 'second attachment cycle' where they are learning about boundaries and limit setting - a bit like the leaps they went through as a baby. The smallest thing will become the toddlers most important thing in the world. It may be that car they have seen on the shelf in a shop or the ice cream they are craving after dinner but in that moment, there is nothing more important to them. Evidence also suggests that tantrums mainly occur when they are tired, hungry, thirsty, overwhelmed etc. and we should therefore be trying to look for the non-verbal cues to try and get ahead of the game and solve the issue before it has become one. Through the ages of one and half to 4 years, they discover independence; they are not part of you as the adult, they are a separate being and whilst this is exciting it can also be frightening depending on how they cope with this. This can be compared to going to nursery. Some children will wave bye at the door and run off to find that toy that they played with the previous day. Others take a while each morning to feel comfortable to leave the adult at the door. Some just aren't ready emotionally to take on board what is happening.

Is it down to the parents?

All of this research, whilst answering some of my questions, made me think of more. Is it our adult expectations of a toddler that opens the door for the typical strop? Here is a personal example which I'm sure many can relate to. We very rarely go out for dinner. Whilst we know we should do this more, we choose not to. Dinner for us is family time which includes George and whilst I don't mind taking him out to eat, Paul finds it incredibly stressful but I completely understand why.

George will tend to have a strop over something or other no matter what the time of day or where we go. Then you think about the situation you are in. When at home, you prepare dinner whilst the kids play. They are free to choose what they are doing. They are free to move around. Now think about going out for dinner. You are going out for you, not them. They have to sit and wait whilst you choose what you will eat. They have to wait for you to put the order in. They have to wait for the food to be cooked by someone. Even when the food arrives they probably will have to wait some more for it to cool down so they don't burn their little mouths. And what if you choose to have a starter? Just a little more waiting for them to do. By the time it actually comes to eating dinner, no wonder they don't want it and have a strop and refuse to eat it. Then we get frustrated that we have ordered something for them that they are refusing.

But we have an expectation that they will be able to deal with the wait before food whilst sitting at a table; let's face it, there aren't many restaurants or cafes that have a play area they can go to. We wouldn't expect them to sit at the table at home and wait for that long so why do we think they can do it when we go out?

Then consider the big changes that toddlers go through based on our expectations and knowing their readiness to 'grow up.' There are two big changes I can think of. Around the age of 2 there is an expectation that they are or will soon be ready for potty training. Moving from nappies to pants is stressful for both the toddler and the parent. But the expectation is that this will happen.

The second big change is moving from their cot into a bigger bed or taking the side off their cot bed. Another huge change for them that they have to try and understand. They have the freedom to get out of bed when they want but we still expect them to stay in it and go to sleep without an issue.

We are yet to tackle both of these with George. Partly because we aren't ready for it but actually, neither is he. I can only imagine that both of these situations will be frustrating and cause tension but it will be how we manage our expectations that will help us deal with what's to come. Both of these situations clearly have to be tackled at some point but showcase just a couple of the huge changes toddlers go through at the same time based on societies expectations.

My experience as a first time mum and how we are trying to deal with the toddler years.

From my own experience and seeing others, the most difficult bit of the toddler years is when they seem to save their tantrums for when you're out in public. It happens at home but they won't seem so bad. You probably won't dwell on them as much, but maybe it is just because you are more worried about them happening in public that they seem so extreme when they do. So here are just a couple of things that we do to try and combat the strops. It doesn't mean they are right. It doesn't mean that they will work for everyone. But just maybe, it will give someone else another idea to try out.

  • An obvious one but sometimes is difficult under certain circumstances...we don't play to it. If George wants to strop on the floor when we are out as long as it is safe for him to do so, we leave him where he is, stand next to him but ignore him. Within seconds he is normally up and we continue on. We don't dwell on it. It's amazing how quickly they forget!

  • Give them some freedom to choose. George hates putting on shoes and jumpers. They cause a strop daily. We changed our approach and gave him a choice of two jumpers each day. The strops have generally stopped, maybe because he feels a little more in control. Sometimes open ended questions cause frustration; you give them the opportunity to say no and they take it with both hands and run. We find strops are more frequent if we do this, particularly if George can't articulate what he wants to say back.

  • Being consistent is key. However you discipline your child, just stick with it. No matter where we are or who we are with, we aim to be consistent. Sometimes others can put in their opinions but we are the parents and we will be consistent with what we do. It tends to work and you can't help but feel a little smug.

  • Children are easily frustrated but just as easily distracted. If George wants something he can't have and strops, we distract with something else we know he will want to do (or something he wants to eat.) Works 99% of the time.

The key is to remember is that every child is different. They can't all be put under the same umbrella heading of being in the 'terrible two's.' You know your child the best and you know what they need. You are the best person to help them learn. Terrible two's is such a negative phrase...let's make it a positive one! The toddler years will always be challenging and we as parents are doing the best we can. Everyone has different strategies and no method is wrong. If it works for you and your child, keep going and don't listen to society. The toddler years are short and precious, with or without the strops!

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