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COPING WITH YOUR TWO-YEAR-OLD: WHEN A FIRM HAND IS NEEDED

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Your two-year-old can be a handful. But here are steps to keep him/her in line.

How to deal with two-year-old tantrums?

As babies grow from 1 - 2 years old, the world really opens up to them. They are no longer completely helpless. They will start to assert themselves and test boundaries before someone stops them.

They will become more curious than before; they are eager to find out how things work; excited to communicate their experiences to you in different ways (as they have limited vocabulary); and cannot bear to be away from you even for a minute or so before they turn to screaming or crying.

If you find yourself wondering whether you will ever make it through this stage, do not worry! Many parents have gone through this passing phase. Here are tips to help you manage the different kinds of behaviour that you may encounter with grace and patience.

Common Behaviour

Clinginess

Your child is afraid to be separated from you and becomes upset when you are out of sight. He cries when you go away and he will not let go of you. Bringing him to pre-school each day is a trial.

What to do:

  • Offer lots of hugs and cuddles to calm his fear and anxiety. 
  • Keep reassuring him that you love him, even though you are not with him physically. 
  • Find out if he has other fears or things that are causing him to be anxious other than separation anxiety (e.g. a fierce teacher, a naughty classmate who bullies him at school) and help him to resolve the problem and conquer his fear.

Possessiveness

Your child is still at the age where he may refuse to play with other children or let them play with his toys. He is likely to be more self-absorbed and self-centred. 

What to do:

  • At home, play with him and teach him how to share and take turns to play with toys. 
  • Let him know that his toy will come back to him even if he lets another child play with it. 
  • If there are conflicts, help him understand the need to play nicely with others. 
  • Encourage and praise him when he makes an effort to play or share with others.

Show of independence

Your child will have difficulty controlling his emotions as he gets frustrated with the limitation he has in expressing himself. This is a time when he is learning to assert himself, striving for independence and getting his own way. Throwing a tantrum is often a reaction to not getting what he wants.

What to do:

  • Keep your cool and do not react. If you show your anger, it will worsen the situation as he still does not understand what is wrong with his behaviour. 
  • Teach him the words to express his wants so that he can say them instead of crying or screaming. 
  • Explain to him that his behaviour is not acceptable. 
  • Help him get over the unhappiness. 
  • Give him time to calm down but remember not to reward him with too much attention or in any other way. 
  • Do not give in to his tantrums no matter how embarrassing it can be, as his behaviour may get worse each time. 
  • Give him options to choose from so he can have a sense of control that he is making his own decision. 
  • Note that his tantrums may also be a sign of distress, or a sign that he is just tired and needs a nap. Pay attention to his habits, personality and temperament for signs of changes. Do not brush the tantrum off as naughty behaviour until you find out more about the circumstances surrounding the tantrum. 
  • Praise his good behaviour and efforts so that he can distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

Whining

Whining is another act that your child may do to get your attention other than throwing tantrums. Your child may whine to express his needs and, at times, for no apparent reason. It is normal for your toddler to want to be the centre of your attention and to get what he wants.

What to do:

  • Stay calm when your child begins to whine. He whines to express his frustration or because he wants to be heard. 
  • Find out what may be triggering this behaviour since toddlers are not able to verbalise their feelings and needs well. Explain to him why whining is not acceptable. 
  • Do not give in because you don’t want to encourage your child to use whining again the next time he wants something. 
  • Be consistent in showing your child whining is not to be used and is something you will not tolerate. 
  • Teach him to express himself calmly and through ways that are easy for him to learn. Humour helps.

Great curiosity

Your child will start to explore and experiment with what he can get his hands on. He may become frustrated and anxious when he cannot reach or do what he sets out to complete. 

What to do: 

  • Provide lots of space for him to explore his environment, but ensure safety. 
  • Offer him things or toys that he can touch, press or squeeze to stimulate creativity and encourage exploration. Make sure that they are durable and not easily broken. 
  • Give him a hand when he is frustrated by tasks which he can’t cope with. Encourage him to keep trying in order to build his perseverance and patience. 

Strategies to handle your two-year-old

Start with yourself

Happy, well-adjusted and confident parents form secure relationships with their children. It is important to take care of your mental well-being and find avenues to relax and calm yourself down before you manage your child, especially when dealing with his difficult behaviours.

Seek help if you need to as you do not have to do this on your own. Remember, your child models his behaviour after yours. If you are able to respond to him positively even during his most difficult times, he will learn positive coping skills from you and be assured that you can be depended on at all times.

Consistency in discipline and control

It is important to agree with your spouse on a set of consistent rules for your child. Be consistent in disciplining your child – maintaining firm boundaries will help him develop positive behavioural and emotion management skills. They will also learn to differentiate right from wrong. Children who are more difficult to manage require more patience, warmth and encouragement. As you are a role model, what you do and say will have a big impact on his life. As he is only 2 years old, set a few simple rules for him to remember. Set realistic expectations and always find out the cause of his actions.

The power of praise

Encourage and praise your child when he completes a task, no matter how small it is. Praise the effort, not the ability. That way, he will know that he can turn to you if he has problems because he learns that you appreciate his effort rather than his ability. It will motivate him not to be afraid of going through multiple attempts until he succeeds. This will help build his character, and help mould him into a confident, determined and resilient child.

Encourage child’s play as children learn through play 

Playing is an important activity for all children. This is when your child uses his knowledge and his creative and social skills to interact with others. He will also get to learn from mistakes through fun and play.

Building happy memories and a positive self

Your child’s capacity for memory will expand and he will remember the things he sees, hears, smells and touches through his experiences, even though they may be in fragments. Building happy memories from a young age is one way to help him become optimistic. Having memories of good times allows him to give meaning to his life and can be especially useful during difficult times to help him recover from any setbacks. Help him appreciate the positive aspects of life and verbalise your thankfulness for even the little things. 

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Contributed by:
Health Promotion Board