Everyone talks about the “terrible twos” and many first time parents “dread” the day their child hits two, knowing they are in for a wild ride. But I am going to just come out and say it. Twos really are not that bad. Yes, your child is now mobile, talkative, exploring her world. But she is also still easily distracted by a different toy, book, game, or just attention from mom and dad.
But three…whoa! I swear, the minute my daughter turned 3 it was like a switch had been thrown. Sure, 98% of the time she is still the sweet, kind, polite, helpful, happy little girl she has always been, but watch out for that other 2%! And it comes out of no where. Everything can be just fine…then out of (seemingly to us) no where, we are in melt down mode. It can be over something as simple as she spilled a little milk from her cereal on her place mat or on herself. It can be because she wants to get a particular toy to play with and can’t find it or can’t reach it or can’t get it out of the box. It can be because she fell down and bumped her knee. It can be because the cat wants to sit on her lap…or because the cat DOESN’T want to sit on her lap. And of course, you have the typical issues with learning to share, take turns, not have things go her way that comes with playing with friends or just being a kid.
We have always tried to take a positive approach when dealing with any issue with our daughter. We do not use punishments or time outs. We try to make sure the consequences are natural and logical. We have always encouraged her to talk to us, let us know what is wrong so we can work with her to find a solution. And we have used removal from a situation to help her calm down.
I just want to note that removing her from the situation and giving her a space to calm down is NOT a time out. There is not time limit she needs to stay away, just until she is calm and ready to come talk to us. This gives her control of her emotions. We want to validate her feelings, but also work with her to find positive ways to express herself and positive ways to work through a problem. We also check on her frequently during these times, offering to help her calm down and reminding her to let us know when she is ready to talk so we can help her solve the problem.
Also with three came the ATTITUDE. Wow! I had no idea she had this in her before she turned three. I wonder where she gets it? We have always tried to give her control when appropriate, choices when acceptable, and allow her to gain confidence and independence. We want her to express herself, share her thoughts and ideas with us. But learning how to do so in a positive way some days is challenging for her and for me!
So where does this all come from? I think it is because by the time children are three, they are starting to form ideas, opinions, preferences, and come up with their own way of doing things. They are able to have some control over their lives and environment, but have not yet learned they are not solely in control, that mom and dad have the over-riding authority (though I am not sure they fully realize this until they have kids of their own!). And they are able to express themselves much more clearly than at two. They can tell you more of what they are thinking, feeling, wanting then they could be before and don’t want limits put on them.
So how do we deal with this? Well, for one, we try to support and encourage her to express herself in positive ways. We try to stay calm and not reactive when she is in a “mood”. We remind her that we are here to help her, she just needs to use her words so mommy and daddy know what she needs. We try to explain to her why when we have to say no to something or why we are asking her to do something. We validate her feelings, even if we are not going to give in on an issue. (This can be about needing to wear shoes, go to bed, not throw her toys around the house, etc). And we try to be a positive role model for her. She sees us get upset or angry or frustrated and then we hear our own words back at us “Mommy, calm your body and use nice words”.
We stress communication, using our words, and working together to find a solution. We try to help her, when ever possible, to act on the solution. We try not to just do things for her, solve her problems for her, or even take away the (limited) amount of control over her life that she does have right now. If we do that, then how we can expect her to be a confident, independent, capable adult ready to face life’s challenges? We see our job right now as guiding her through the challenges of life, teaching her the skills she needs in order to face the world in the coming years. Some days though…staying calm when we are on the 14th meltdown of the day is a challenge. But then we have the 98% of the time when I just love being with my daughter and watching her become an amazing person. It makes all those other teachable moments well worth it.