Q.: I read the post you wrote about the myth of the terrible twos. You said your kids had terrific twos. My daughter is nineteen months and I’m bracing myself for what’s ahead. She’s already throwing major fits. Do you have any tips for this age? I love my little girl, but I’m afraid of what’s ahead.
A.: First of all, I’d like to preface this by stating for the record that I am well aware of the fact that my kiddos aren’t perfect and neither am I. People often compliment me on their behavior, but it makes me nervous, because kids are kids and they can turn on the drop of dime.
That being said, there are a few tips that I helped get through the toddler-preschool transition. Every child and every family is different, so take what you want from this.
1. Lots of Sleep
My kids slept a lot. Throughout their twos, they got about 11 hours of sleep at night and 2-3 hours in a single nap. A lot of brain development happens during these rest periods. That’s when the brain consolidates the new information it has just learned, so it’s essential that kids get enough sleep. There were times when they challenged their bedtime and nap, but I always stuck to my guns. After a week or two, they always returned to their sleep schedule. I think that contributed to their ability to be calm.
2. Lots of Outdoor Play
As much as I liked my kids to sleep, I wanted to see them running around when they were awake. We aimed for 2-3 hours a day of outdoor play (broken up into morning and afternoon). Kiddos need to get their wiggles out or they go bonkers. They just have so much energy. Development-wise, this is their time to exercise their gross motor skills. We rotated different playgrounds, our driveway (push toys, pull toys, trikes, and scooters) and our backyard (sandbox, kiddie pool, and balls).
I also believe there is something magical about being in fresh air. My husband and I noticed this from the moment our children were born. We’d take them outside when they were fussing, and they’d suddenly stop and marvel at the world around them. Nowadays doctors talk about vitamin D deficiencies becasue people don’t get eoungh sun exposure. There is something primal and enigmatic that connects humans to nature.
3. Schedule, schedule, schedule!
We kept a very consistent schedule for our kids when they were two, only deviating slightly for special occasions. In a way, this sucked. We couldn’t just do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted. Sometimes I felt like a teenager with my toddler assigning me a curfew. On the other hand, even on tough days, my kids fell into their routine beautifully. Life is easier for them (and me!) when they know what to expect. Eating, activities, and sleep should be predictable.
My rule of thumb is: You should never expect more consistency from your child than you provide for him. If you need your child to be flexible for your life, then you will have to flexible for him. Personally, I’d rather leave a party early and have a child who sleeps for eleven hours every night without an argument, than enjoy a party fully and battle bedtime every night for a week. Pick your poison.
4. Give your child two choices.
Two year olds need to assert their individuality. That is where they are developmentally-speaking. Offering a choice between A and B is very effective in giving them a sense of control and autonomy. It’s important to limit them to only two options, however, because they get lost in too much choice. They can’t handle it. They’ll change their mind a dozen times and never be happy. Two options is best for two year olds.
5. Healthy food is the only option.
Each of my children have dragged me into a vegetable war. I have learned that I can’t win each and every battle. Short of literally shoving food down their throat, there are times when you just can’t make them eat something green.
But, I never gave up. It was always the expectation. I was never a short-order cook. I made a healthy meal and the choice was: eat it or be hungry. If they chose to go hungry, there would be no snack until the next meal. Actually, we don’t snack much. They got juice in the morning and a small snack with water in the afternoon. It is good for a child to come to mealtimes hungry. It makes them more recpetive to the healthy food that is there. If they choose to go hungry, it is good for them to experience that hunger, so they will make a different choice in the future. Of course, I tried to make food that they liked and I snuck veggies in when I could, but two years olds are stubborn and you can’t capitulate on nutrition. When it got tough I asked myself, Who is more qualified to make the choice about my child’s health: myself or my screaming two-year old?
6. Engage in the world together.
Two year olds have a lot of energy that they need help focusing. Outings to museums, playgrounds, nature, and libraries keep them engaged and happy. When we spent too much time at home, they’d act up. I also found that I am a less distracted parent when I am out with the kids. At home, work and chores beckoned my attention away from them. Out and about, I gave them my complete attention.
7. Let them play.
Kids need free time to play with their toys. There is a constant juggling act between offering enough stimulation, but not too much. I used my kids’ behavior and my own feelings as a barometer. If they resisted getting ready for an outing or I felt reluctant to get in the car again, I cancel our plans. On the other hand, if they were having meltdowns or I felt stir-crazy, we’d drop what we were doing and got out of the house. I don’t think it’s possible to find the perfect balance; there is a constant need for adjustment and that’s OK.
I hope this helps. It was a joy to experience my children’s twos and I wish you luck with your daughter.
You’ll notice that I didn’t mention discipline. I believe very strongly in consistency and follow through, but at such a tender age it’s hard to be prescriptive for other parents. You know your child best. Just always make sure to not reward behavior you’d like to discourage. Two year olds thrive in a consistent, loving, and healthy environment, and most behavioral problems can be avoided by creating that environment for you child.
It might just boil down to an attitude. Perhaps the Terrible Twos is just a self-fulfilling prophecy. I stand by my statement that it’s a myth. It’s so beautiful to watch the person you love grow into his or her personality. I wish you a beautiful year ahead.