Thursday, August 13, 2009

What's Behind the "Terrible Twos"

By the editors of Child magazine

Despite their reputation, toddlers usually exhibit only sporadic periods of difficulty. We explain what causes the outbursts.

Although you have probably heard of the "terrible twos," there are, in fact, only intermittent periods of difficulty. The interval between 18 and 21 months often brings temper tantrums and defiance, but these behaviors usually subside by the second birthday. Then, starting at roughly 2 1/2, your child may enter a period of extremes. Some days, she'll be sunny and helpful. At other times, temper tantrums, whining, and defiance will prevail. The situation usually worsens with fatigue or a change in your child's daily or nightly routine.

What's behind these dramatic mood swings? Most outbursts result from sheer frustration. Increasingly, your 2-year-old feels a powerful need to be independent. But in most situations, she's unable to control her environment or be self-reliant, and she lacks the reasoning ability to come to terms with the situation.

After all, why should she have to go to bed when you tell her to? She can't yet understand most cause-and-effect relationships, such as the fact that a lack of sleep will make her tired.
Your 2-year-old doesn't win high marks for keeping her feelings in check, either. She truly is an open book, and that is part of her charm. Is she happy? Everyone around her will know it as she spreads good cheer. Is she less than pleased? That's plain to those witnessing tears or a tantrum. At this stage, though progressing in the right direction, she still lacks mastery over her emotions.

Instead of viewing a 2-year-old as "terrible," then, rejoice in the fact that all the frenetic energy, defiance, and self-preoccupation that come at this age are part of normal, healthy development. Arm yourself with the tools of the toddler-parenting trade: a well-developed sense of humor, patience, an abundance of love and reassurance, firmness as needed, and, above all, consistency. And remember, the most effective way a toddler learns rules is by breaking them, so her attempts to defy you can actually afford you many opportunities to teach. The best lesson you can impart at these times is to help your child understand that her actions have consequences, that she can be effective in her behavior. Have patience and be consistent, and soon she'll come to differentiate the good consequences from the bad.

For more information about the "Terrible Twos" and parenting toddlers
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