Friday, January 08, 2010

You and Your Two-Year-Old: Who's in Charge, Exactly?

So I'm working with a lot of two-year-olds lately. Good times for me, right? Right! The thing about age two is that it is terribly delightful and terribly troublesome. They're fully mobile. They say words. They seem to understand what you say most of the time, and also are forming their own opinions. They have also figured out that they have opinions about things, and now that they can voice those opinions, they think that surely they will be taken seriously. Oh. NO. We're doooooomed!

I think two is a hard age for both kids and parents, and a lot of this has to do with the child's emerging preferences coupled with their new ability to voice them. It's a confusing age for kids because they are trying to figure out when they are in charge and when they're not. The simple answer to this is: never. They are never in charge. At this point you're probably wondering what kind of military state I'm suggesting you run in your home, but hear me out here. I'm not saying that you should never give your child choices or that they should not be allowed to do anything fun. What I am saying is that your child has been on the planet for a very short time, and they need a lot of guidance. Thus, you are always in charge. ALWAYS!! I put that in caps, italics, and bold for a reason. It's for your good and your child's good and the good of anyone who is tired out by incessant whining.

Developmentally speaking, your child is making huge leaps, but their brains still operate fairly simply. Their level of reasoning is mostly limited to cause and effect. If I do A, B happens. If I do C, D happens. If you start messing with the outcomes of cause and effect, it gets very confusing. This is why, at this age, you always need to follow through with what you say will happen. I know a lot of parents that say that some battles aren't worth fighting, so they just give in in those cases. This makes sense to the adult mind because we can differentiate between different types of situations. But to a child, all they know is that sometimes you give in to whining or tantrums, and other times you don't. You may pick your battles, but choose them ahead of time, and if you are parenting with someone else, be sure you're on the same page. In order for your child to understand that you say what you mean, you need to follow through every time. Children react well to structure and boundaries. They feel safer and happier knowing what is expected of them and being able to do it.

When it comes to offering choices, it's best to start with things like what drink to have or which toy to play with. Remember, you're in charge, so you get to choose when and what choices are offered. Limit the choices to the number of years old your child is. So if your child is two, he or she gets two items to choose from. If he or she is misbehaving, the choices are "Do as I ask" or "go to time out" (or whatever your consequence is). When the child makes a good choice, tell them so by simply saying, "Good choice!" Also, practice times when there aren't choices. From the earliest age, you are teaching your child to approach life. Sometimes there's only one choice, and it's not your favorite. For a small child to learn this is to give him or her a head start. Similarly, to teach a child that someone else is in charge is also appropriate. Of course we all end up having choices as adults but for the everyone, there are situations in which someone else is in charge, whether it be at work or at a recreational event or while traveling, etc. This is the natural order of things, and to introduce your young child to it as a good and appropriate part of life is ultimately doing him or her a favor.

There are a lot of struggles that you will ultimately have with your child, but I think you'll find that if you're consistent in doing what you say and offering age appropriate choices and consequences, you'll find that your home is both happier and more peaceful. Of course, you can always chuck my advice right out the window and have your child turn out just fine, but if you could use a tool to help with the whining, there it is. You're welcome.

Next time I'm up for offering advice, which will possibly be tomorrow: Avoiding Food Struggles

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