Learning from the Terrible Twos

The “terrible twos”: it’s a phrase that fills most parents with dread. This stage marks a parent’s first taste of what it’s going to be like from now on, now that our size and superior wit can only get us so far with our children.

My son Bennett has had some monumental meltdowns as a 2-year-old which left me feeling helpless. You hate to watch your child get red-faced and see his cheeks streaked with tears, and you hate feeling like there’s nothing you can do about it. In the end, every tantrum feels like the first one did: bewildering.

I have studied Bennett’s tantrums over the last several months and learned that they fall into one of two categories (not counting sleep deprivation). Limitation is one thing that sets Bennett off. There is little he dislikes more than being told “no.” The other thing that really gets to him is our inability to understand him. In both cases, frustration is the spark that lights the proverbial fuse.

That last part about frustration is really important. As pediatrician and national parenting expert Dr. Laura Jana explains, young children are experiencing budding independence, both physically and mentally. But their opinions develop faster than their vocabulary, so they’re left struggling to communicate what they want and how they feel – an understandably frustrating situation.

This insight is important for parents who are struggling to react to tantrums in a constructive way like I was. It’s actually the basis for one method of defusing tantrums that I’ve found very helpful.

As shown in this video, author and pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp suggests that parents mirror the frustration their child is exhibiting during a meltdown back to him, which helps him feel understood. Think of it as emotion validation, toddler-style. It may not fix things, but it helps me get Bennett back on solid ground emotionally.

I can’t wait for the day when I’ll be able to have a real conversation with Bennett. But until then, I’m glad I’ve figured out a way to practice positive parenting, speak his language and help him through the tough times of the terrible twos.

 

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