The Terrible Twos

Two-year-olds exasperate most adults. But with a few behavior management strategies, parents can take control.

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The "Terrible Twos" stage usually arises between the ages of 18 and 36 months. Although frustrating for parents, it's an important time: children make tremendous gains in motor, language, intellectual, and social skills. They also learn that parents are authority figures.

Whether the twos are terrible or terrific depends on how well you handle these typical problems:

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Tantrums

The blocks won't stack. The food falls off the spoon. It's tantrum time.

Tantrums are difficult to ignore and two-year-olds don't respond to reason. Spanking only makes things worse. So what can you do?

Give the child a "tantrum place" -- a special area for throwing tantrums. It can be an upholstered chair or any other safe, private place in the house. In a quiet moment, tell your child about the tantrum place: "Amy, when you want to throw a tantrum, sit here and scream. No one will bother you." When tantrums occur, simply say, "Let's go to your tantrum chair before the tantrum's all over." Take her to the chair and leave. After a few times she'll find that the thrill is gone.

The "I Won'ts"

You've told Mike to turn off the television when company comes. As the guests arrive, you ask him to move to the playroom. "No! I won't!" he screams. Your guests raise their eyebrows. You'd like to melt into the floor.

However maddening, the "I won'ts" express a child's need to establish identity and independence. When a two-year-old won't obey, you can assert authority by giving the child both verbal and physical directions. For example, if Mike won't budge from the television set, gently move him away. Then repeat your request and give him something to do: "Please move from the television. Sit here and I'll get you a toy."

Getting into Everything

Erin amuses herself with kitchen treasures: pots that shine, spoons that bang, and cans that roll. But she also loves the kitchen cleanser, and tries to taste it when you're not around.

The easiest way to manage exploring is to put harmful and costly items out of your child's grasp. By childproofing your home, the boundary between items the child can and can't touch is defined by the child's reach.

If your child enters forbidden territory anyway, don't say "don't." It sounds simple to adults, but because "don't" refers to the opposite of what's happening, the word usually confuses two-year-olds. When you say, "Don't climb on the table," they're likely to climb on the table, because those are the words they understand.

Instead, tell children what they should do: "Get down from the table." This positive approach will make life far more pleasant.

Aggression

Two twos can add up to trouble. When two's fight, no holds are barred, not even those applied with teeth.

Respond to conflict between two-year-olds by comforting both the aggressor and the victim. Each needs reassurance that the world is still safe. Then get involved in their play, showing them how to have fun without battles. Be a mediator, but don't pin blame for conflict on either child.

The Bedtime Blues

Bedtime can be bedlam. Two-year-olds refuse to go to bed, won't let you leave, and scream when you do.

Overcome resistance with a poster of the steps in getting ready for bed. Cut out pictures of children at bath-time, story-time, and bedtime. Arrange them in order on a poster. Explain it by saying "This is how kids go to bed."

At bedtime, refer to the pictures. When you get to the last one (a sleeping child), say, "Now it's time for parents to leave so children can sleep." Then go. If your child screams when you leave, take turns checking-in every 10 minutes. Walk casually into the room, provide reassurance and a kiss, and walk casually out. As your child starts to settle down, you can extend the time between checks. After a few nights, bedtime will begin losing the blues.

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