Two and a Half Year Old Terror: That’s My Kid
So when your extended family all get together over the holidays and one little person is screaming in the bathroom with you on the other side of the door keeping it shut, what do you do? Oh, that’s me and my two and a half year old. It’s time to talk about little-person-induced-trauma around here again. I have a whole series on tantrums & toddler behavior viewable on the bottom of home page, here. But really, what do you do when your smart, sweet, adorable, intense, intelligent, and very headstrong little child is seemingly out of control?
1) How did we get here?
First, a little background on SuperBoy’s development towards this behavioral cliff, you might call it. He’s a bright child with a highly developed sense of language and comprehension. Am I biased? Sure, but I don’t say this to brag. I mean, he talks a ton and seems to understand a half ton. So when he corrects us, or insists on something, or has to have it his way, I’m often just bemused by how aptly he can articulate his position. Or how brilliantly he can negotiate. Or how splendidly he can wield concepts and words to get what he wants.
Lots of yeses, lots of negotiating, and few hard & fast nos. Lots of talking talking talking. Lots of attempts at reason (I know! I know! Don’t try to reason with a 2 and a half year old! Rule 1 of parenting a little person!). Lots of not following through on my part regarding things that will be “taken away” or privileges “lost.” Maybe these are terms better suited for the older, more emotionally developed child.
2) What does ‘here’ look like?
It looks like at least one massive meltdown almost every day, lasting anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours. The meltdown includes screaming the word ‘no’ while crying, jumping up and down and down and up, pushing me, insisting I leave whatever room we are in, insisting I stay, insisting he has to go to the bathroom, insisting he won’t go to the bathroom, sometimes hitting, and always ending because he is seemingly worn out. Nothing I say, do, don’t do, threaten to do seems to help.
It can begin with something as simple as, “SuperBoy, please don’t swing that bat near your sister’s head.” The pattern appears to be when he doesn’t get what he wants or doesn’t get to do what he wants to do. Sometimes there’s protracted whining ahead of the actual meltdown; sometimes it just flares up.
Spanking or the threat thereof, nope. Just makes it worse.
Talking in hopes of assisting him calm himself down, nope. Talking about okay things to do with your anger (like hit your angry pillow), or saying feelings are okay, but you still have to be respectful, nope.
Holding him in my arms, nope. He wants to get away, hard.
Raising my voice and explaining consequences, or offering a bait & switch, or bribery, nope.
Avoiding too many instances wherein he has to follow directions (not asking him to do or refrain from hardly anything), nope.
At first I thought this was developmentally normal, but has it has become a daily issue, and a serious one the stronger and bigger he gets with a little sister in harm’s way, I now think we have to do something completely different if we want to help him internalize his sense of self-control. He appears to not be able to accept when things don’t go his way.
3) The plan moving forward.
We want him to learn to deal with not getting his way. So that means allowing the opportunities for meltdowns and then simply putting him in his room and not allowing him to play or be with us, for a longer period of time than the 5 minutes I’ve been doing.
I say, “No. I understand you want X, but not right now.” or I say, “No. We don’t do X for Y reason.”
He begins the melting process.
I say, “Time out upstairs.”
He either stops melting and gets to stay with us, or he continues and goes upstairs to his room. If he’s half-way whining, I will ask if I hear a whine. He usually stops whining then. Depending on how bad it gets, he may have to go up to his room.
I struggle with wanting to give him emotional leeway while teaching him that self restraint is important. It’s okay to be angry (normal and healthy), disappointed, and frustrated. It’s not okay to hit, whine, tantrum, or scream no at the top of your frenzied lungs. Wish me luck! Share any advice you have. I need it!
My favorite book – Magic One Two Three. Here’s what I took away as the basic pretense. We, parents, spend too much time explaining. Kids are pretty aware of what is right/wrong. You start with one or two behaviors. “Please stop swinging the bat near your sister’s head. Its dangerous.” Crying, negotiations, etc begin. “That’s a one. At three you go on timeout.” Crying continues. “That’s a two.” Tantrum continues – don’t wait too long. “Oh, that’s a three. Please go to the stairs for X minutes.” One Two Three recommends year/age. Then, after timeout is served – start coutning once on stairs, not once you say 3. “Your timeout is up – you are welcome to join us again!” No talking, no explaining. Once you’ve said it is dangerous, that’s all you need to say. We use the timer on the stove. Once timeout served, they are back – no talking. Again, the premise is they know what they did is wrong. Our kids HATE it. Which to me, means it works. Even at 9 and 6 they go to the stairs at three and it is less and less that we get to three.
This is so helpful!!! Thank you. I really don’t want to constantly negotiate with a small dictator. I really appreciate the resource. And knowing that this actually works in real life.
Oy. I am very afraid that you have just described my future. Luckily we are not there yet. But I have read “The Happiest Toddler on the Block,” which advocates, among lots of other things, reflecting back a bit of your caveman child’s strong feelings to SHOW him, not tell him, that you understand what he feels. The book has lots of other little suggestions for derailing annoying behaviors and exercising patience and focus. It advocates a very quick, no discussion timeout policy for the absolute no nos (much like the book mentioned in the comment above).
No idea whether any of this works, but I am hopeful since I’m pretty sure my headstrong little guy will soon be a terrible two exactly like you describe!
I did read it! The Caveman talk didn’t work with SuperBoy. It actually increased his freaking-out-ed-ness. I do utilize the suggested talking about the child in the third person part–and heading off a tantrum at the pass with humor. It’s definitely worth checking out, and I appreciate you bringing it up again because now I’m going to go and re-read it!
Something that has to happen inevitably is that the child needs to know the pecking order of the household and where he resides on the totem pole. Who is the Big Boss? Who are the Little Bosses? And how much power does he wield in collaboration with everyone else? And I believe in my house that I’m the benign dictator, with AA as my co-dictator. This isn’t a representative republic, nor a democracy. Poor SuperBoy.
Kate wrote exactly what I was going to say! We are not there yet, I expect it will be bad when we get there (L has always been demanding), but have heard good things about that book. Good to have a different point of view on that, though, Nell. I haven’t read much of it yet, so we’ll have to wait and see how it works for us.
Something else that came to mind: I have heard the theory a few times that all kids (and all people) are either increasers or decreasers. As kids this means they either release tension by crying (or, in my budding experience, fussing, throwing a fit, etc.), or decrease it by crying. Figuring this out was a big breakthrough for us with sleep because Lydia is definitely an increaser, but a lot of sleep training assumes (and hence in my opinion works best for) decreasers. Anyway, my first thought as I read your post was that it sounds like SuperBoy might be an increaser (or at least he is in this aspect of his life), so maybe just something to keep in the back of your mind when trying different methods. They might be better suited for one type or the other. And if he is an increaser, then figuring out how to stop the escalation (and eventually teach him how to do this himself). Right now the only thing that works with L when she is in total meltown mode is distraction, but we aren’t at a stage where we can do much else (14 months). We just have to do something to break her focus on her distress since she seems unable to do so. I can only imagine how this will change as the months pass. In a way I suppose this is like ignoring, so that makes me think that isolation / going to his room, might work??
Continuing my disclaimer that I have zero experience with this yet (I have just been collecting information as I expect I will need it in the near future) … I have heard the book Raising Your Spirited Child highly recommended for children with difficult temperaments. Now I’m not saying that SuperBoy has a difficult temperament, but I think the point of the book is to identify your child’s temperament (the innate/fixed components of personality) and tailor your parenting to take those into account, with the eventual goal of helping your child grow into being able to compensate and manage those parts of their personality. It’s also positive rather than negative (hence “spirited” instead of “difficult”). No idea if that would be helpful, but I was just thinking about it since you’re finding that other methods aren’t necessarily working for him, so maybe something more personalized would help. I think the book The Child Whisperer works on the same principle, though all I know of that is from the author’s blog posts (and she is not the same author as the Baby Whisperer, which I did not particularly like).
This concept of increasers and decreasers is fascinating to me. That is definitely a good description of SuperBoy. If I escalate, he does too. Not a helpful parenting technique for us!
I’m going to check out your suggested reads–and do think that he’s highly spirited 🙂 No offense taken there! I also was not a fan of the Baby Whisperer–but will take a peek at the Child Whisperer. What wonderful suggestions you all have!!
This was where I read about increasers/decreasers: http://www.askmoxie.org/2011/01/tension-increasers.html There are some valid points in some of the first comments that there’s probably more going on, but I still like it as a general concept and it seems to fit for us.
Ah yes, I so know how that goes! Have you ever read Parenting with Love and Logic? I haven’t read it yet, but it is on its way from Amazon. I’ve heard it’s a great one. Two and a half is an especially hard age. This too shall pass :).
Helpful! Will totally check this book out too! Thanks for the comforting words. Whew. Man!
Sometimes margaritas help me…
Really though; thank you for being so articulate and honest. It truly does take a village. If only we lived in the same city!
No kidding!! hahaha