EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT: How to turn your child’s ‘terrible twos’ into the ‘terrific twos’

EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT: How to turn your child’s ‘terrible twos’ into the ‘terrific twos’

The ‘terrible twos’. The ‘threenager’. We have heard those terms tossed around, children are given these labels as they seemingly cry over nothing or have unexpected mood shifts. You may wonder, What is really going on here? Children around the age of two begin to go through some major changes - in motor abilities, emotional and social changes, as well as intellectual changes (Read more 5 major areas of child development). Children often can understand more than they can express - imagine how frustrating it must be to want to say so much but not know how? Not to mention children at this age still rely on their parents for most things but crave independence. These major changes and frustrations are what lead to these so-called ‘meltdowns’ or ‘tantrums’ which are, simply put, an attempt to communicate. Yet, this age can be the most beautiful time to watch your child become an individual, this time really can be the age of the ‘terrific twos’ with a little more understanding and guidance from the adults around your child.

And so, today I want to share a story with you about Astrid’s emotional development because the way I handle these big emotions can be used in many situations- not just when potty training as in my story.

Astrid began potty training when she was sixteen months old. At twelve months she had a small potty in the bathroom and over the next four months, she gradually became familiar with it and built positive experiences with her new tool. At sixteen months we said goodbye to diapers and potty training began. I must admit, I had very high expectations as she was so interested in toileting and would already run and get me her new diapers asking to be changed. I really thought, a few days of training and we will nail this! Well, it has been eight months since we started and while yes she is potty trained, the journey was much different than I expected. Giving up diapers is a big emotional change for some children. This is something that has been a constant part of their life from the day they were born - their diaper. Not to mention that for a child that has little control over their own life and body, choosing when and where to pee and poop is something they may want to control.

And so cue the meltdowns. When we were first potty training I would bring Astrid to the toilet about every hour to have a go on her little potty. She was usually up for it with a little encouragement and a book or two in hand. However, we had those meltdown moments for sure (who am I kidding, we STILL have those moments from time to time!). I would state calmly, ‘it’s time to go sit and pee’ and suddenly my cheery child would let out the biggest wail and quite literally melt to the floor (if you’ve never seen a meltdown you may wonder where that term comes from - once you’ve seen your child collapsing to the floor into a puddle, you get it). It can be shocking to see how quickly those big emotions emerge and seemingly from nowhere - it definitely left me speechless the first time. Being the adult and the parent, we may feel the need to exert our authority and make sure our child listens and follows the request. However, the way to go about it is best done without a screaming child. 

So here’s the trick, the secret to success. 

Recognize the emotion(s) and give a choice.

Often I start by repeating exactly what my daughter is saying to me (if she is saying words). That shows her I am listening to her. If your child is just screaming or making sounds that aren’t recognizable words you may say something like “I hear you crying.” Next, recognize the emotion or feeling of your child. I say something like “Oh, you look frustrated, you are screaming because you don’t want to go to the toilet right now?” Then give a choice. “Well, it’s time to go and try. You can either walk to the toilet, or mama can carry you like an airplane.” Or, “You can walk to the toilet by yourself, or you can walk holding my hand.”

At this point, you have connected with your child by showing them you are listening. Also very importantly, you have given your child back some of the power they may want - they can now make the choice about how to move their body to the toilet. You will be amazed at how quickly the crying and screaming ends as your child pops up off the floor and calmly says “I walk”. It is as though that meltdown never happened.

While this story illustrates just one scenario that may cause a meltdown in your child, the way it is handled can be used in most situations in which your child is having such big emotions. Remember that your child is in need of support during this moment, get down on their level and make that connection with them by letting them know you are listening. Then give back some of the control they so desire by letting your child make a choice - of course you must give two options that work for you too. At another time, once your child is calm you can talk about ways to handle those big emotions and how to communicate without screams. 

Enjoy this age of the terrific twos together as your little one develops their sense of curiosity and independence in such an exciting and lively way.


Written by,

Góc Montessori

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