Last summer I remember meeting up with another mum and her two-year old (my son would have been 1 1/2 at the time). We sat down for a chat and my friend had bought her daughter an ice lolly to eat. She peeled off the top and gave it to her. Her daughter started freaking out because she hadn't been able to peel the top off herself. Her mum positioned it back on so her daughter could then take it off herself but it was no use. There were tears, there was whining and general upset. Her mum dealt with the situation as best she could but her daughter was unconsolable. I remember thinking to myself, surely my son will never be like that when he's two.
Fast-forward seven or eight months and I can easily imagine the same scene unfolding with my son! The terrible twos or whatever you want to call it seems to have arrived. Suddenly we get big drama from the slightest, often unpredictable thing. Sometimes it obviously comes from frustration with a toy, an activity, or other children crowding his space or stealing his toy but sometimes, it's very random and unexpected. He'll be playing happily and seemingly enjoying himself and then there's an outburst!
My husband and I have been trying to encourage him to tell us what's wrong rather than simply making a loud noise about it. That works some of the time or at least makes him stop for a minute whilst he considers telling us. Other times, he couldn't care less about telling us and just wants to make a big scene. For a parent it's a challenging time. It's different to the general meltdown I've written about before. It's not tiredness/hunger related necessarily. Distraction doesn't always work. Sometimes you try all the usual tricks with no success and it can make you feel like you can't control your own child!
I'm no expert on dealing with this phase in a toddler's life but I've come up with a few techniques that I think can help when your child is acting like a drama queen and to minimise the times they act in that way:
Communication. Explain everything that's about to happen, plans for the morning / afternoon and instruct them if they are doing a new activity to try to make it go smoothly and avoid any frustrating difficulties they may have.
Give warnings. Warn them when something is about to end or you're about to leave rather than suddenly finishing a task abruptly or expecting them to happily leave a place where they are having fun. A couple of warnings is probably best, so if you need to head home for lunch from a friend's house or playgroup tell your child that it'll be time to go in five minutes and again when it's one minute away. Whilst they won't have any concept of the time, it's more about gentle reminders to prepare them for leaving.
Eye contact. If your child is in the middle of a meltdown, bend down to their level and encourage eye contact while you speak to them. It's a lot less intimidating that you speaking from up above.
Remain calm! This is perhaps the most challenging but speaking to your child calmly, rather than raising your voice or snapping at them is likely to be more effective in reasoning with them. Hopefully your calm demeanor will in turn encourage them to be calm.
Follow through. If you give your child an ultimatum as a consequence for their bad behaviour, don't be afraid to follow through with it. They need to understand that you have the upper hand and that there are certain types of behaviour that are not acceptable.
Be consistent. Allowing them to do something one day and not the next will be confusing and will cause upset. If you don't want your child to push buttons on the washing machine for example, then don't let them do it once and think it's ok. By being consistent in your responses and parenting methods, they learn what's allowed and what's not.
What else would you suggest? Did you find this stage challenging with your children? Dare I ask how long it lasted?!!