“Terrible twos”; as children grow up they become more opinionated, and explorative – what children are doing is learning about their world. Every experience develops the child’s skills, knowledge, and ultimately their brain. As parents we want to encourage healthy exploration and learning while keeping our children safe. Positive parenting approach encourages parents to support the learning of skills while teaching appropriate social behaviors and expectations. Remember – your child learns through experiences, allow exploration while teaching boundaries:
1. Keep your child active with plenty of outdoor play time every day!
2. Ignore behavior that is boisterous and energetic but is not harmful.
3. Praise your child for good behavior as often as possible during the day, be specific (i.e. NOT “good boy” rather “thank you for being patient when I was on the phone” + hug, kiss…) you cannot praise your child too much!!! Everyone wants to repeat a behavior they are praised for (when your spouse compliments the cloths you are wearing you are much likelier to wear them again).
4. Give your child one on one time every day doing an activity your child enjoys and if possible chooses himself. This can be as short as 5 minutes or as long as your child shows interest.
5. Have home rules (no hitting, no climbing on table) – when your child engages in a behavior that is against home rules give a warning (“hitting is not allowed. If you hit again you will have to have a time out”). If he does it again remove him from the situation and sit him down next to you to “cool down”. Once child calms down ask “are you ready to go back to play?” play resumes with no further sanctions. No need for lectures; short simple explanation is all that is needed (“hitting is not allowed”).
6. Stay calm! If you become emotional, you will not be able to control the situation. You may need to ask another adult for help, or use the “time out” moment to hug your child and calm down together.
7. Not having the words to express feelings, young children will behave badly because they are hungry, tired, angry, frustrated, afraid… so first evaluate WHY the child is behaving this way, then provide what they need (food, nap, hug for reassurance, assistance with toy…). They are not being “bad” to annoy you – they have a need they cannot fulfill by themselves.
8. Prepare children to what will happen – for example “We are going to the doctor. I am bringing your special toy and expect you to play quietly while I talk to the doctor”… and of course praise when the child behaves the way you asked…
9. Anticipate and be prepared to avoid meltdowns – have a snack, a toy, a drink, clean diaper and wipes.
10. If you know you will be going to a doctor’s appointment, place of worship, or any place where your child is required to be quiet, plan ahead; before the appointment take your child to a park or an outside area where they can run and be physically active. Bring toys with you that you know will entertain your child.
11. Routines – by creating routines you provide your child with a consistent knowledge of what to expect. This allows your child to feel secure in his world and reduces behavioral difficulties. Routines mean that certain activities happen in the same sequence (dinner, bath, reading books, hugging, sleep).
12. Be consistent – Always respond in the same way to the same behavior. If one day a child is allowed to climb on the kitchen counter and the next day he is not allowed this will create confusion. You have to respond consistently even if you are in the supermarket or talking on the phone. Excuse yourself (you can pick up your child and walk outside) and address the behavior.
13. Limit TV time and offer prosocial and educational programming (watching or engaging in aggressive behavior encourages that behavior – Christakis, D. A., Garrison, M. M., Herrenkohl, T., Haggerty, K., Rivara, F. P., Zhou, C., & Liekweg, K. (2013). Modifying media content for preschool children: A randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics, 131(3), 431-438.0). The American Association of Pediatricians recommend no screen time for children younger than 2 years old (https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/Pages/Media-and-Children.aspx?rf=32524&nfstatus=401&nftoken=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000&nfstatusdescription=ERROR%3a+No+local+token).
Compiled by Sara Torten MS, OTR/L