In North America and other Western cultures, it doesn’t even take being a parent to be familiar with the “terrible twos” – a period in which young children are prone to tantrums and defiance. Indeed, the concept is so ingrained in our culture that when toddlers reach the age of about 18 months, when the “terrible twos” commonly start, parents begin to feel the anxieties around all the terrible things they’ve read and heard about this stage, and they start expecting them—regardless of how their child is actually behaving!
But did you know that in other cultures around the world, the terrible twos don’t even exist? In certain parts of Africa, for example, babies make the transition from being held most of the time to being walking, more independent toddlers who can even explore things like spears without emotional dramas or bad behavior. In Denmark, there isn’t even a phrase like the “terrible twos.” Instead, the Danes refer to this period as the “Boundary Stage.” All of this offers insight into how, in other cultures, the perception about this stage of development is completely different.
It also emphasizes that the twos don’t have to be terrible. If you want to sail through the period that would have otherwise been known as the “terrible twos” with much less struggle and frustration, it’s important to know why kids around this age tend to act up, and how to best deal.
Why the “terrible twos” happen:
Here are a few reasons children starting at around age 18 months start exhibiting defiant behavior.
1. They’ve suddenly become mobile and vocal, and are now discovering that they have their own identity separate from their mother or primary caregiver. That’s some intense, life-changing stuff!
2. With all the changes they’re experiencing as they develop into more autonomous individuals, they often struggle with new freedoms and lose the sense of security they previously had.
3. They are experiencing intense emotions that they don’t yet know how to manage, and are easily overwhelmed.
4. This one’s the kicker: They’re often subject to activities and routines that don’t cater to their unique needs, but rather to ours. We adults tend to lead very busy lives, constantly going from one activity to another. Busy parents often have no choice but to take their young children along with them to places like the supermarket or post office. But these aren’t always the most appropriate settings for young children, especially at the times of day we generally visit them.
How to respond to defiant behavior or tantrums:
The most effective ways to respond to defiance is by staying calm and supporting our children through the behavior, while setting required limits. Here are more some tips:
1. Try to dedicate your daily activities to ones that suit your toddler and his or her stage of development. This might mean saving your grocery shopping and other errands to times when your child can be with another caretaker, and instead dedicating time to long walks with your child or to playing together at home.
2. Provide safe, appropriate options and allow your child to choose. This gives your child some power, but within limits. For example, you can offer your child the option to choose whether they get into their car seat alone, or you place them in.
3. Don’t try to stop the tantrum or punish the child for having one. Instead, speak to the child calmly about what you are observing, and tell her that you understand she is feeling frustrated, and you are available to help her when she is ready.
4. Remove them from the situation. Tantrums often happen because a child is tired or hungry. Removing the child from the situation, by going to a different room, for example, will often diffuse the meltdown and allow you to speak with your child about what he needs and how you can help him.
Have any other tips? Share them with our community in the comments below!