Chapter 5 Helping Them to Be Good
My daughter Heather is the mother of four boys and runs a licensed home day care. When I asked for her view of twos and their frustrations she wrote:
“I think people forget to baby two year olds because of all the changes that come with being Two. No more bottles/nursing, no more crib, no more being spoon fed, a lot less being carried around... on top of that two year olds WANT to do everything themselves. They want to open and close all the doors, throw away the diaper, hold the toothbrush (theirs and mom's), carry heavy things, and basically take over or imitate any task that mom or dad is doing. The combination of those two things seem to make adults forget that just months before they were thinking of and treating the 2 year old completely different. Adults try to anticipate a baby's hunger and sleep needs, and they hold, cuddle, talk to and "help" babies all day long. I notice a lot of parents trying to make the two year old communicate those needs all the time, instead of anticipating them, and just freely giving drinks, food, and down time.”
She summed up the predicament that two-year-olds find themselves in:
“Babies have all their needs anticipated and met - preschoolers can communicate clearly and in an acceptable manner - but poor two year olds aren't having all needs anticipated, and also can't communicate effectively.”
In other words, we bring a lot of unneeded frustration into the life of the child. They can do so much. So, outwardly we see them as capable, but inwardly they are still in many ways babylike. Just as teens in the transition from childhood to adulthood are not really adults or children, the two-year-old stage is the transition from baby to child. Maybe this has something to do with why parents generally find these two stages to be the most challenging.
Don’t say “NO” unless you mean it!
I know - you want me to tell you how to control the child. But, I know two year olds, and I try not to expect more than they can deliver. I’ve seen parents whose thinking process seems to go something like this: “Okay! She can walk and talk – now I can treat her like a seven year old. I’ll tell her what to do and make her obey.” That’s just not realistic. Obviously, there are times when the child must obey. So, I’ll get right to the point. If you tell a child to do something, or not to do something – in the form of a direct command - be prepared to make it happen.
Not too long ago my grandson, Joseph, was playing with the buttons on the T.V. I told him to stop, but he didn’t stop immediately, so I got up and moved him away from it if. It took a couple tries before we were able to get him interested in something else. It would be foolish to punish a two-year-old for this type of infraction.
Punishing a child for acting his age usually has unintended consequences, such as:
• They learn to ignore the punishment because it becomes such a regular part of daily life.
• They may become confused, not connecting their action with your re-action.
• Constantly stopped from showing curiosity, they can lose their love of learning.
• You can lose your ability to be consistent.
Years before many of us knew anything about brain development, I would tell other parents to “just keep getting up and making them obey. Be consistent, and eventually they will figure out that if you say something, they will end up doing it, and they’ll realize that they may as well obey on their own” and I always added: “they’ll figure it out about the time they turn three.” It is also clear that if you aren’t consistent when they are two, they still won’t do what you ask when they are three (or four, or five . . . ).
If you say “no” more often than it is truly necessary then all this consistency can get real old real quick. Since you don’t want to ever give up and just let the child do what you told him not to –
PICK YOUR BATTLES CAREFULLY.
• Before you give an order, ask yourself: “Am I willing to do whatever it takes to make sure this happens?”
• Have as few “no’s” as possible.
• Ask yourself “what’s it gonna hurt?” when deciding whether to create or remove rules.
• Focus on the serious issues.
Obviously it’s hard to be consistent when you have lots of rules and lots of nos. On the subject of making rules for your kids, my husband says: “decide which mountain you want to die on” (he’s also a retired US Air Force chief master sergeant). In other words, just as a company of soldiers shouldn’t try to defend, or to take, territory that they are not ready to fight for to the end, you shouldn’t start trying to get a child to do something that you aren’t willing to carry though with no matter how much the child tries to resist. (Yes, this is a pretty radical example, but I really want to get through to you on this issue!) Oh, and the “pick your battles carefully” was one of my husband’s sayings too.
We all know that:
following through, and
doing what you say
are basics of child training, but too many rules or no-nos make following through every time into an unrealistic goal. When you keep it simple, being consistent becomes possible.
Giving commands and getting obedience
Often we need to get a child to stop what he is doing, put down what he’s holding, change his behavior, or you are going someplace where certain behavior is required (quiet, walking only, keeping hands in pockets, holding your hand . . .) These are basic skills needed for guiding and directing two year olds:
1. Make sure they understand – keep your words clear and simple
2. Prepare children for change – the two minute warning
3. Redirection – help them move on to a different activity
4. Show them how to behave – be an example to follow
5. Breathe deeply and slowly, stay calm (I’m serious)
I’m a real believer in taking the time and trouble to PREVENT discipline problems. Do these things and you will be working with your child’s nature, and not against it.
1. Make sure they understand: keep your words clear and simple
After you have done your best to tell them clearly what to do, ask them to tell you what you just said: “What will you do when I talk to the lady?” –“Sit. Read book.” If your child can’t tell you what you said – just do what language learners always ask for: repeat and speak more slowly. And once again, be sure to tell them what TO DO - rather than what NOT to do.
2. Prepare children for change: the two minute warning
Actually, it’s more of a five minute warning: “We are going to leave soon. You can play five more minutes,” followed in about five minutes by “We are leaving soon. Please help me pick up the toys – you can be my helper!” Better yet, give them something to help you carry out to the car. All too often, change surprises little children. They aren’t expecting it, and they have trouble adjusting, so give them a little warning – four or five minutes is enough. If it doesn’t work the first few times you try it, keep it up anyway – it may take time and experience for them to really see how it works (and how long minutes are). This little warning can save you from so many temper tantrums!
Charity’s two year old, Mimi, had been playing in her wading pool long enough. But for Mimi it was never long enough! So Charity was not looking forward to the battle to get her out. She was one of the first to read this book and decided to try one of my suggestions by preparing Mimi for change with a five minute warning, and redirecting her with another activity. She announced that in five minutes it would be time to get out of the pool and get dressed to go in the car to Grandma’s house. She asked her twelve year old to stay and watch Mimi for a few minutes while she got her purse. Returning to the backyard ready for the fight, she found Mimi out of the pool and towel dry, smiling and ready to get changed for the outing.
3. Redirection – help them move on to a different activity
One big key is to give them an alternate activity. When the child is doing something that (how can I put this) is a bad idea, begin by considering what it is that has captivated his interest then:
- think of something that might fulfill the same learning need,
- suggest it as though it is the most fun thing ever, and
- show them how it’s done.
Heather was at an outdoor party with other young families. A little two-year-old boy had spotted the pebbles covering the pathway and garden border and was tossing them on to the grass. His mother kept pleading with him to stop, as she explained the damage rocks can cause to lawn mowers, but he kept tossing rocks into the lawn. So Heather got down on his level and formed a little pile of rocks in the path, saying “let’s make some mountains!” He joined in and after a minute she went back to her conversation with the boy’s mom, as he happily and harmlessly made little pebble hills.
When you give a two year old an alternate activity, then the child must choose to either fight you and stubbornly keep doing what he’s doing, or give in to your suggestion. So be a person they can trust for fun. Like them, we also listen more carefully to some people than to others. If we think of someone as having good ideas, we will be more interested in what they have to say. To enjoy a two year old, you need to be the person they look to for help in following their drive to learn. It often helps if the activity is related to the one they are doing – it is much easier to make a small change in their behavior by giving them something to do that helps them satisfy their curiosity.
4. Show them how to behave – be an example to follow
The next chapter is all about how and why two year olds copy other people, and the amazing power of example. Notice how in the example above, Heather started doing what she wanted the little boy to do. Demonstrating exactly what you are asking them to do is such a great aid for the pre-verbal thinking style of twos.
5. Breathe slowly and deeply. Stay calm.
Be calm and confident. Confidence gives you an air of authority, and brings you respect.
Do Yourself a Favor - Simplify
Simplify your home a little. You can cut out so much stress and so many nos at home by putting easily damaged precious items out of reach, and better yet – out of sight.
Also, remember that those dangerous chemicals and sharp objects that you put out of reach when your little one was crawling and toddling around the house, may now be accessible to a resourceful two. Try to think and see your home through the eyes of a child who wants to see, touch, test, and generally play with everything possible. Get on your hands and knees and take a tour. Then do a little rearranging. Home should be a safe refuge for us all – with as few temptations, dangers, and conflicts as we can make it.
And then, when you are on the way to the house of someone with lots of breakable knickknacks, talk to them about the special way they must ask before touching anything there - and maybe give them a special little stuffed animal or other toy to hold, to help them keep their hands occupied in an acceptable way.
Why you may need to tell them ALMOST the same thing over and over
Two year olds can’t generalize well. In other words, if a situation is not EXACTLY the same, they may not see it as being the same at all. Perhaps you taught your daughter not to walk too close to your swing set when another child is swinging and you see her always watching – then you go to the park and she walks right in front of the swing. It is a totally different swing set. To us it is obvious. To a two year old it may not occur to them that it is even similar. In the same way they may not realize that sharing their truck or crayons follows the same rules as sharing their candy or dinosaurs. Try to imagine how the world might look with their limitations, and be ready to carefully explain almost the same thing again and again.