More than just active?

Developing independance
The second phase of childhood is that of toddlerhood. During this stage of development, the important task which the child needs to deal with is to become more independent – to begin the real journey on the path of separating from his parents... which takes until young adulthood to finally accomplish. The way in which the toddler achieves this is to manifest all those behaviours which are typical of the "Terrible Twos."

Toddlers begin to know what they want, they realise that by saying "no" they can assert their own wills, they begin to feel the need to rebel against what the powerful people (usually parents) in their lives need them to do.

They do not yet have the power to think logically or abstractly – therefore they cannot think ahead in order to plan and predict the consequences of their immature behaviour. Even though Mom or Dad were upset when they had a "melt down" in the Supermarket last weekend, if they cannot have what they demand this weekend, they will have another huge emotional outburst.

They do not yet have a developed conscience, so are not budding sociopaths when they seem not to carefor your stress and embarrassment. They are still egocentric and believe that they are the centre of the Universe – everything begins and ends with them! For this reason they are unable to share. In fact, their special toys and other belongings become the objects of their security.

Those toddlers who are blessed with the easier temperaments will often be more willing to share and less vehement about not letting their special things out of their sight. But those who are more possessive and demanding, will, in all likelihood, not be ready to let go. They will just take longer to learn this difficult skill.

Toddlers regress – one day being able to dress themselves, the next wanting to be dressed like a baby. And toddlers have temper tantrums! We can look at this behaviour as the little person's emotional blown fuse. They have feelings – often strong, negative feelings, but they do not yet have the life-skills to express these. Their unacceptable behaviour is the only way they know how to let the important people in their lives know how they feel.

What does all this mean for the stressed parents of these little "tyrants"?
  1. We need to have realistic expectations. In other words, we need to develop a positive mindset regarding toddler behaviour. Many adults expect far to much from the 2 – 3 year old.
  2. We need to understand that this little person is doing what a person his age has to do. He is not trying to ruin your life and he will not turn out to be a delinquent when he is 16.
  3. The crucial aspect is for his parents to learn management skills – to develop strategies aimed at chanelling and containing the unacceptable behaviour.(If we do not provide the skills necessary for his healthy personality development, he may become a very difficult teenager!)
  4. For all these reasons it is vital that parents develop effective discipline strategies at this stage.
  5. It makes no sense to smack and shout at a toddler – when we are trying to teach her not to behave in this way towards other children. Meeting aggression with aggression will not help your toddler to learn more effective ways to behave. It is for this reason that, at this stage, it is imperative to take a long, hard look at our attitudes towards discipline.
What can be done?
Many entrenched behaviour problems begin to develop at this stage – mainly because parents adopt ineffective methods of control. We perpetuate those parenting practices form those "good, old days". We tell others that the smacks and hidings that we were given as children did us no harm. We are influenced by parents and parents-in-law – who criticise and give advice about how we need to take control before our children become uncontrollable.

At the toddler stage, we need to ensure that we understand that as parents we need to:

  • Provide safe, clear, consistent limits and boundaries, but that these need not be punitive.
  • Give age-appropriate choices. Absolute orders only exacerbate the power struggles.
  • Have few "nos" – but make them stick!
  • Allow the feeling while limiting the behaviour.

Most importantly, look after yourselves – make adult time as well as "Me – time"- this toddler stage is possibly the most draining and stressful time in your child's life – you will only be able to survive if you fill those emotional and physical tanks from time to time.
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