Written by Caroline Meyer
Between the age of 2 and 4 things can get quite rough for parents. Little ones are starting to assert their independence and will be little rebels after the comparative ease of control in the years prior. Here are a few tips to help you survive this phase of development.
Avoid the screams. Your screams, not theirs. Yelling at a child can cause real psychological harm and may do nothing to curb the behaviour. Positive parenting will help improve on bad behaviours without the need for severe discipline or for increased stress in the situation for both parent and child. Label their behaviour. They can learn what words such as kindness, patience, anger and disappointment mean. These words can then be used to label behaviour and discussions can ensue on whether or not the behaviours are good or bad.
Stay attuned so that you understand your child’s needs. You put yourself in your child’s place and try to see why they are behaving badly. Make sure you are consistent in how you deal with bad behaviour. Stay calm, don’t punish when angry and don’t give warning after warning. After a second warning, there should be a consistent follow through with consequences for actions. Often, when you look at things from their perspective, you can resolve the conflict before it escalates to a time-out.
Make sure you spend enough time with them. Give them your full attention. It does not have to be for long. Look them in the eye, have a conversation with questions and answers and actually listen to your child. When you find they are demanding your attention often, give them some attention, then go back to what you were doing. Those few minutes of complete attention will often be enough to buy you some time to have a life before they want your full attention again. Hugs and snuggles are also important to little ones. Make sure you give plenty and tell them you love them. Especially after a time-out, this is crucial, so they know they are loved and it is the behaviour you don’t like, not them.
Distract them with something creative or physical. Children can act out due to many reasons. When you see potential for a negative behaviour such as the child starting to yell at a sibling, before it escalates to violence, distract them. Let them blow off steam playing outside or let them do a quiet activity such as colouring in. If you stay aware of triggers, you can often fend off bad behaviour before it escalates.
Notice the patterns. Most children will repeat bad behaviours. Do they scream in the car every day? Do they fight over breakfast? Most children will do the same thing again and again even if given a time-out. They use these behaviours to try and assert control. You need to give some control such as choices they can make that won’t be disruptive and this may help you as a parent gain back control. If they fight to get dressed every day, lay out 2 choices and let them choose the one they want to wear. If they refuse to eat whatever you serve for breakfast, let them choose between 2 types of food. This causes less hassle in the long run and everyone is happier.
Make sure the house rules are clear. For little ones, the rules should be simple and easy to understand. Don’t hurt other people, no yelling, listen to mum and dad, be kind to the cat etc. Go over the rules often and give them praise when they are able to follow the rules successfully every day. It is hard for a small child to be obedient and we have to teach them that it is a good thing. Reinforcement and praise when they do as they are told to instil the idea that being obedient is good. This can start from very young with simple things like getting them to clap hands when you say the words. Make sure you praise them if they try hard even though there will be times they lapse. Don’t go overboard though as this can have the opposite effect of what you are trying to achieve.
Be consistent in how you address behaviours. You cannot allow a behaviour on one day and punish for it on the next. Both parents have to buy in on how their child is raised and what rules and regulations apply so that they don’t play you off against each other to get their own way. Explain the rules and regulations and the method of behaviour correction to other people that they will be spending time with. This means that the rules stay consistent at grandparents and friends as well. If the child is at a pre-school during the day, find out what reward systems are in place there and bring it into your home as well so that the rewards stay the same for the child’s behaviour as well.
Loving, consistent parenting with lots of hugs and attention will help you to get through the terrible twos (and threes) to a potentially calmer, well behaved 4 year old. Remember to stay calm and take a time out for yourself sometimes as a reward (not a punishment).