If you ever want to strike fear into even the bravest parent's heart, bring up the "terrible twos." Depending on who you ask (or, let's be real, the day of the week), parents are often quick to describe "two" as the best or the worst year. While it comes with bursts of personality, hilarious new language and funny quirks, two can also be rampant with fiery tantrums, unpredictable fits, and loads of stubborness and sass.
But while many parents dread the onslaught of two, family psychologist John Rosemund offers a new perspective: Two can be terrific. While we highly recommend giving his book Making the "Terrible" Twos Terrific! a full read, here's a quick synopsis. You know, in case you're busy dealing with a tantrum today.
The premiseAccording to Rosemund, the year between a child's first and second birthday is one of the primary "humps" of parenting. (Another one happens when your child becomes a teenager, but we'll leave that for another book review.) It's during this time that most parents transition from being primarily caretakers, responding to and often acquiescing to every one of their child's needs, to actually parenting, which often means saying "no." For the child, this is problematic. Whereas previously they felt they ruled the world (and particularly their mamas), they are now presented with a new dynamic: Those previously servantile parents are actually the ones in charge—and their marriage is actually the central relationship in the family. Naturally, your toddler has a few concerns.
Dr. Rosemund's tips revolve around taking a rational, measured approach to this understanding and educates parents how to hold their ground in a productive way that gets everyone over the "hump" and successfully into future parenting.Each chapter also ends with real parent questions and letters Rosemund has received, which can be incredibly comforting if you feel like you have the world's hardest baby.
Encouraging developmentOne of my favorite things about Rosemund's book is that all of his tips stem from an understanding of how the 2-year-old brain works (without getting hung up on specific milestones, which will be different for every child). For example, as your 2-year-old begins to develop a sense of "me," parents are encouraged to foster that sense of independence while also teaching their little one that independence still comes with boundaries. My favorite tip was the idea to create a childproofed home to encourage exploration. Once cabinets with dangerous materials are locked up, and easy-to-break items are put out of reach, most children can freely roam their space—without mom feeling like she has to hover over every activity or constantly tell her child "no, don't touch that!" He also encourages a lot of outdoor play, reading, limiting screen time and toys (especially anything overly electronic or that can only serve one purpose), and having regular conversations with your child.
Creative disciplineFor me, finding the right balance of discipline for my 2-year-old was one of the trickiest parts of navigating this parenting transition. I appreciated Rosemund's balanced approach, which centered on several basic principles. First, parents should stay emotionally level, rather than meeting their child on whatever heightened emotional plane they are on during a tantrum. Second, discipline is about establishing limits and teaching your child to tolerate frustration.
Third, you are reinforcing to the child that you are in control of his world, "and are thus capable of providing for and protecting him under any and all circumstances." Rosemund recommends concrete, concise words to explain and correct (for example, "get off the table" vs. a drawn-out explanation of what will happen if he doesn't).When a child misbehaves, Rosemund shies away from punishment, which is often inconsistent and leads to power struggles. Instead, he recommends that parents be emotionally proactive (expect occasional disobedience, so it doesn't rattle you when it happens), consistent responses, and waiting for "strategic opportunities." For example, waiting until your child wants something for herself to remind her that first, she must do what you asked.
Potty training + bed timesSince most parents are often embarking on what Rosemund calls the "adventures of the great white water chair," there's also a chapter on potty training in his book. The tips are similar to the rest of his parenting advice, advising parents to emotionally prepare beforehand, remain calm and confident throughout the process, and keep expectations realistic (the number one way to keep pressure off you and your toddler). Bedtime often proves to be another source of drama for parents of toddlers. Rosemund tackles everything from going to bed to staying there, focusing on how the parents' response has the biggest impact on a child's success. Namely, if you stay calm, odds are your child will get what she's supposed to do a lot quicker. I especially love his "five-minute method" for children who start to resist bedtime. Parents are advised to stick to the same bedtime routine every night, begin winding down for bed 30 minutes prior to bedtime, and then, after completing the bedtime ritual, promptly leave the room. If the child screams, the parent should wait five minutes, repeat the quick bedtime tuck-in (no more than a minute long), and then leave. They should repeat the five-minute rituals as long as needed—without adding in any extra fanfare that would encourage the child to keep it up. Typically the five minutes extend to ten, and then longer as the child tires of the same response over and over again. I've tried it, and it worked like a dream (no pun intended).
Aggressive behaviorFrom biting to hitting to just plain not wanting to share, toddlers have their share of aggressive moments. Fortunately, Rosemund has solutions for that too. Similar to his other advice, he continues to impress upon parents the importance of remaining calm and level-headed, providing simple, consistent rules to combat aggressive behavior and teach children to coexist with other even when not getting their way.