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My survival guide for the terrible twos

Six tips from a mum on the frontline

Everybody knows about the terrible twos; we are warned, but we never quite understand until we are right in the middle of it.

It was my little girl who had the feisty gene; her tantrums were the stuff of legends. If she didn't want to do something, the whole world knew about it.

Once I made the mistake of refusing to buy her a piece of cheap, plastic tat in a shop. It was just a small pink butterfly badge. Not having it was the end of the world; cue a very loud, very public meltdown. She yelled for the full thirty minutes it took me to walk her home in the buggy. She was two-and-a-half years old, and I think I aged by the same amount trying to ignore the screams all the way back to the house!

This taught me the hard way that to get through the terrible twos meant that us mums had to be more resolute than our toddlers. Easy? Not a chance!

I resolved to stick to six simple rules for survival, and I use them even now.

Ignore it

Ignoring tantrums was the only way to get them to stop without creating another problem. I didn't want her to think they worked.

I had to turn my back, do something totally different, even move into a different room, or put her in one. I stepped back and left my little girl screaming blue murder. That meant she could burn out the tantrum safely, and I wasn't reacting to it.

Not easy to do, but very necessary.

Pick your battles

I only stood my ground when I needed to.

Did it matter that my daughter wore a princess costume to the shops? No, so I let her.

Did it matter that she held my hand when walking to those shops? Yes, so I made sure she did.

Only insist on the things that are really important to you, and them; particularly if their safety is involved.

Stick to your guns

If I said no, I meant it.

It might sound simple, but when there is a screaming two-year-old involved, it's not that easy. However, if you cave in, that two-year-old will know that screaming gets what they want.

That means the screaming won't stop. And we don't want that.

Don't threaten if you can't follow through

"Hit me again, and we will leave your friend's house."

If I made a threat like this, then I kept my promise if she didn't keep her half of the bargain.

It's important to never make empty threats. If you do, your child will know that you aren't serious about the consequences of their actions.

Distract or head them off!

When your child is smaller, you can sometimes distract a tantrum before it starts by pointing out something bright, shiny and interesting:

"Look, there's the cat, doesn't he look funny playing with your doll!"

There was many a time I wish we'd had a pet earlier in my children's lives as they come in handy as a distraction technique.

In addition, if there are particular flash points in your toddler's life, then avoiding or being prepared for those events can help.

My kids took ages to go out. I would try and allow extra time to get ready, so we didn't wind each other up over it.

Observe your toddler; if particular things cause tension between you both, think ahead.

Show them by using pictures

Both my children react to new situations with trepidation, tantrums, and tears.

In their terrible twos, they also didn't seem to be able to understand some things without being shown them visually. I used visual clues to avoid the tears caused by this lack of understanding.

For example

  • Books to prepare them for a visit to the doctors
  • Videos to give them an idea of what flying to Austria would be like
  • Photos in a chart to help them understand who was looking after them across my working week
  • Reward charts to show them what behaviours I expected of them.

My children are now five and seven, and thanks to these principles, we've made it unscathed. Neither of them have tantrums any more; they cry of course, but that's just healthy, isn't it?

Tales of the Terrible TwosTales of the Terrible Twos

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