Dealing with Two Year Olds: How To Make Your Life Suck Less

From my experience with 2 year olds, you can expect a lot of “No” and “I don’t want to.” This is developmentally appropriate, although it makes your life suck. However, there are some things you can do to make your life suck less.

Pick your battles.
So she doesn’t get dressed, who cares. It’s not winter. So she doesn’t eat dinner, who cares. If she was hungry, she would eat. For your own sanity, you have to let some things slide. I suggest making a project for yourself: pick three things you commit to just stopping caring about, immediately, cold turkey. This could mean saying screw it to potty training and trying again in 6 months, or deciding that if she wants to put on her own shirt, you will let her do it, even if it takes 15 minutes (start her earlier or buy her some easier shirts). Pick three and write them down. Have your husband hold you accountable for letting these three things go. I bet he will like this idea, since most husbands think their wives are sweating the small stuff excessively.

I realize this idea may be hard for you to execute, and it’s something that I don’t find easy to do myself, but it really will help decrease your stress level and increase your feelings of closeness with your daughter throughout the day. Sometimes, especially with a first child, we feel that our entire identity as a “good” mom is determined by whether our kid behaves well. This is patently not the case. Some kids are strong willed, some aren’t, and it has little to do with what we do. The best we can do is

Use time outs judiciously.
If your child has done something you really want to emphasize that they should not do again,e.g. hit the baby, hit you, anything violent really, then send them to time out for 2 minutes. The time on the timer starts when they are sitting quietly, even if you want to put them back in time out a few times first (doesn’t sound like an issue with your child). Use 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2–12 to see how to best use time outs. Make sure to give them two warnings, unless they have done something that merits immediate removal to time out, like hitting. Example: “Mommy told you not to take off your diaper. That’s one for time out, that’s two for time out, and that is…. three and here we go into time out.” And when they come out, “You went into time out for not listening when Mommy told you not to take off your diaper. Next time, please do not do that.” If she does it again right away, back into time out.

Ignore tantrums.
They are not going to kill themselves and if they start to bang their heads or something, oh well. You only have to knock your head one time before you realize that’s a painful thing to do. I see a lot of people held hostage by their kid starting to do something that scares them, e.g. head banging, vomiting. All this teaches a kid to do is bang their head to get their way. I don’t mean they maliciously do this, I mean that behaviorally, this is what they are learning. If they are doing something really unsafe then grab them until they calm down and put back in time out.

Lots of rewards.
I am a fan of jellybeans. Use up to 3 times a day or it loses its appeal. Rewards should be for listening. I like to reward things that you don’t hope they learn to value intrinsically. Eg, no reward for “sharing” or “being nice” or reading when they are older. Rewards, like in later life on the job, should be for following directions, e.g. “I need you to be quiet. If you can play by yourself till the timer hits 5 minutes, you will get a jelly bean.” Another reward that can be used all the time is Special Time with Mommy. This is when you play with them however they want for ten minutes, no instructions, questions, or directions, just narrating how they play and how you play. “Look at the red car, you’re pushing it around the doll. Here I am moving the blue car. Zoom!” So it would be, “if you stop shrieking in the restaurant, we will do special time with mommy as soon as we get home.” This is better for an older two. For a younger two, you can reward with a sticker right at the table. Carry stickers in the diaper bag.

Try to validate your child’s perspective
When they start getting irritated, cranky, upset, etc. try to validate your child’s perspective so it doesn’t escalate. Then try an alternative solution. E.g. “I see you’re upset we have to go home soon. You were having fun. How about I give you five minutes on the clock? Let’s set my phone timer.” (If she still screams when you’re leaving, just pick her up and go.)

Try to keep them from getting overly tired or hungry.
Nap schedules should be paramount, especially for your sake since you have another baby. Kids should eat at least every few hours, a hearty snack with protein and fat, not just some crackers. Let them eat in the carseat, this is a great way to kill two birds and their mouths will be too full to annoy you while you’re driving.

Try to find the humor in the meltdowns.
Easier said than done obviously, and I do not mean you should ever laugh at your child, which is crazy-making for them, but try to think of who would appreciate this story and think of how you’ll phrase it. You can post it on this blog!

If that doesn’t work, try to dissociate and think of something else while you go on automatic pilot and wait out the tantrum.
Favorite topics of mine: where I want to travel alone in five years, what I should wear tomorrow (answer: nothing particularly attractive since I haven’t shopped in years), what to make for dinner (answer: something my kids will criticize), how to guilt trip my husband for not having to deal with this shit all day- I mean how to be pleasant and loving on the phone with him.

Tell them you love them and catch them being good whenever you can.
Even for little things, like “I like how you stayed in the stroller without complaining.” Try not to say “good job” which is meaningless, but be specific about what they did and how it helped you. E.g. “when you stay in the stroller like that, mommy can get the shopping done quicker.” This may or may not help with discipline but at least it helps you and your child have a positive connection.

Remember, soon they will be three, and three sucks worse than two.
So, enjoy two while it lasts, grasshopper. And when your child turns three, refer to this.

May the force with with you, and till next time, I remain, The Blogapist Who Raised Two Two Year Olds and Isn’t Dead Yet.