At times I would just stare at the clock and wonder why the day was going so slow. I had already dealt with five major meltdowns from my 2-year-old since my wife had left for work, and the baby wasn’t following her usual schedule either.
The “me” time I would spend in the morning at our local YMCA suddenly seemed impossible and I often knew that there would be days where I would never leave the house. Dealing with a child in the “terrible twos” is a daunting task. I would think to myself, “If only I can fast forward to the threes, then we will be out of the woods.”
Well, that wasn’t true either. I discovered that the term “threenager” was coined for a specific reason. The time between your child’s second and fourth birthdays are the most daunting for a stay-at-home parent because kids start to realize that they have some free will.
The terribles two and three is when your children will start to rebel. They may freak out because you cut up their sandwich wrong, the sippy cup you usually give them is the wrong color, or they really wanted pancakes and you gave them waffles instead. They will make you feel like the lowest of the low and they will get mad at you when they can’t tell you what they want because they think that you should be able to read their minds. This is the age when they often don’t have the words to explain what they want or are conflicted but can’t express themselves well.
Here is what you will need to:
Survive the terrible twos and threenagers in your life
Consequences need to be established that are appropriate for your child’s age. If you want to correct a behavior you need to set an expectation. The main thing is you MUST FOLLOW THROUGH with a consequence. Don’t threaten if you don’t think you will follow through. Don’t count to three. Make it immediately clear that whatever they are doing is not appropriate in your eyes.
If your child exhibits a bad behavior, give them a consequence like a time out. A time out of a minute for each year old your child is makes sense. Taking away their iPad time is only going to punish you later if you need quiet time. Follow through to the end and then release them.
If it happens again, go through the process all over again. It will take A LOT of patience to get this done. Don’t try to reason with them. They are young, immature and don’t understand. My son used to run to the street all the time regardless of me explaining that it was dangerous. Consistent time outs was the only thing that worked.
This goes for all things, but let’s stuck with consistent time outs. If they don’t follow your directions, put them on a step or chair that you deem a time-out chair. Tell them they have to stay in the chair one minute for every year old they are. Set a timer. If they get out, don’t engage with them, just quietly put them back until they stay. When the time is up, get down to their level, calmly explain why they were in a time out. Explain that they need to say they are sorry. Hug it out. Then they can go back to playing.
Kids need structure. Make a schedule that fits with your day. Make snack times consistent (there’s that word again), the amount of time spent watching TV, one on one activities outside, errands to the store, and nap times. If kids don’t want to sleep, tell them they must have quiet time in their room. If they end of playing alone quietly, they are learning that there will be some times where they will just need to be on their own. At this age, they usually don’t recognize other children in play anyway and are in their own worlds.
Overstimulation at night can lead to restless nights. What is happening right before bed? Are they watching TV? Are you reading books to them? We would watch one soothing show on PBS Sprout, then read three books every night. Toddlers need a routine. It’s the reason that pre-schools consistently do the same thing EVERY DAY until they get it. Stick to that routine as best you can everywhere you go, and they will sleep more soundly.
If you travel, keeping your routine is harder. Being away from home is difficult for everyone — even I have trouble sleeping in a strange bed. The noises are different. It doesn’t feel the same. But try to make it as similar as it is at home. When my kids were young, I would put soothing music on at bedtime to help them fall asleep. On the road, I would play it on my phone and just let it run until they fell asleep.
Many dads have a tendency to get angry. Hitting is NEVER the answer. If you grew up in a house where spanking and regular beatings were commonplace and you think that you turned out OK just know this: physical violence teaches them that when faced with adversity, lashing out is the only way to deal with it. At their young age, they don’t know what they want so cut them a break. It’s going to be so frustrating and you may want to go into a room and scream into a pillow often.
Be patient. I know it’s hard. I have three kids who are now 12, 10 and 6 and I’ve been a stay-at-home dad for the last 10 years. People who believe in beatings don’t realize that they are not only physically hurting their kids but potentially damaging them emotionally as well. In real life if you don’t do your job, people don’t beat you until you understand something. Consistent punishment in time outs, following through on behavioral consequences, and staying calm will teach your kids that it is okay to make mistakes and that you will love them through it all.