Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Terrible Two's: Are They or Aren't They?

boy kicking toysTwo-year-olds get all the buzz, but the truth is, tantrums and mayhem can strike at any age, for a variety of reasons. “Most toddlers begin testing limits shortly after their first birthday and continue until about age four,” says Ari Brown, M.D., author ofToddler 411.
So how did the Terrible Twos become such a pop-parenting phenomenon? “It's an old-fashioned idea and not supported by research,” says Alan Kazdin, Ph.D., director of the Parenting Center at Yale University. The term was coined in the 1950s, perhaps because so much pressure was put on families to be detergent-commercial perfect that the moment a child grew out of compliant infancy, moms were freaked out. But modern parents agree—every kid is different, and every year presents new joys and challenges. Read on for a fresh perspective on each stage.
Age 1
What's to Love: They can be wonderfully cuddly. And since many 1-year-olds haven't yet realized the power of the word “no” to antagonize you, they can often be more compliant than their 2- to 4-year-old sibs. Their distractible nature means you can get them to stop fiddling with the oven knob by giving them a pot and a spoon to bang with.
What's Tough About It: Establishing good sleep patterns is still a struggle throughout this year, as you drop the morning nap, lengthen the midday one, and solidify bedtime. All that snooze drama can make for an overtired, cranky kid. In addition, his limited vocabulary makes for misunderstandings. (He says “nana.” You put him on the phone with Nana Helen. He wanted a banana. Cue meltdown.)
How To Make the Most of It: They need about 13 hours of sleep (11 at night and 2 during the day), so try to make it happen, suggests Bronwyn Charlton, Ph.D., co-founder of SeedlingsGroup, a collective of child-development experts in New York City. Inadequate sleep stacks the deck against you: A tired toddler is a cranky toddler.
Age 2
What's to Love: There's no denying it—2-year-olds are stinking cute! Their curiosity about the world is infectious. And while they certainly get into trouble, their mishaps feel accidental, making them easier to forgive.
What's Tough Abour It: Two-year-olds are fully mobile. Translation: They're into everything. And that means this is the first time you've had to set limits (no climbing the bookcase, crossing the street, or picking up cigarette butts off the sidewalk). Your child has never heard “no” so many times in her short life—and she doesn't like it. To top it all off, 2-year-olds don't yet have the language to express feelings, so they resort to pitching fits. Their young brains can't handle extreme emotions without going a bit haywire.
How to Make The Most of It: Praise often: “You didn't throw any toys today! Great job!” When she blows her stack, ignore her, as long as she isn't hurting anyone. Yelling or attempts to subdue—even with affection—make tantrums last longer. Kazdin notes that a tantrum is a futile time for discipline. “Wait until your child is able to absorb what you say.”
Age 3
What's to Love: The reasoning skills that can make life with a 3-year-old trying also make it easier for him to understand why he has to wear sunscreen. And his ballooning vocabulary means no more misunderstandings. Plus, how cool is it that you're having a conversation with your kid?
What's Tough About It: “Research shows that age three is the peak of defiant behavior,” says Kazdin. You're more controlling (you have to be—he's a force of nature now!), but he wants autonomy desperately, which makes life a series of battles. And your child is up for it: That improved reasoning lets him enter into high-level negotiations (“I'll put on my pajamas now if you give me a piece of chocolate”).
How to Make the Most Out of It: If what he's doing—say, taking all the clothes out of his drawer—isn't hurting anyone, ignore him. “Behavior that gets no attention will go away,” promises Charlton. In nonnegotiable cases, carefully restrain your child or move him to another place.
Age 4
What's to Love: Your child's personality expresses itself more, so you'll know her triggers and what to do when something does set her off. And since she's likely in preschool now, you both get a break from each other. That makes a big difference in your energy and patience.
What's Tough About It: Think age 3, but with an even larger vocabulary with which to slay you. Plus, 4-year-olds are navigating new social waters in the outside world, so they're more likely to act up at home.
How to Make the Most Of It: When she has a fit, stay calm. Afterward, ask “Can you think of something better to do next time?” Share your own tricks, too: “When I get upset, I like to close my eyes and take a deep breath.”
To read more and to take the quiz on terrific or terrible two's, click here:

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