This is a special ‘by request’ post from a Mama who felt she needed extra support. Why I am telling you that? Because you need to know that you are not alone. Parenting isn’t an easy gig – but rest easy, you will find a way through it. You are just the right person to be parenting your little one all across their development stages and you and your little one are going to be ok xxx
Am I an expert on parenting or even on parenting 2 year olds? I wouldn’t say that I am, but I do feel that I have some valuable resources that I would feel are worth sharing and I am open to sharing what works for me. I am simply sharing those and my thoughts with you, what works for me along with the resources I have found useful. You need to decide what is right for you and your children and family. If you are short on time, please do scroll straight to the end of the post where you can bookmark my most valued links. Readings that resonate with me for parents needing support in gentle parenting of a 2 year old child.
It seems that everywhere I turn lately there is a desperate Mother I just want to hug who is pulling her hair out feeling at a loss with their 2 year old. Parents and the media talk a lot about this time and it really does seem to be common knowledge that 2 year old development can feel like some of the most challenging stuff. Most 2 year olds are doing the same thing, which is why we all acknowledge that 2 year old development can push our boundaries. They’re all doing the same thing because their behaviour is developmentally appropriate for that age. Despite that, it feels like we are being pushed to the end of our mental and emotional barriers and beyond at times.
When I speak with women about this time and about our worst moments in parenting, it is so so common for people to comment that their poor moments in parenting were more a reflection on our own needs as a mother and a woman not being met at that time rather than those moment being about the behaviour being in-ordinarily inappropriate. So please do consider in the mix that if you and your child are having a struggle right now, it is ok to think about how to better meet your needs at the same time as weighing up some new strategies for working together with your little one.
The underlying principle that I endeavor to embrace in parenting my children as babies, toddlers and as they continue to grow, is respect. While children are looking for guidance and modelling our behaviour, I believe it is incredibly important to show them that you can effectively guide another human being in a gentle way. I’m sharing what works for me, and not what doesn’t. Do I yell?: Sometimes. Am I unreasonable?: Sometimes. Would I recommend this to others?: Certainly not!
Strategies for parenting your 2 year old
Temper your expectations
A 2 year old has an immature pre frontal cortex: this means that their brain development still has a way to go to reach reliable impulse control and of course means a lot more too. Of course many adults [myself included] have trouble controlling impulses too; but the main consideration here is that punishment won’t create some instant leap in development to circumvent this lack of impulse control. People comment that they know their child is doing the wrong thing and I trust this reflection, however it is important to note the difference between recognising wrong from right and being able to control the impulse to do X thing anyway.
Consider context in the moment
Sometimes taking 2-3 seconds to wonder if your child is sleepy or hungry can help you to be able to react more productively to a child’s seemingly irrational behaviour. It also helps to consider whether they have been: for example it really isn’t realistic to expect a 2 year old so sit quietly and still in a near empty room for 30-45 minutes without wanting your interaction and attention or caring. If there are other factors preventing you from being able to respond or meet their needs, I also think it benefits everyone to.
Be aware of language
Simultaneously I share my verbal thoughts and feelings about this. I say calmly “I feel frustrated that you have thrown X on the floor. I really wish you would help me to tidy it up. That would be a kind thing to do.” Children learn through modelling and experience and when you interact with them, even in your most pressed moments – I can strongly advocate for being polite and avoiding name calling and offensive language as a strict rule. You will likely only see the child repeat the language to you in future exchanges once they begin to grasp modelling of your behaviour.
Separate your emotions from your reaction
Easier said than done right?! I can say it gets easier. You can teach yourself, and finding calm before you react becomes more and more of a habit. It feels good and you have less ‘raised-my-voice-and-felt-awful’ moments. Plus the communication with the children enhances and they model your good behaviour, and it all slowy grows into more peace. As an adult you likely have multiple sources for support, debriefing and encouragement through the emotions of parenting. In contrast your child likely has you as the primary source of support and leadership. If you create fear in situations of tension by yelling, hitting, name calling – you shut down their only support source. I am always working toward a balance of expressing my feelings about a situation to my children respectfully and providing them adequate guidance about poor decisions they might be making and how to handle that more appropriately in future. It might sound pure MENTAL to be suggesting you talk to your child in this way – but they are learning and hearing more than you realise.
Provide focus on the positive
I purposefully avoid use of the word no. I see so many children that have a heavy focus on the word and use it frequently and I believe that has a lot to do with the modelling mode of learning. Of course it just feels great to say “No!” and I’m sure this plays in the game too. It’s not that I don’t give negative responses – I just use short sentences that provide more direction for the child and are less overwhelming to them. I remember reading on the effect that positive reinforcement had and how asking for the behaviour you want is more this was more successful than bringing attention to the undesirable action itself. IE if you want your child to stop fidgeting I might say “Please sit calmly and quietly here with me.” I might say that same thing 2 or 3 times. If I see my child about to break something [intentionally or otherwise!] I would say “Stop! It is not okay to break X. Please come and show me X thing” or similar. We might then have a short discussion about what they were trying to achieve and how to go about it.
Set up positive experiences
I feel that this is as much for the parent as for the child. If your child is having a difficult time repeating a difficult choice of behaviour you can feel like nothing good ever happens in your world. In that instance I set up positive experiences where I know that my child will enjoy the positive energy we create. I do this just in generosity and because it fosters a good connection base from which to continuing discouraging the other undesirable decisions. For example if my child is constantly pulling toys out of a shelf and I am constantly saying “Please keep the toys on a shelf. Please take one toy at a time.” [I also express my feelings such as saying “I don’t feel good when you take those toys off the shelf again – I feel so frustrated.”] Then I might move to something I know that my child loves doing like building a puzzle and say “I really need help building this puzzle, do you think this is something you can help me with?”
Encourage them to express themselves
Once I have expressed myself I will also prompt my child to tell me how they are feeling. Often my 2 year old will come out with a massive explanation of the reasoning behind their behaviour when prompted with a question about their feelings, and seemingly all too often it is something completely logical that I can them promptly resolve. In the rare times when they are crying because of something I can’t change say, the laws of physics, gravity 😛 – I then give compassion and understanding. Everything an adult would want if they felt overwhelmed. It also feels crappy to behave poorly most of the time – you know how when you have a headache and you are snappy and know you are being snappy but just can’t control yourself?! I think about those moments in adulthood that I can recall and relate with when my child is crying on the floor and do what I can to circumvent my own feelings to help them get theirs out or receive compassion for their sadness.
When will they learn?
Would you find it annoying if I said that by the time we are adults, most of us act like adults? And even then not always easy to be with haha ;P As adults we also often we expect something from the kids that even as adults we don’t always deliver. Of course that is mostly a cheeky answer, and you will find that most parents say that by 3-3.5 their children have reached a more effective level of communication and processing, albeit not without also reaching new challenges and developmental leaps.
Whilst I would prefer that my children help me to clean up a mess they make or put away their toys, if they are not there yet – they still learn from the value I place on this and in seeing that it was so important to me that I would do it on my own. They also learn kindness and generosity and the security of being loved. They have a long time ahead of them of being more independent. The foundation that I wish them to hold most firmly in their beings is that they are loved and respected along with knowing that kindness is central to peaceful living within themselves, their families and as a society.
Recommended resources for parents of 2 year olds
Pinky McKay: Positive Parenting, Setting Limits for Toddlers
Amity Hook-Sopko: Positive Discipline
Dr Laura Markham: Parenting Your Strong Willed Child
Carrie Dendtler: So How Do I Live Peacefully With My Two-Year-Old?
Michelle Carchrae: Gentle Discipline for Toddlers: Biting, Hitting and Impulse Control
Amanda Hearn: Natural Discipline for the Early Years
I do hope that something in the post is helpful to you and your family while you work through this growth period in parenting your 2 year old.