Terrible Twos: Understanding & Dealing with Your Child's Defiance

The "terrible twos" is that dreaded time in your child's life when constant defiance becomes a regular state of affairs. While some children might become particularly difficult to deal with much earlier than their second birthday, most will exhibit problematic behavior after they've entered their second year, hence the name. Brace yourself for raging tantrum tornadoes and bouts of illogical stubbornness, but don't worry – with careful handling your child will grow out of this daunting stage. 


How to Handle Defiance
 
Be understanding. Show your child that you're on its side and not part of the problem by hugging them and letting them know that you sympathize with them and understand their frustration. Avoid at all costs getting angry, as this would be extremely counterproductive. Instead, be kind and firm about making your child do what it is you're asking of it. 

 
Set limits. All children need rules and limits to feel secure and know how they should and shouldn't behave. Be very clear about the rules you're setting and make sure that your child understands them. Keep them simply worded to avoid confusing your preschooler, and be consistent in applying them in all situations. If your child has trouble following certain rules, try to find solutions. For example, if your child gets out of bed because it's afraid of the dark, install a nightlight or give them a flashlight that they can keep on the nightstand near their bed. 

Reinforce good behavior. Don't make the mistake of only noticing your child when they're doing something wrong; pay attention to them and praise them when you see your child doing something good as well. This type of positive reinforcement can help create enthusiasm in your child for doing good things and playing by the rules. Remember, the whole purpose of discipline is not to control your child, but to teach it to control itself. 

Limit the lecturing. Don't be quick to lecture or reprimand your preschooler when it does something wrong. Chances are it's already feeling bad and guilty about breaking the rules, so instead of giving it a tongue lashing – which could backfire by making your child more rebellious – try to keep a calm attitude and deal with the situation positively.  

Empower your 2-year-old. Give your preschooler plenty of opportunities to decide things for itself instead of dictating everything to it. Children at this age want to establish a bit of independence, and giving it a choice will feed its need for self-reliance. This could include which of two shirts your child would like to wear, which of two lunch options it would like you to prepare, and which of two or three stories it would like to listen to at bedtime. 

You should also learn to phrase your demands positively; for example, instead of reprimanding your child for playing with the ball in the house and demanding that it stop doing so immediately, ask them whether they would like to go outside and play ball with you where there is enough space. 
 
Choose your battles. Don't create a mountain out of a molehill. Learn to turn a blind eye to harmless behavior if it doesn't have negative effects. Letting your child have waffles for lunch or wear a pink striped shirt with polka dot leggings doesn't matter. Only stand your ground when it's worth making a point. 

Respect your child's age and stage. Avoid situations that you know could throw your child into a full-blown tantrum. Why take your preschooler to a fancy restaurant when you could go out with a friend and her kids on a picnic in the park? You also can't expect your child to sit quietly during a long movie at the cinema. 

If you do find yourself in a tricky situation, distract your child by directing its attention to something else. You have to keep in mind that your child is just that: a child. Don't expect too much from it at this stage, as it's simply too young to control its emotions fully.