Before having children, I’d see a little child throwing a tantrum in a store and shrug, “It must be the terrible twos”. Later, while expecting our first, I’d see a child kicking and screaming and I’d cringe. With fear I wondered if there was a way to skip the years one through five. Then we had our baby. Everything changed.
No longer did I fear the child. Things weren’t always easy, but it was easy to see that those moments of crying, kicking, and screaming were usually preventable, or at least easily mitigated.
Some of you may wonder how I could prevent the tantrums and power struggles most often associated with the “terrible twos, trying threes, and the F***ing fours”. Here’s the answer folks. I didn’t say “No.”
What? Obviously I must have spoiled children that’ll never learn to listen and will be ten times worse as they get older. Right? Wrong.
By saying ‘yes’ as much as possible we actually achieve exactly what we want. Our children are able to listen when we do say ‘no’. We also allow our little ones the opportunity to explore their world safely and learn their own personal limits. We provide ourselves with peace of mind knowing our children won’t try climbing something completely beyond their skills. It also provides our children with the knowledge that if they need help, they can come to us for help, and know we won’t automatically tell them no.
When our girls learned to roll and crawl, we gated anything that wasn’t safe. We never had to ‘no’ them away from something. As they learned to climb, we bolted cabinets and bookshelves to the walls. Even if they pulled on them, the shelves weren’t going any where. We put the fun stuff on the lower shelves so they were less likely to climb higher, and we had pillows below in case they did. Our girls have fallen, they’ve been bumped and bruised, but each time they fall they learn something new.
When out, we give them the freedom to run as much as possible. Before they run off we tell them our expectations: “They can run, but must stop when we say stop, and come back when we call.” We also tell them what happens if they don’t: “Then the must walk beside us.” If they don’t stay beside us, then we hold hands. If they won’t hold hands, then we leave. It doesn’t matter where we are, we leave. It only took me leaving a place once or twice before they got the message. I was willing to leave without the milk we needed in order to keep them safe, and me sane.
I don’t need to nag, hit, give time-outs, or otherwise punish them. They’re very good at keeping themselves in check and watching each other.
The days where someone has an unmet need are the most difficult. A tired, hungry, thirsty, hot, or cold child will not be able to regulate as well as one with all needs met. If we find ourselves out and about when circumstances are less than ideal, we have extra patience and keep instructions simple. A tired child will be less able to keep up, a thirsty child may ask for something and scream when told ‘No’. It isn’t a child’s way of trying to get everything they want, but rather the child’s way of communicating.
Until four or five (even later in some children) a little person can’t tell us why they feel so horrible, some might not even realize they do, until one more thing happens. A three year old is hungry (or any other need), but doesn’t realize it, she asks for a piece of candy at the check-out in the grocer. Mom says no. She starts to whine, cry, followed by a full melt-down as mom holds firm. If the need had been met, then the situation could have been prevented. If mom knew her daughter was hungry, then she could have offered: You can’t have that candy because…(fill in with reason of choice), but you can have a banana or a slice of cheese.
By offering something, your child knows you’ve heard them and understand their need, even if they don’t. Even if your child doesn’t want your offering, you’ve opened the gates to communicating, the melt-down is postponed or cut off completely, and you have the opportunity to talk to your child.
And this is the key. If you dictate rules to your child, they will push them. But if you offer a rule, followed by a valid reason (“Because I said so” is not a valid reason), your child is more likely to listen. We also allow the opportunity to discuss the rules and other options. We have back-tracked and changed our minds after talking to our girls. This is not being a push over or sending the message that they can ‘get away’ with something. Rather we send the message that we’re open to discussion and if they don’t like what we’ve said they can talk about it. We may change our mind, we might not, but we will listen to their side of things.
And last if nothing else can be done and crying or yelling happens, let your child know you love them, and move on. I’ve hugged the girls in full tantrum, let them know I love them, told them I will not let them hurt myself or others and have carried them kicking and screaming to the car when that was the only way I could keep everyone else safe. When they calm down, I hug them again, let them know I love them, and offer to talk about it if they want. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t either way I respect their choice.
These are things we’ve used from the moment the girls were able to move on their own. We explain ourselves and we demonstrate when needed. Even before they have the words, they can understand, and what they don’t understand one time they figure out quickly enough.