Q Our son Micah is 2 ½ years old. He has become increasingly negative. In fact, his favorite word is “no.” He gets into everything and is constantly on the go. Micah won’t listen to me or his father. If he doesn’t get what he wants, he throws a tantrum. We try to read to him, but it’s difficult as he tears the pages out of the books while we are reading. We seem to have no control over him anymore. Is Micah going through what I’ve heard called “the terrible twos”? Is his behavior (which is driving us crazy) normal? If this is just a stage, what can we do as parents right now until this passes? And what do we have to look forward to in the next stage?
A Micah’s behavior is normal for his age and stage of development. He is exerting his independence. Will Micah stay this way? The answer is “No.” What you can expect in Micah’s behavior as a 3-year-old is more use of the words “yes” and ‘we.” As a 3-year-old, he’ll want to please. He’ll respond to praise. He will especially enjoy his mother and other children. A child at this age is typically happy and his emotions are calmer. You have this wonderful stage of development to look forward to in about six months.
For now, I suggest these books to help during this stage of development: T. Berry Brazelton’s “Touch Points Birth to Three” and “Touchpoints Three to Six,” as well as an older title, “Your-Three-Year-Old Friend or Enemy” by Louise Bates Ames and Frances L. Ilg of the Gesell Institute of Child Development. Bates and Ilg explain how children move from states of disequilibrium to states of equilibrium about every six months, up to the age of five. This means that if you don’t like how your child is behaving at any point, figure out how to get through a few months, knowing the behavior will change and be easier to handle for a while.
As to what you can do right now, I offer these suggestions:
- Ignore tantrums. Intervene only if your child’s safety is at risk.
- Use distraction to interrupt and change behavior. For example, you might open a package of cookies and act like you are going to eat them all, or start playing drums on a kitchen pan with a wooden spoon. Call attention to something outside.
- Take time out for yourself if your child’s behavior is getting to you. Tag team with your partner or spouse to take turns being with your son.
- Put some activities on hold, or modify them, until your child reaches a different stage of development and is ready for those activities. For example, if he is tearing books at bedtime, try reading to your child after he’s tucked in tight, keeping his hands occupied with a stuffed animal or toy, or using online read-alouds.
- Don’t ask your child if he wants to do something, especially in this period when “no” is his favorite word. Instead of asking, give direction: “Let’s wash our hands for dinner now,” or “It’s time to take your bath.”
- Use humor and imagination. Children this age have gained a little sense of humor and can enjoy the spark that imagination brings to a normal task or activity.
Being together more during this pandemic can be trying as children go through some difficult developmental stages. Try to think outside the box in order to cope and stay in good physical and mental health. Remember, this stage will pass.
Betty Richardson, PhD, RN, CS, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist.