Q. I’m a stay-at-home mom finding it hard to deal with what people have called the “terrible twos.” Our 2-year-old son is so challenging, saying “no” all day long and throwing lots of temper tantrums. He gets into everything and I can’t take my eyes off him for a second. I’m exhausted by the time my husband comes home at night.  Do you have any suggestions for dealing with a difficult 2-year-old?

A. Two-year-olds are often hard to handle as their moods change frequently. They get angry, frustrated and sometimes aggressive, and they throw temper tantrums and/or hold their breath. At this age, children use behavior to express themselves when they don’t have words. It’s good to just let them have their moment of expressing frustration in a safe way. One thing that makes life easier when dealing with toddlers, and in fact with older children, too, is to stop asking kids what they want in terms of the structure of their day; take charge of the schedule. Instead of asking if he wants to take a bath, tell him it’s time for his bath. Routine is reassuring to a toddler or young child – having the same schedule each day is helpful. You might even want to post the schedule using clock hands and symbols for eating, bathing and sleeping.

Another way to cut down on the negative responses and yet help your child assert his independence is to offer choices, but not too many. A choice between two things works well. “Do you want applesauce or apple slices?” works better than, “Do you want some fruit?”

You might look into mother’s day out programs or trade a couple of babysitting hours with another mother so you both can get in a bit of rest, housework or shop without having to deal with toddler behavior for a while. Joining a playgroup lets you enjoy your child in child-focused activities with other parents and provides opportunities for you to compare how other parents handle situations that are trying for you.

Naptime is important because it gives you a chance to rest and it gives your child’s neurological system a chance to rest. Keep in mind that young children have sensitive neurological systems and need their naps and nighttime sleep. Make time for a relaxing bedtime routine and stick to it.

I recommend you read about two-year-olds in Dr. Barry T. Braselton’s book “Touchpoints.” It’s a long time favorite of mine for understanding what children are like and what they need at various ages. Best of luck!

Betty Richardson, PhD, RNC, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist who specializes in dealing with the problems of children, adolescents and parents.

Got a question for Betty Richardson? Email us here and you just might see the answer in an upcoming issue!

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