It is never easy dealing with the tantrums and screaming that can come with children at this age. Love and Logic has a wonderful article that can help parents to understand what their children are going through at this stage and how they can help them.
By Barry Ebert
Recently, a woman in a parenting workshop expressed a problem I have heard many times from parents who are struggling with their toddlers. “When my husband and I had our first child, we never wanted him to hear the word no. We changed our language and did a lot of distracting and diverting of his attention so that we wouldn’t have to tell him no. Now we have a four year old with absolutely no boundaries and he’s impossible to live with. What should we do?”
First of all, we have to decide if we think healthy boundaries are a good thing for children to have. We often confuse our desire to encourage a free spirit of creativity with giving a kid open license to be a brat. A proper response to authority is crucial to a person who must become a part of society.
The relationship between toddlers and their parents lays the foundation for most future moral behavior. Children learn how a loving authority figure operates by watching their parents. Setting firm boundaries on toddlers gives us the opportunity to continuously move these boundaries out as our children grow. If we try to shrink boundaries when our kids reach adolescence, we are in for a battle.
I’ve heard the boundary concept explained this way once. Imagine waking up in total darkness. You’re sitting in a chair, but it is impossible for you to tell where you are. After overcoming your fears, you would eventually have to move off the chair and begin searching about in your new, unfamiliar surroundings. What would you be looking for? You would be looking for boundaries. Where am I? Where does the space end? Are there any danger spots? What can I count on here that’s solid? Will I fall if I go too far in this direction?
This is what our toddlers are doing during their time of “autonomy and independence” that is often called “the terrible two’s”. They are searching for something solid to push against: something they can count on that will not fall no matter how hard they push. And this is what we as parents must provide for them. In this magical time of early childhood, when the urge for exploration is so strong, we can give our children a priceless gift by providing them consistent, loving boundaries. We are telling them: “Here is a safe place for you to operate. I will treat you with respect, and it is my expectation that you will treat me with respect as well.”
Thomas Edison said “Restlessness is discontent, and discontent is the first necessity of progress.” Restlessness is an important aspect of human nature, and toddlers bring a powerful mixture of restlessness and discontent into a home. They want to get moving and see what’s around the next corner, they want to know what’s inside all of the cupboards, and they want to know what they can get away with.
Ironically, teenagers look at the world in much the same way. The cupboards they are peeking into are different and the things they are trying to get away with have changed, but the impulse to explore and be autonomous is much the same. That’s why we have to remember that there are only two kinds of kids: teenagers, and those that are going to become teenagers. When we are dealing with our toddlers, we are laying the foundation for a relationship that will last as long as parent and child are alive. If a respect for healthy boundaries is a cornerstone of this relationship, the rest of the building process will go a lot more smoothly.
One of the most common areas of questions during a Love and Logic parenting workshop concerns the “timeout” issue. When should a toddler be put into a timeout area and for how long? How much explanation is necessary for a child to understand why they were put into timeout? What kind of a message are we delivering when we send a child to their room for being disrespectful? Are we damaging their self-esteem?
Dr. Foster Cline, co-author of Parenting With Love and Logic, puts it this way: “When a loving parent puts a child into timeout for being disrespectful, they are teaching them a very valuable lesson: ‘When I act like a jerk, people don’t want to be around me’. We either learn this from loving parents or our first spouse, but eventually everybody learns this one.”
We don’t come to earth with an understanding of healthy boundaries. A child gets the impression during their first year or two that they are the center of the universe, and that the rest of life revolves around them Loving parents are the most qualified and the best equipped to set their toddlers straight on this one, while the price tag is just a little bedroom time.