Transitioning from the "terrible twos": When problems persist

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The “terrible twos” are notorious for tantrums, tricky behavior and tough temperaments.

But what happens when the problems persist?

As your toddler transitions into childhood, the challenges they face can also transition … and not always for the better. Some children don’t grow out of negative behaviors, some have issues that worsen and some even develop new challenges as they enter this new stage of life.

Young children may struggle with defiance, misbehavior, inability to handle negative emotions, tantrums, breaking or throwing things and not complying with what is being asked of them. They may also be inattentive and/or hyperactive, anxious, withdrawn, unwilling to speak to or engage with others or have developmental delays.

These problems can be taxing on your entire family as they permeate the home environment. The extra time spent at home because of the coronavirus pandemic poses greater challenges for parents and can result in severe stress and exhaustion.

But it doesn’t have to. Parenting isn’t easy for anyone, and it can be even more challenging when it comes to managing young children who are struggling. Fortunately, research shows that some powerful strategies can make all the difference:

  1. Model healthy, appropriate behavior. What young children see often shapes how they act. Many children idolize their parents and try to imitate them as best they can. When they’re around (and even if you think they’re not!) be sure to model behaviors you want them to learn. When you speak to them, be calm, gentle, clear, specific and succinct. Setting the tone for your interactions with children helps them clearly understand what you want them to do, gives them an easy path to follow suit.
  2. Spend time playing together. Research shows that play strengthens neural connections in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that regulates emotions, makes plans and solves problems. This means children who spend time playing are actually spending time developing biologically, learning, and exploring their environments. But playing with your child isn’t just fun and formative; it can also strengthen your relationship and can even help reduce conflict. Try letting your child pick the activity and practice paying attention to all of the creative and unique ways they play. Don’t be afraid to get silly! Spending quality time playing with your child will make them more willing to comply in the future. Give positive attention for good behavior - Children respond best to discipline when they are valued and appreciated. Many children are just seeking adoration, and act out because they crave your attention. Make sure to spend enough time highlighting their successes and rewarding them when they are “good.” Once they see how much you appreciate a behavior, they’ll be motivated to do more often.
  3. Get on their level. Talk to your child. No, really talk to your child. Children often have negative emotions that they have difficulty expressing or act out because they don’t know how they feel or how to fix what’s bothering them. The best way to figure out? Ask. Talk to your child calmly, openly, and with a true desire to understand them, and you may be surprised how much you learn.
  4. Be clear and consistent in discipline. Structure is everything; a child needs to know what the “rules” are in order to follow them. If a certain negative behavior earns them a time-out, make sure to carry it out every time. If a certain positive behavior merits a certain reward, follow through. Don’t bluff and make empty threats you aren’t prepared to carry out. Doing so will only confuse your child, and can undermine your authority to discipline them in the future.
  5. Seek professional help. If what you are doing isn’t helping or the challenges your child is facing seem too severe for a simple fix from these quick tips, consider reaching out to get help. CBC’s PCIT (Parent-Child Interaction Therapy) program teaches parents of young children with emotional and/or behavioral difficulties specialized, therapeutic strategies. Using these skills, parents and children can work together to establish a healthy, positive dynamic so they can thrive as a family.


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