Two and Three year old behavior

We’re long-past this.  DH was especially good at avoiding and defusing any potential situations.  When he was gone for business trips, I would have to sometimes walk away and take a break in order to calm down and deal with a situation.  But in general we did ok.

Early on, a lot of frustration is inability to communicate.  For that reason, we still used baby signs even after DC was verbal.  More.  All Done.  Help.  Want.  Eat.  These all cut down on frustration for everybody.

Another thing to check is to make sure DC isn’t hungry and isn’t sleepy.  Those are two meltdown triggers… we don’t want to get past the time when it should have been bedtime, and we don’t want a starving kid melting down at the grocery store (thank goodness for free cookies).

One of the main things that we did was we copied our very excellent daycares.  We used their key words.  Walk away.  We don’t hurt our friends.  Up the stairs, down the slide.  When DC was at Montessori, we talked a lot about property rights and turn taking.  When DC was at a religious pre-school we talked a lot about sharing and being nice.  We learned from systems that worked and we were consistent with what DC was getting from other adults and later, other children.  It is amazing watching kids do their own conflict resolution at a well-run school where everybody has been given the tools they need and the culture is to use them.

Offering two choices was another super helpful thing. Do you want X or Y for snack? Do you want to wear red or green? etc.

Also at that age, distraction was really helpful, and getting hir to laugh helped (Oh! what’s that?!). As I said before, if I ever couldn’t handle something I would just walk away.  DH was better at not having to do that precisely because he was so very good at converting a potential meltdown into laughter.  (And the daycare ladies were masters at distracting away potential problems before they happened!)  Time for the tickle monster!

Another common trigger with kids these ages are transitions.  A kid is happily playing and all of a sudden it’s bath time.  And even if the kid loves baths, ze doesn’t want to take a bath now!  With transitions what was really helpful for us was blaming the clock or some other outside influence. It is *snack time* because it is 7:30. It is X time because it is Y:YY. Oh no! The mosquitoes are coming out! It must be time to go home.  And these reasons would become routine, and thus eventually expected.  One of our friends had a lot of success with 5 min warnings and sticking to them, but we found that we didn’t need them.

Adding onto the idea of routine, once these are in place they’re golden.  You can ask the kid, “What comes next?” and the kid will be excited to tell you and may actually do it of hir own volition.  With our (lengthy) nighttime routine we tried to alternate something ze loved with something ze didn’t love so much.  So, bedtime:  not that popular, but we started it with SNACK, which was very popular (also helped keep DC from screaming from hunger at 5am).  After snack, teeth brushing (not fun), bath (fun), pajamas (not as fun as nude streaking), being read to (fun!), staying in bed (not fun) while reading to self (fun).  Your kid may have different preferences, but being able to say, “after you do not fun thing we can do fun thing” helped move things along.

We NEVER assumed ze was trying to manipulate, unlike a lot of women complaining about their kids on mommy forums.  Maybe some kids do manipulate, ours did not.  Some parents seem to attribute things to manipulation things far too early.  Maybe some super-advanced two year olds can manipulate their parents, but an infant really can’t.  Sometimes a kid just wants more attention.  So we give more attention, but positively.  “Do you feel neglected?  Do you need more attention?”  “Behavior X isn’t appropriate… but did you need a hug?  You can always ask for a hug if you need one.”

We did a lot of explaining why it was in DC’s best interest not to do things that were icky. So, “Ew, that’s dirty” etc. Though we also did a lot of what the heck, it’s strengthening zir immune system. Our main things were: Dangerous, Dirty, and Not polite. Dangerous we always said with a scary voice and ze took it seriously.  We let little things go. Clashing clothing? Whatever. Running into the street? SCARY! DANGEROUS! and unacceptable.

We did about 5 time outs that we took very seriously (once a time-out actually started to have an effect… DC was a late-bloomer), always for hitting.  We used the standard Super-Nanny method.  Get down to the kid’s level.  Explain what they did wrong.  Tell them they’re in time out for a certain amount of time.  Then time them one minute for each year of age, restarting the clock each time the kid gets up.  Time-outs would generally result in a very sad very apologetic DC.  Then ask if DC remembers why ze is in time-out and request an apology and a promise not to do it again.  “Are you going to hit again?”

On one of the mommy forums I was on, people would consider time-outs to be the worst possible punishment one could give to a kid.  (Withdrawing attention is child-abuse, they say.  And it is true that our excellent Montessori has never needed time-outs for little kids, though I have seen it do cool-downs for much older kids when something is going on with the kid, like acting out because mom and dad just had a baby.)  On another forum, folks would argue whether or not parents who spanked were too soft.  We have never spanked, mainly because I don’t want to model any behavior I don’t want DC to think ze can do hirself.  I would have been mortified if DC started spanking kids at school, and how can we teach “no hitting” if that’s something we do?  (Plus I don’t think it works– I remember sitting on a plane pre-DC next to a woman and her lap child.  He would hit her.  “Don’t hit!” she would say, hitting him back.  Which he thought was hilarious, so he’d do it again.  “Don’t hit!” WHAP!  progressively harder back and forth until the kid got hurt and started screaming.)  Thankfully we’ve never needed to spank, especially with all the tools we’ve picked up watching the real experts (folks who interact with kids, not just those who make money writing books telling mothers they’re destroying their kids) along the way.

What do you recommend for the avoiding the terrible part of the terrible twos/threes?

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30 Responses to “Two and Three year old behavior”

  1. Cloud Says:

    Ah, I am in the midst of this right now with my second child. What do I recommend? Beer and/or wine. And I’m only sort of joking.

    All of your suggestions are good. I swear by baby signs, particularly for kids who aren’t early clear talkers, like my second. Of course, you don’t know which your child will be, and even my first, who was an amazingly good talker early on (still is) benefited from the signs. Plus they are cute and fun, so why not do them?

    I found some of the ideas I got from reading Playful Parenting helpful, even if there is no way I can be that kind of parent all the time. In particular, the idea of making a thing that is often a problem a game- like “who can get undressed for bath first?” (Obviously, that particular example only works with two kids, unless you’re wanting to join your child in the bath!) I also liked his idea of a “time in”- basically, sitting in time out with your kid to give the kid the attention they need while also removing him/her from the situation.

    The thing that I find hardest to deal with is the sleep issues. My 4.5 year old is almost completely past these now, but my 2+ year old is not. Last night, bedtime was a complete disaster, due to a stuffy nose and the fact that it had been a rainy day so she’d had no outside time. She was still awake at 11 p.m. That just makes me feel so helpless and hopeless. (She eventually fell asleep in our bed not long after and slept through the night from then… so that’s something, i suppose.) I am more Zen about the sleep issues this time around, probably because the 4.5 year old’s sleep used to be sooooo bad and is now pretty awesome. But still, sometimes, I have to talk myself out of going and getting in my car and driving to a hotel. That wouldn’t be fair to my husband, who has yet to do that to me on one one of his nights to get the toddler down!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yes, the racing, who can do things “first” is great, even when it’s with a parent instead of a second kid.

      We mostly avoided sleep issues by just going with the flow. Cosleeping works? We’ll cosleep. Cosleeping doesn’t work anymore? We’ll move to the big kid bed. Don’t want to nap, you don’t have to nap. Not getting enough sleep, we’ll move the bedtime routine half an hour earlier. It will probably be more difficult once there are two kids because the second is going to have to be polite and aware of the first’s needs. Luckily we have a big house.

      If DC was still awake at 11pm, we’d just say we were going to sleep but ze could stay up reading/looking at books. (For the first couple years we all went to bed around midnight, but now our schedule has shifted with school starting at 7:30 instead of 10:30.)

      There’s also a difference between schedules and routines… some kids don’t work well with schedules but do great with routines. Routines are nice and familiar, but still offer flexibility for day to day need changes.

      I can also pooh pooh sleep issues because other than nursing needs they were NOT MY JOB. DH may have a different take on them, not that he probably remembers!

      • Cloud Says:

        Last night was one of those things that was cute.. but also infuriating. My husband and I trade off nights with bedtimes- we each get one kid down each night. (When one of us is out, the older kid gets to watch some TV and goes to bed a little late.) It was my night with the 2 year old, and she just would not go to sleep. I’d think she was out, and get up and go do something, then I’d come down the hall, and there she would be, smiling up at me.

        We tried snuggling her on the sofa while watching boring (for a two year old) TV. We tried snuggling in her bed. We tried leaving her in her room… no dice. At one point, we told her to go back to her room, and she did- but then we could hear her in there talking- probably ranting about us, really- and then she started crying. We have a rule that we don’t ignore crying at this age, so my husband went in. She yelled at him: “No, Daddy! Mommy sleep!” and pushed past him to come find me. She grabbed my hand and tried to lead me back to her room. Really cute. Really annoying.

        Eventually, we brought her into our bed, and we all went to sleep. I was surprised that worked, because she’s usually pretty adamant that she sleeps in her bed.

        She periodically goes through these phases where she just won’t go to sleep. Luckily, they don’t last long, because we have never figured out what to do during them.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        At two we were still cosleeping (and DC only slept about 8 hrs/night, so about what we were sleeping). At three ze was pretty content to read in hir bed until ze was ready to have the lights out. So I got nuthin.

        Though I wouldn’t worry about sending her to preschool sleepy. That’s their problem! And it’s also how she’ll learn to regulate her own sleep needs. Maybe she’ll even nap for them.

      • Cloud Says:

        She always naps for them. Both kids nap better at day care than at home. I think they put something in the water. (Not really, but I AM jealous!)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Daycare is probably way less interesting. Our daycare asked if we were concerned about hir not napping and we said so long as ze wasn’t bothering other people we weren’t, and they said oh no, they just gave hir a book and told hir to be quiet. Apparently one of the teachers could get hir to nap via extended back-rubbing even as late as last year but we did not like that as it meant ze got sleepy much later at night and would sleep fewer hours than I would those nights. Luckily DH has a lower sleep need than I do.

      • Cloud Says:

        Had to come back to say that the day care teachers said our 2 y.o was in a GREAT mood today. On ~8 hours sleep last night, when she usually gets ~10. I officially give up trying to understand my kids and sleep.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Maybe she’s leveled up. Lucky you!

  2. Suzita @ playfightrepeat.com Says:

    Sounds like we parent very similarly, right down to watching what all those wise preschool teachers do. I’d just add one small thing, and mainly because I’ve just been thinking about it myself for a piece of writing — exercise. For kids who are very active (which I’d say is many to most young kids), it’s worth getting them a lot of exercise daily. When our kids were young, we often took them to a nearby park, or for a run around the block before school started so they could sit and listen better at school. This was tiring, but worth it in the end.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      YES. Even now, DC needs at least an hour of physical activity and an hour of mental activity or ze is unbearable. With some running around and some thinking, ze is hir usual angelic self. At daycare they have a song they sing when a kid gets squirrely, “Kid’sname Kid’sname jump up and down, jump up and down, jump up and down! Kid’sname Kid’sname jump up and down, jump up and down, jump up and down! Yaaaaaaay!” followed by clapping. We do that at home too.

      It’s probably also worth noting that at least on mommy forums, some kids who seem unbearable turn out to have undiagnosed red dye allergies that cause hyperactivity. Once those foods are cut out, the kid is much better behaved.

  3. Perpetua Says:

    The *only* benefit of that wretched toddler bed we bought is that both kids can jump up and down on it, and even jump off it (onto the crib mattress which we put on the floor for this purpose). Converts the room into a mini bounce and play, and gives them a place to burn off some good energy no matter what the weather.

    I’m all about doing whatever works and no one size fits all. We tended to be very rigid about sleep schedules and routines (both) because our #1 doesn’t sleep much, but needs every hour he will reasonably sleep. He has never liked to co-sleep (well, until he turned 2.5 and then he wanted to, so I let him for about six months or so.) We work with his natural rhythms, but we’ve found it helpful to impose too. So when he was younger we’d refuse to get him until 5:30 and then after a couple of nights increase to 5:45 then 6. That worked really well for him. Now that he’s older (and we went through a horrifically bad patch re: sleep) we put a clock in his room and he’s not permitted to get up before 6. Bedtime is between 7-7:30, and we did some Supernanny routine to make it stick (put him in bed, did the whole routine, then left, and if he got up, we put him back without talking to him or making eye contact; it only took 2 nights and then no more trouble). It is no exaggeration to suggest that I would be a scary mess if my kids weren’t sleeping through the night/ going to bed at an earlyish hour.

    @Cloud, We do a LOT of time-ins (and love Playful Parenting). We find removing little Christopher Robin from the situation does NOT help him at all. He’s very sensitive, and the disapproval/anger from me + physical separation never helps him calm down or behave better. It works best if one of us removes him and stays with him during the cooling off period. I also find the calmer I can be with him the better. The second I get impatient or angry, he freaks out and gets ugly back and then we’re in an anger spiral.

    Oh, God, though, do any of you guys have advice on what to do with 3 y.o. boys and their obsession with shooting and killing? Christopher Robin started preschool and suddenly he turns fruit into weapons and shoots us/ his brother. We are not fans, needless to say, and aren’t sure of a good approach. We don’t want to over-react and make it some huge deal/ power struggle with him.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Our preschool was really good about the shooting and killing. They had a no gun, no shooting policy, especially not sticks etc. So in that situation I would talk with the preschool teachers. He’s picking it up at school and he doesn’t have to be.

      It’s especially important in a red state like ours where there are a LOT of guns around– people take them very seriously and we NEVER point a gun at another person. I’ve noticed that the parents around here are much more vigilant about teaching gun safety and what not to do with guns at an early age (even pretend guns), so you might also use the fruit habits as a lesson about how guns are very dangerous and can hurt people and their proper handling. In what circumstances can a gun be shot etc. It’s definitely not that they think guns are at all bad around here, but since they work with guns a lot they treat them with respect and teach respect for them at an early age. But the preschool needs to be on board with this.

      p.s. if we tried to get our kid to sleep 11 hours/night we would end up shooting ourselves. Ze needs about 9 when ze is being challenged at school. Otherwise 7 or 8. But ze does have quiet time in hir room for reading. It is important to note that mommy and daddy are incredibly boring during this time.

      • Perpetua Says:

        That’s a good idea, about getting in touch with the school. They also have a no guns, no shooting policy, so I was kind of surprised at how quickly Christopher Robin came home exhibiting those behaviors. (Though it started with superheroes and escalated). I really dislike it, especially as little Pooh has started copying hir brother.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        They may not have noticed it’s a thing these days. Since they already have a policy, they should be able to crack down!

  4. Comrade PhysioProffe Says:

    “Property rights” cracked me the f*cke uppe! Hahahahahahahahaha!!!!!!!!!!

  5. femmefrugality Says:

    I used to work in early childhood…we’d use all the things you state above. It’s amazing how distracting a kid can lead to such desirable behaviors. Or giving them positive alternatives. We weren’t allowed to do time out, but that’s something I think should be allowed. If there’s no punishment for really really bad behavior (come on, sitting in a corner is not abuse,) then kids never learn about consequences.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Ah yes! How can I forget “soft touches” We don’t hit, hitting hurts people, we do soft touches. (Or “gentle”) That was the younger end of 2, older end of 1. Modeling positive behaviors is awesome.

    • anandi Says:

      @femmefrugality our daycare isn’t allowed to do time outs either, but they do what I think is a time-in instead. they separate the two kids and the offender usually goes to the “cozy chair” with a book and a teacher to talk about what happened and to sit quietly and calm down for a bit. seems to be very effective.

      @nicoleandmaggie Love this post, as 2 years old is kicking me in the butt and we have a relatively cooperative kid! But she needs her sleep, and when she gets tired or hungry, she can’t focus on ANYTHING and becomes either super-distracted or full-on crazy. So we’re vigilant about naps/bedtime and snacks. She definitely needs 11-12 hours to sleep at night (and still naps for about 2 hours during the day) – lucky us, because i’m also super high sleep needs too. I’m also curious about what forums you read. I just stay away (except for AskMoxie) because the rest are just too annoying.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Can’t say… it would provide too much information about me. One of them was an infertility-based forum (but it had a mommy section and a pregnancy section). One of them was a city-based forum. And there was a natural parenting forum (that ended badly– look up “blue children”)… And there were smaller “exclusive” offshoots of each of these to which I was invited because I’m so entertaining. I’m off all of them now!

  6. Practical Parsimony Says:

    For my child/ren who did not want to nap or go to sleep at night, I told the child he/she not have to go to sleep, just “rest your eyes.” I rocked the last one until she was six years old because she was the last. She needed 12+ hours of sleep from the time she was walking. After kindergarten each day, she ate leftovers, had a bath and hairwashing and was rocked to sleep. Her stress level was very high. She is 37 and still needs an extraordinary amount of sleep. When a child was 2 or 3, I loved nothing more than to rock the child to sleep. I saw no value in the child learning to go to sleep alone. I still don’t. Yes, I suffered because of that, and they did learn to put themselves to sleep.

    Distraction works wonders. In the car, my son and I would look for kitties and puppies in the fields or yards. Same ploy worked with the girl. Mine never failed to be distracted and would quit crying or complaining. Of course, the third child rarely cried, but I distracted her by helping her look for cows.

    We had no DVDs in the car back then, so toys inside the car and the world outside the car were used. Beyond the bottle stage, they never ate or drank in the car as a rule.

  7. dr. becky Says:

    First off, just want to say that I always look forward to reading your parenting posts at night when I finally get the two year old to bed. I very much appreciate the balanced approach and I’m always entertained and informed.

    I used many of the same startegies with my super active, dramatic and very determined 2 year-old. Recently we have implemented a nightly family “dance party” between dinner and bath and this helps him to get all of his energy out – it also is great for Mum and Dad to shake off a stressful day. To curb whining and those frustrated moments that quickly turn to tantrums I repeatedly remind him (in a very neutral tone) that he doesn’t have to get very upset, he can ask someone for help. This has slowly begun to work. I also do what Dr. Harvey Karp calls “playing the boob” – there is no better distraction than mommy acting silly and pretending that she doesn’t understand or know what to do (e.g. putting a diaper on my head if DS doesn’t want to change his diaper).

    Also wondering what you think of using “reward” systems for positive reinforcement? DH recently started giving out a nickel for the piggy bank if DS will sit and read a story and not act crazy and run out of the room – seems to be working but I am wondering if this is just plain old bribery?

    Oh and one more question – what foods have red dye besides candy? Never heard of this and I’m nervous!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Femomhist had a post recently about rewards. Sticker charts and so on.

      They really didn’t work with our kid… at first ze didn’t understand them (LONG after other kids hir age were doing them) and now they just don’t make a difference– either ze will do the thing based on natural consequences and reasoning or ze won’t. So really the only rewards we use are ones that follow naturally… after you finish X, we’ll be able to go out and do Y. You can’t eat candy without eating something healthy first or you could get a stomach ache.

      There’s a sizable literature on extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation. The bottom line is that extrinsic motivation can crowd out intrinsic motivation– they decide not to do something without a reward because they’re used to getting a reward. BUT in cases where the kid needs practice at something, extrinsic motivation can overcome barriers (such as a kid not wanting to read because the kid is no good at reading… rewarding reading practice can help the child learn to read, which makes the act of reading more enjoyable) and allow intrinsic motivation to take hold once the extrinsic motivation is removed.

      Re: red dye, check the labels! (Since I have a limited diet that precludes things like refined flour and HFCS/sugar, it isn’t something that’s been on our household radar in many years.)

      We still get a lot of charge out of being silly or pretending not to know. DC has a color scale for DH on a “silly stick” (green to red– DH is usually on orange).

  8. First Gen American Says:

    All those tips work great and I second the exercise and mental stimulus comment. Boredom seems to be the best recipe to produce a naughty kid.

    My current struggle is trying to figure out ways to teach my kid to control his emotions better. He is so active that he regularly pushes himself to exhaustion which inevitably leads to meltdowns. It’s not really an issue when it’s one on one time because we can see the signs, but if he’s at camp all day or at a sports practice, it becomes problematic for him because he hasn’t yet figured out his own limits. He is 6, so it’s starting to be that age where it’s not normal for a kid to cry unless they get hurt, so the other kids are starting to treat him differently because of it. If anyone has any tips here for this one, I’d love to hear them.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Poor guy. Emotional sensitivity is one of the things they talk about in the giftedness books but I can’t remember that they ever had solutions about how to build a tougher skin.

      • First Gen American Says:

        Yes..it does seem that although he’s at the top of class in grades, he’s a little behind on the maturity level. I think part of it has to do with being so sponge-like relative to other kids his age. It’s definitely an asset when it comes to learning, but it can be a liability when dealing with conflicts because you take too much to heart instead of it going in one ear and out the other like a lot of other kids do.

        On the plus side, he seems to have already developed his sense of selective hearing when I ask him to do chores, so I’m sure he can fine tune that skill outside of home as well.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I don’t know that it means he’s less mature, just more sensitive. Often in these situations the child does better emotionally with kids who are older rather than younger– they do better with kids who are more mature and are flustered by kids who are less mature.

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  11. omdg Says:

    We tried choices (i.e. “Do you want X or Y?”) for a while. And then it stopped working (She just said, “No,” and wouldn’t do either one). In the end we just let her choose what she wants. For instance with clothes, she basically picks out all her own outfits. Yes they clash. I need to get over it. Sigh.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Hahaha, DC1 went through a phase of plaid with stripes (or occasionally polka dots). Ze is very tasteful now as a 7 year old.

      The magic words, “We let hir dress hirself today” absolves one of any judgment from other parents and daycare providers. Also works for sloppy birthday gift wrapping “Ze insisted on doing it hirself”, homemade cards (especially if you meant to buy one but forgot), etc.


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