With my oldest daughter, I went through the terrible two’s, three’s, four’s…eleven’s…fourteen’s - you get the point. They were never-ending. I tried every “trick” that the “experts” pushed. Time outs, ignoring them, trying to understand the “whys”, and choosing my battles - none of them worked. It was a battle that neither of us was winning. It wasn’t until I began to understand the true meaning behind the cliché that “every child is different” that I was able to conquer the problem - from within myself.
First let me reiterate that the cliché that “every child is different” may be “old hat” but contains more truth than is imaginable. What works to discipline one will fail miserably with the next. Experts that tout that their idea will work with all or even the majority of children are pompous at best and ignorant at worst. The fact is, until you try out the various ideas, along with a few of your own, you will not know what works with your child. You should also be prepared to change your tactics because just as bacteria develops a resistance to certain antibiotics, so will your child develop a resistance to particular methods of behavior modification. Trust me on this one…
My daughter’s “terrible” years began at two and ran through age fourteen, with varying degrees of severity and frequency. I am talking real throw-down fits that included screaming, hitting, throwing, kicking, lay-on-the-floor tantrums all the way up to fourteen years old! Again, I stress, the severity and frequency lessened as she got older, but the mentality behind the tantrum never changed. It took that long for my daughter to finally grasp the concept that these fits were NOT serving her purpose.
I have to say that I read many books on how parents should handle such children. Probably the best one I read was “Toddler Taming” by Dr. Christopher Green, and I read it when my daughter was four - hardly a toddler anymore. Dr. Green recognized that this stage was not confined to a particular age group, did not start and stop at certain ages, and did not respond to the same tactics for all children. As is usual with good parenting, the key lies within the parent.
Parents know their child better than any other person on this earth. You know what makes your child happy or sad. You know which buttons pushed will result in anger or fear. You know what encourages and what crushes their little spirits. You don’t need a professional who writes a book and has never seen your child to tell you that time-outs always work because the basic concept allows both parent and child a moment away from the problem. Let’s face facts - for some children it only allows them time to develop their anger and a new plan of attack. You do not need a paid professional who sees you and/or your child once every two weeks for an hour (when your child is on his or her best behavior because they are in a strange place with a strange person) to tell you that “solitary confinement” is the answer.
What you need is real, workable answers that will allow you to regain a sense of authority and a semblance of stability in your parenting relationship. Those answers lie within you and your relationship with your child.
If you are reading this at a time when you have become worn-out in the battle, you are probably thinking, “Yeah, right. You want me to work harder and fight more. I am too tired.” Work harder, perhaps, but fight less. At this point, you are probably the one that really needs the time-out. I know that I did. The battles were always a lose-lose situation and they were taking more of a toll on me than on my child.
When the situation arises where it appears the battle is imminent, put yourself in time-out. Put your child to task at something they like to do, but is NOT what they desire. (i.e., don’t give in to their demands) Take yourself away from the situation and do something else that needs to be done but is not stressful to you. When you find that you are no longer absorbed with the fight, go back to your child and discuss the situation. Depending upon the age of your child, you explanation may be as simple as “When mommy/daddy says ‘no’, that is what we mean. We are not going to argue about it” or as in-depth as an explanation behind your decision so that the child understands the reasoning. Either way, it must be made clear that you are the authority figure and that you will NOT argue the point. What you say is the final word.
It won’t work overnight. It won’t work with all kids. It won’t be the perfect fix in every situation. The important thing is that you look at yourself and your child and your situation and you come up with a solution - through rational, logical examination and choice - that will work for you. Perhaps you will have to try several options before you find the one that works, but there is a way for you and your child to get along together in a situation where you are the parent and they respect your authority. You just have to keep trying…
True – this will not work with every situation. Bath time is bath time. Bed time is bed time. Try distracting your child from their concern to a more “fun” aspect of the routine. Bath time can be made fun by adding colorful soaps of their favorite characters. A game of “let’s pretend” can turn their bath water into the sea for mermaids or divers or a lake for fishing. Bedtime “needs” to be a ritual for many children. It needs to be a time for them to wind down, relax, and release the stress of the day. A regular routine that includes a story, or a talk with a parent, or whatever is relaxing to your child can help ready them for bed. Too often parents expect children to jump from fully active to fully quiet and ready for bed. They cannot do that anymore that we can as adults. They need that “unwind” time, too. Create that ritual early and bed time should become much easier.
Parenting is never simple and when you are a single parent, you do double-duty with little relief. Remember to occasionally give yourself a break. The dusting will wait; the dishes will always be there tomorrow. If it has been a particularly tough day, it is for the best for you and your child that you find something that will help you relax and regroup. Remember that professionals - paid or in bookstores - do not KNOW you and your child. They may have good ideas worth trying, but just because they say they will work, doesn’t mean they will. There is no miracle fix to the stresses of parenting.
I can tell you this - while sometimes it may seem as if you will lose your sanity, there will come a day when you will wish for those days when your babies were young and throwing fits again. You will look back on the “problems” that you faced then and realize they were minimal compared to the challenges of the teenage years. And don’t think that parenting stops there! My oldest is now eighteen and I envision that I will be parenting for the next ten years, at least. She tells me that I will be parenting for much longer than that because she will be asking my advice when she becomes a mother!
We all make mistakes as parents. There is no way to get around that. Children don’t come with instruction manuals and there are no training classes available. Each parent and each child are as different as the snowflakes that fall from the heavens. But when that day comes that your grown child tells you that you were a great parent and that you aided them in growing up more than you will ever realize, every trial and challenge you faced will be worthwhile.
The terrible two’s - or whatever age you are at - will pass. Hold on to it while you can…