When a baby cries, it usually means hunger, or a feeling of discomfort is present for any of a dozen reasons. Crying is just a way to tell the world what a baby feels.
The term “terrible twos” is coined because it is at this stage of their development (which happens at around two years old), when the child starts to walk and talk, the show of temper is especially common. Children who were easy to handle a few months ago will shatter the peace with their angry outbursts.
What is happening is that your baby is becoming a person able to make his demands more clearly known. Because they can physically move around more, their demand for the right to explore expands. They would want to make a few decisions by themselves. You will be witnessing the beginnings of a tyrant. As infants, they are helpless, and people expect them to behave as such, but when he begins to walk and talk, we suddenly expect them to have almost as much self-control as adults. The “gos” and “stops” are not easily combined at this age. “Go” is the dominant drive.
Resistance and sometimes anger are natural reaction to “stop” signs. Excessive restrictions in order to suit the wishes of older members of the family may result not only in outbursts of temper throughout the early years but a feeling of frustration leading to other social difficulties later in life.
When a child resists dressing, eating, or giving up some treasured object, two courses are open to you. One is to hold fast to your determination, which creates an even stronger resistance in him. The other way is to respect his resistance, to see the situation from his eyes, to try to appreciate and support his effort to “do it myself.” If the task must be pushed through, a firm but friendly way of going about it is highly desirable. The resisting child can respect authority if the child feels that it is not turned against him or her. It takes time, with some trials and errors, which can be fatiguing to an adult, and there is no quick way out.
Even in the midst of a show of temper it is far better to take the child off to some quiet place with new objects of interest, not in isolation, but with an available and understanding adult close by. Security is what a child lacks when he or she loses control. Unreasonable punishment which is not clearly explained only increases the child’s feeling of insecurity.
Preventing temper spells is far better for all concerned than having to cure them. Hunger and fatigue make such outbursts more likely to happen—so be sure your child is getting enough sleep and proper diet. Calling the child “Bad” and “Naughty” should be avoided.
These temper spells may disappear for a period of time, but usually reappear in bold fashion sometime during the ages four and five. It is at this stage when parents find the temper spells most disturbing, causing them to wonder if their parenting methods have been faulty or if a “problem child” is in their hands. The new outbursts, following a period of more controlled behavior are indications of new growth and are not necessarily indications of wrong training or an unusually difficult child. In this period, parents tend to become exasperated and a more rigid control usually goes into force. Fact is, this new resistance and boldness stem from a multitude of new interests and abilities that the child has grown into. From the child’s point of view there isn’t much time to pick up the toys. There isn’t enough energy to dress himself. He needs his energy to explore new interests.
Affectionate assistance for the child at this age may prevent displays of temper and a feeling of hatred towards parents. It can help the child become more responsible, as a result of which the child will voluntarily take hold of many responsibilities during the fifth and sixth years.
If this temper spell causes an outburst on your part, it will only increase the child’s opposition. Give the child the necessary attention he needs such as reading, talking and spending more time together. When it becomes obvious that the child is trying to manipulate you to give in to his wishes by a temper spell, it may be advisable to isolate him for a few minutes. If he talks back, keep your calm and don’t lose your temper. He will get over this habit, if he sees the parents’ constant example of courtesy. The child will learn to master his tongue also because he wants to be liked by his companions. It is better for the child to express his love and even hate. If you curb him sharply at this point he may become sullen.
If your discipline is too repressive and if not enough love is shown to your child, he may be afraid to show even mild anger and develop a sullen or downtrodden manner. The behavior of the sullen child is often overlooked as he is so quiet. He may not speak for hours if he has been denied something or he may brood alone in a corner.
All this is highly undesirable if we are aiming at his growing up into a mentally healthy, happy adult who will get along reasonably well with others. A sullen child gets into trouble in school because he has not learned to accept authority. An understanding teacher may help him. If not corrected early, there is a possibility that his entire life will be one long struggle against discipline, because authority will always be there at any stage of life. Such children need more love, not less, for it is the only on this basis that he can accept discipline. To meet his opposition with more force merely aggravates the situation and will not correct it.
Prevent anger from becoming a serious handicap to your child. As an adult, you can’t afford to have a quick temper exploding every time things don’t go your way. Avoid this type of behavior in your child by setting a good example. See to it that he does not meet too many frustrations in early life. Be sure that his training and his opportunities are suited to his age level.
Anger is not something you can eradicate from a child’s nature, but you can help him manage it.