Facts about toddlers:
They want to fit in.
They are born with a drive to cooperate.
They have a strong capacity to resist outside influence.
They are quick learners.
Play is their important work.
They are curious and interested in everything.
They imitate what they see and hear.
Traditional misunderstandings about toddlers:
They are difficult and troublesome.
The Terrible Twos is a normal stage.
They need our coercive control.
They respond positively to praise and rewards.
They should learn to obey.
When you reach an understanding of the inborn reaction for resisting outside influences and pressures, you will be on your way to some of the happiest days of your life as you live them with one of nature's most delightful creatures: a human two year old.
When you interact with your toddler as a loving teacher, avoiding pressure and coercion, you will experience the joys of being present at the unfolding of this delightful new little person.
It is essential to always be aware of and keep in mind the power of the brain's Counterwill.* This is an inborn drive beyond your child's control directing him to be his own person and to reject outside influences. Both punishments and rewards draw his attention to "what the adult wants him to do" and expose your agenda thereby stimulating the powerful force of Counterwill.
Your two-year-old entered this world with his own agenda, a design rooted in his unique combination of aptitudes, sensitivities, feelings, needs and potential.
The less interference he is subjected to, the more he can attend to learning about his world and his place in it. This is his important work and conflicts occurring when the adults in his life activate his Counterwill are unnecessary and avoidable obstacles to his progress.
When you consistently demonstrate being on your child's side as an ally in his learning adventure, you will have the privilege of enjoying the companionship of one of the happiest and most fascinating beings on earth.
The strength of your Attachment bond will determine just how much influence you can have on his behavior and on his level of cooperation. The more closely attached he is to you, the more he will look to you for direction. How you give this direction will either strengthen or weaken the bond.
It is important to create an environment in which he can play and explore without constant interference. Harsh orders, insistent demands, angry tones of voice, slapped exploring hands will weaken the bond and at the same time stimulate and intensify his Counterwill.
The Traditional language we have used to control children for hundreds of years combined with punishments, rewards and today's disordered culture make being a parent hard and discouraging work, while making being a child unnecessarily frustrating and stressful.
Thomas Gordon identified this perilous language as THE TWELVE COMMUNICATION ROADBLOCKS.**
A Traditional Parent creates her own misery when she speaks to her child with divisive words and fights back against an impulse over which this little person has no control. Nature directs him to stand up for himself. If you get caught in the miserable trap of believing you have some automatic power because you carry the magic title of Parent, you will launch yourself into a destructive battle with your own innocent child. Without knowing what's happening, you diminish your natural power of influence while, at the same time, you undermine your personal happiness.
Of course, there will be some things he must learn are not to be played with and there are physical limits to keep him safe.
When he starts exploring some object or some place you want him to understand as being out-of-bounds he will accept your limits when you make connection with eye-contact and a smile before offering an enticing alternative along with a clear statement of fact in a friendly tone of voice, "The TV knobs are not for playing. Let's find something more fun for you to do." And off you go with him in your loving arms to engage his interest in a substitute for TV knobs.
Or if he was climbing onto a high tippy stool, you present him with a safe place to climb. When you make it your responsibility to always stay close by and are right there when and if he starts to climb onto the stool again, supported by your friendly teaching, he will soon come to feel the satisfaction of understanding his place in the scheme of things. You are providing the fertile soil in which his inborn drive to cooperate can blossom and grow. To protect his intrinsic motivation, it becomes important to refrain from rewarding or praising his compliance. Praise and rewards draw his attention away from the rewarding feelings growing inside of him and draw his attention to your goals, igniting Counterwill and blocking intrinsic cooperation. His inner feelings of reward will flourish from his appreciation of being an active participant in the family group. Resist the temptation to chime in with the usual, "Good boy" and distract him from his first glimpses into seeing his place in the family. His early stirrings of natural feelings of pleasure from exercising his drive to cooperate are Nature's rewards and are just what he needs to keep him happily moving forward in his personal growth.
If you are preoccupied the next time he becomes interested in the TV knobs and are "too busy" to offer your calm and loving reinforcement of the lesson, he becomes confused and unsettled. His natural drive to become a cooperating member of the household gets side-tracked. When you don't MEAN WHAT YOU SAY,*** you fail to give him the information and support he needs to live up to your requirements. Now you may find him going back again and again to the forbidden object. Parents call this "testing." And they are correct. He is looking for clear dependable guidance. He is looking for the security in knowing you mean what you say so he can settle down and get on with his important work. He is testing to find out how much or if he can depend on you. Directed by his inner needs, he is not consciously aware of his motivation and not "trying to be bad" as some parents will believe. You may hear them say, "He knows how to push my buttons."
He knows absolutely nothing about your buttons or how to push them. He is confused and uncertain. Your steady guidance will help him find his way forward.
I can hear some readers asking, "This all sounds like a lot of effort. How many times do I have to redirect him?"
Yes, for the moment, sitting across the room and yelling, "no" is much less effort as is slapping his hands or giving him a spanking. The difference is in the results.
You are setting the tone of the relationship and whether it will be one of cooperation or of conflict.
Working with him instead of against him, he learns to control himself as his self-discipline rapidly grows. How many times a lesson will need to be taught will depend on how vigilant you can be in making certain you are holding up your end of the process by always being there to reinforce the restriction and by maintaining a friendly, helping attitude. If you have not made your requirements clear by interrupting an activity sometimes and sometimes not and if you ignite his Counterwill by being punitive and coercive the interaction is changed from a happy teaching opportunity to a frustrating obstructive conflict.
By WORKING WITH instead of DOING TO many families find happy compliance after only one teaching episode.
There will be situations when his safety is at stake and action will be needed to avert disaster. In the tippy stool incident above, if you have already become involved in a power struggle and your child has grown defiant, he may keep going back to climb on the stool. This will be a time when you eliminate an unacceptable behavior by modifying the environment. In this case, at a time when he is asleep or away from the house, it will be your responsibility to remove the threat to his safety by storing the stool completely out of sight. You will need to do this when he's not around so there is no element of a contest in what you are doing. Not as though you are showing him you are "winning" by taking away the stool. If he asks about it, a brief honest answer, said without emotion, will suffice, "It was dangerous to have around and has been put in storage."
This will be a time when old traditional thinking could sneak up on you and an automatic response might be something like, "You wouldn't stay off it so I put it away." There are any number of traditional responses a parent could use and keep the power struggle going. Be on guard to keep any versions of the following from coming out of your mouth:
"I told you not to climb on the stool and you wouldn't listen, so I locked it up."
"I put it away because you wouldn't stop climbing on it."
"This is what happens when you don't obey your mother."
If you have been punishing or yelling at him when he climbed on the stool, Attachment has been weakened and Counterwill energized. Remember! You are in charge of the situation. The stool has been removed and you may now walk away from whatever power struggle revolved around it. By doing this, in this one instance, you can set the course for eliminating an ongoing power struggle completely.
To give you a break from watching everything he is doing every minute he is up and about, I strongly suggest arranging a child-safe gated area in the home supplied with a few age-appropriate and interesting playthings where he can follow his own initiative without interference. I want to emphasize a FEW playthings. A large quantity of toys will be overwhelming and prevent him from focusing on any one of them. Three or four of his favorite playthings known to capture his interest will keep him busily engaged. If he shows signs of disinterest after awhile, you can pop in and spend a few minutes engaging his interest in a different selection of toys.
This gives you time to pursue your own interests or complete chores, eliminating your frustrations as well as his. By stopping in to join him for a few minutes every-once-in-awhile for a hug or to comment on what he is doing, he will be happy to play by himself for an extended period of time.
A toddler who has been introduced to this arrangement from the first day he began to crawl will be happy and contented playing on his own. When you make it a part of his established daily routine it gives him the opportunity to enjoy the self-directed independent play he thrives on.
We do not want to confine him in this way after he has become discontented playing by himself and shows us he wants out. The gated space will stop being a desirable place for the freedom to do what he wants if we turn it into a cage.
It is important to be well aware of his activities during this time.Taking a shower, leaving the house or taking a nap would not be recommended. It is also important to bolt to the wall any piece of furniture he could pull over onto himself and to be certain the area is free of objects small enough to go into his mouth or any chords or curtains he could become entangled in.
With an understanding of your child's true character and needs you will find yourself enjoying the best years of your life: Sharing them with a Terrific Toddler.
A common obstacle to this happy outcome is unrealistic parental expectatiohs. Some of the things parents demand are simply beyond a child's developmental capabilities. When your friend's two-year-old is using the potty or eating everything put before him beware of falling into the comparison trap. What another child is doing has nothing to do with your child's development in a particular area.
The accomplishments parents pressure a child to achieve will be
realized without conflict and "right on time" when adults get out of the way and allow their child to advance at his own pace and volition. They only need to provide the environmental components to allow each advancement to happen.
This is particularly true of physical advances:
Your child will walk when he is ready.
Your child will talk when he is ready.
Your child will use the potty when he is ready.
Your child will eat a variety of foods when he is ready.
Einstein did not utter a word until after he was two-years-old!
Putting a baby into some sort of a "walker" to hurry up his ambulation
is totally unnecessary. Holding him up by his arms and pulling him into stepping forward is a waste of your time and his and disrespectful of his internal time-table.
With a little potty chair placed on the floor in the bathroom and your clear statement of why it was put there, you have done your part in providing what he needs to follow his personal directions for using the bathroom. "This little toilet, like mommy's and daddy's big one, is for you to use when you are ready." The little potty can be moved into his gated play area for his convenience during his solitary play-time. Beyond this, allow him to observe other family members using the big toilet and dress him in clothing he can handle, known as training pants. A plastic outer pantie will save you the frustrations from cleaning up puddles.
As for eating a variety of foods, please read my chapter on Picky Eaters.
Modeling plays a huge part in every stage of your child's growth.
Manners come to mind. Very young children are sometimes punished for failing to say, "Please" or, "Thank You" and this is terribly unfair. The system of ettiqette used for easing us through social interactions is far beyond the comprehension of a toddler or any child until around the ages of five or six. Some children do, however, arrive at the habitual use of such niceties at an early age simply through Modeling. When they are firmly attached to the adults around them and this is the language they hear with such politeness being extended to them day in and day out you may hear our standard polite responses coming from the mouth of a toddler.
The same holds true concerning Table Manners. Trying to enforce any level of table manners at any age, from toddler to teen, is a devisive tactic. A firmly attached child being treated with full respect will want to be like his parents and will model the table manners he observes in his home. Criticizing table manners, like all criticism, harms a relationship and weakens Attachment.
Always keeping the fundamental importance of Attachment in mind, relax and enjoy your delightful toddler.
Time flies. Next week he will be leaving for college.
*Please read the chapter on COUNTERWILL for a full understanding of this powerful instinct.
** Please see the chapter listing the twelve ROADBLOCKS.
*** The importance of Meaning What You Say is explained in another chapter.