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Terrible Two's

Terrible Two's

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Dear Rachel,

I recently gave birth to our second child and our first son, 2 1/2 obviously is in need of a lot more attention than ever, which is our new challenge. However, our son has reached the depths of terrible twos and is beginning to clash with my husband who until now was the most patient father and husband. Together with the stress of dealing with 2 children and my son's 'terrible twos', I'm afraid that my son is getting 'pushed away' by my husband’s lack of patience with him. I would love some advice on how to help them both since it is hurting me, and needless to say it hurts my husband and son even more.

M.N.
Woodmere, NY

Dear M.N.,

Firstly, Mazal Tov on the birth of your baby. The birth of a new baby expands the family unit exponentially. It's not a matter of simple math, such as I had one child, now I have another and that makes two... as evidenced by the depth of your question, it's a little more like advanced calculus.

This is because each child is a world in and of him or herself which orbits around every other world in your home - each of your unique energies, moods and attitudes will have an impact on each other's thus creating some serious atmosphere. Child number one just got bumped out of the center of the universe. Your husband, who as of 2 1/2 years ago used to be the center of your world just got bumped again. It is not uncommon to experience a bit of turbulence.

Even when all possible preparation for a new baby has been made, a child can still feel a significant amount of resentment and anger towards the new baby and or his parents for having made this new baby a reality.

One idea that may be helpful for your son to get comfortable with: this is your baby too. Even this kind of language is easy for a two year old to grasp, mine, yours ... it's simple. The baby is not just mommy and daddy’s, it's mine too. With this kind of speech we are transmitting a sense of purpose and responsibility. And given that this is his baby, he needs to learn how to hold him, and how to help comfort him, how to recognize what makes his baby happy and what does not. It is imperative that all siblings understand that any act of physical aggression towards baby is intolerable.

But as long as that is clear, and you are supervising, perhaps allowing your son to be an active care-provider, a real big brother would be something he may enjoy. Letting him push the baby in his swing, wipe up spit-up from his chin, apply diaper ointment, help wash baby's feet in;or sing baby a song. Obviously at yours and his comfort level.He may also not express any interest in this new baby just yet, that's Ok too. He'll let you know when he's ready.

There are two basic needs that this new big brother likely has: 1) the need for love and reassurance, and 2) the need to release feelings of frustration and stress.

The first need can be fulfilled by setting aside time each day for private time with both you and your husband. This is an opportunity to really devote yourself 100% to him. It's important to remember that your son has grown accustomed in the last 2 1/2 years of his life to your undivided attention. And now, your attentions are divided.That's a huge shift is his reality. It could be that these clashes, which you describe as a symptom of the terrible twos are coming from a sense of insecurity and anxiousness. He's not sure of the implications of your love and commitment to him and he feels threatened by the baby.

It was said of the Ba'al Shem Tov that he could see inside the souls of the people who stood before him. He was a master of harnessing energy towards good. Even if the energy itself was not inherently positive, he could find a healthy release for nearly any kind tendency.

Similarly, when our children need to release energy and emotion we need to help guide them towards safe and healthy outlets. For example, crying. Crying is an emotional release, and so is a tantrum. But many of us have been lead to believe that crying and screaming is a sign of poor emotional health. On the contrary. Crying is an essential and healthy emotional release, best supported in the arms of a loving parent, or at least with in arms reach.

Two year olds don't have the maturity to express feelings. They just do what they feel. So, I'm not exactly sure what kind of behavior your son is expressing, but if it involves hitting or kicking or any physical acting-out behavior, I would suggest during your focused alone time to help him get some of his emotions out in a safe, healthy and supportive environment. A blank piece of paper and some crayons can also be a very powerful release - so can ripping paper.

Same goes for your husband. He needs emotional release too. It's really important as parents that we make sure that we are receiving the healthiest outlets as possible. First of all, your husband needs to remember that terrible twos is not a syndrome, it's just a limited way to view a powerful and pivotal developmental stage that children enter in their third year of life. And it so happens that the hallmark of this stage is characterized by oppositional behavior.

As parents, we know this phase is difficult... for us; it's also really hard for them. When a child chooses to disobey his parent, he is doing so because this is his first encounter with himself as an entity separate from you, his parent. It's actually amazing. He is slowly learning how to make choices, and of course he won’t always make the right ones, he's two. But we've got to respect him for trying, it's a start. Offering choices as opposed to directives can be very liberating for both parent and child. You're both still in control.

Additionally, I would encourage you and your husband to have some alone time and discuss what he is feeling. He must have a lot going on and be needing a healthy place to emote. Try to hear him without rising to the defense of your two year old immediately. Just try to listen. I think in that quiet, emotional place you might find some real growth.

And just remember, that although it may seem that he will be like this forever, he won’t be (though by then your little one may be starting this stage!).

“Dear Rachel” is a biweekly column that is answered by a rotating group of experts. This question was answered by Sarah Zadok.

Sarah Zadok is a childbirth educator, doula and freelance writer. She lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel, with her husband and four children.

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Bunnie Phoenix, arizona April 27, 2012

great granson He is nineteen mo. old and he has changed so. he is fussy most of the time, can't make up his mind if he wants up or down. he is in a mood he won't eat. when he is loveable he is so cute. and teaching him no, the cat was easier to train. I love him so much, but he is wearing my patience out. Also I am 74 and do not remember my three children going thru the terrible two's. Reply

jessica vallejo, ca June 30, 2011

cry baby Hi my son who is 18 months is going through what doctors say is PRE TERRIBLE TWOS.... he is being a huge cry baby and throwing tantrums anywhere and everywhere we go. he cries over every little thing it is getting so bad i cant even shower untill he goes to bed and if i need to shower in the morning i have to take him in with me.
my husband is working all day so i am the one who mainly deals with it. i just need some support and advice on what is it that i should do.
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Beth Miriam Chicago, IL December 24, 2008

Validate, label and model. Children can not label and identify their emotions until about age 3-4. Remember to validate a childs feelings before trying to alter a behavior. The only way a child can learn to have the proper outlet for his emotions is to understand that they are ok to have. So if a child his hitting, biting etc. the best response is for a CALM (lol) and soft spoken Mommy or Daddy to validate, label and model the emotion and behavior.

For example "it makes you so mad/sad/frustrated when Susie won't share her truck" (validate and label the emotion). Pause. "We don't hurt our friends bodies by hitting". Pause. " If you are mad/sad/frustrated you can tell me with words or make a fist or stomp your foot, or put your hands on your hips or make a a mad face" etc. while you are modeling those options. If you are in a safe place then punching pillows or kicking a bean bag chair works well also.

I learned this from a wonderful Developmental Therapist who works with my son and IT WORKS Reply

Cheryl west bloomfield, MI/usa December 23, 2008

terrible two's There is a process called "reprochemont" that occurs from early mobility into the three's. During this stage, the process of individuation is forming. Simply put, it means the child, through repetitious experimenting, determines the real difference between themselves and other. (ei.At first they are afraid when you say "no" progessing to realizing they CAN do what they want, progressing to, "look how amusing, when I do this I "make" them do that! Whoever coined the phrase terrible two's did not understand the process! Great patience, guidence and good boundaries offered by the parent(s) will become essential. The advise for adult time is essential, too! Reply

Anonymous Atlanta, GA/USA December 15, 2008

Hitting and pushing at the nursery at shul I also have a child who turned two the day after his baby brother was born. The day he came home from the hospital, he was kissing the baby's leg and then suddenly bit him leaving a mark. My little one is now 9 mo. old. I am having problems now teaching him to share with others and responding without hitting or pushing when someone takes something he is playing with, or has something he wants. It is getting to be a real source of strife for everyone and I am afraid he could really hurt someone. He is also developing a bad reputation at shul as the kid who hits or takes things. Sometimes it seems like everyone elses children are so calm and he is the only one who does such things. Last week he was angry at a little girl because she wouldn't share something with him and he tried to hit her. The same day a little boy took something he was playing with and he pushed him way. I had to leave the nursery. I'm afraid he might hurt someone if I bring him back Reply

Anonymous May 21, 2008

consider yourself lucky as my child has been living the terrible twos from 16 months until now, he is now 2 and a half...i dont know if it will ever end !! Reply

Lisa Providence , RI May 27, 2007

Terrible Two's Make sure your house is as childproof as possible! Reply