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Contrary 2-Year-Old — Good Parenting

Welcome to Good Parenting, our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Headshot2011Contrary 2-Year-Old — Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

I’ve heard of “terrible two’s” but didn’t think my sweet baby would ever be one. Now that she’s turned 2, it seems her favorite word is “no.” She argues – with very few words – about eating, dressing, getting in the bathtub, getting out of the bathtub, you name it. What’s comical is that after a couple of protests, she goes along any way with what is being offered. I’m trying to keep a lighthearted perspective on this, but if she’s had me up at night it’s tough to just let it roll off my back.
How am I to face a whole year of negativity?

Just Say Yes

Don’t miss last week’s column on school readiness.

Dear Say Yes,

It may help you to get through this phase if you can appreciate that your twosie has discovered she has a mind of her own. She’ll need this the rest of her life. You are helping her to voice her opinion, but also to deal with the “have to’s” that for now, you are deciding for her. “No,” is the best way for her to express that whatever it is that you are thinking, she is capable of having her own opinion on the matter. As her language skills increase, you will be better able to access that clever little mind, getting to know her perspective, her preferences, and her unique personality, and helping her to make choices in her own best interests.

Offer choices to avoid a power struggle with a 2-year-old. Two choices is about all she can manage at once, though. And if you really have a preference for what she picks, name it second. At this stage of language development she is very likely to repeat the last thing you said. “Do you want to have orange juice or milk in your cup?” “Milk in cup!” she’ll demand.

Use opposites to tickle her funny bone and get her to comply with what she firmly knows to be true. For example, attempt to put her socks on her ears and she’ll protest (with giggles) that socks go on her feet. If you use jokes like this routinely, the two of you can act out being in opposition – with her being the “winner” of the pretend battle. (I’ve never heard of a 2-year-old going along with putting her socks on her ears.)

Pick your battles. Decide quickly if her contrary opinion is within reason and your resources. So what if she wants to dip her hot dog in her mashed potatoes? Stranger combinations have become mainstays (ham and pineapple on a pizza!). If you encounter an argument about getting in the bathtub, (and she really needs a bath), you can let her win the debate about what goes in the tub with her. Anything washable or “immersible” should be allowed. Some plastic farm animals – and maybe even the barn (if there are no metal parts, nor glued on paper) can go in with her. At the end of bath time, if she insists on playing with the twirling vortex of water as the bathtub is drained, what’s the harm? Another minute or so in the tub won’t hurt anything. Two’s hate to be rushed. By the way, time is a resource that you understand but she doesn’t. If she says “no” about leaving an activity or place, assess how much time you can afford, and set a concrete limit for her. My son always had trouble leaving the playground, so when I announced it was time to go, he’d ask to go down the slide some more, so I would pick a reasonable number (for a 2-year-old) and direct a countdown for “four more times” to satisfy him. Close to his second birthday, my son once argued that he wanted to wear one red sock and one blue sock. I soon came to my senses and realized that no one would be offended; if anything they might admire his self-expression.

Look to the future by mentally or literally logging some of her more precious clashes of will. Some of the best family stories involve things that a parent experienced as a mess, or expense, or embarrassment because a child was expressing a newly-discovered will of her own. The most outrageous of these toddler-sized proclamations of independence will become cherished memories. The sooner you find yourself savoring your daughter’s standoffs, the less you will feel threatened by the “no” of a 2-year-old.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com


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