Tuesday, May 7, 2013


Two months past his second birthday, Henry still hasn't entered "The Terrible Two's." However, he is definitely growing in his desire to be independent, to follow his own pace, and to assert his will. There are several things that Matt and I implement proactively to support Henry at this stage:
  • We set up our home to facilitate independence. Henry can open the pantry to get out his plates for snack, access his own glasses and fill them up with water from the Britta inside the fridge, take out the cutting board/knife/whisk/wooden spoon/colander for helping with food preparation, move a stool over to the counter to reach the bananas first thing in the morning while Matt and I are still in bed, climb in and out of his carseat (and snap the buckle across his chest), carry his own bag to and from the car to school and home, climb in and out of his high chair, carry a snack to his weaning table and eat, etc.
  • We try our best to create wide open space and time for Henry. We devote a full hour from wake-up to departure for school every morning. It still feels a bit rushed at times, but, for the most part, we can slow down to Henry's pace. When I pick Henry up from school, I let him dictate how we spend our 2.5 hours together. Most days he likes to sit on the bench in front of his school to watch the construction work across the street, look for bugs on the way from our car to our house, help prepare snack, do a little dancing, and go to the park for a full hour.
  • We try to say "yes" as often as possible. We try to create a prepared environment that allows Henry a full range of exploration. I let him put golf balls in his mouth and even climb on the windowsill. That way, when we say "no," we really mean it. For example, when Henry gets too far away from me at the park, I can call out, "Henry, that's too far" and he will come closer.
  • We try to fit our lives around Henry's need for routine. On weekdays, we try our very best to be home in time for Henry's 6:30 bedtime. We'll definitely stay out late to attend potlucks or other special events, but, in general, we try to honor Henry's need to wind down and go to bed early. On the weekends, Henry really needs to nap at noon. Again, we try to honor that need as much as possible. We don't completely put our lives on hold for Henry, but we understand that these kind of restrictions won't last much longer, and Henry really is much happier when he's well-rested and fed.
I suspect that many of these proactive strategies help Henry to be the fun-loving, content, and curious boy that he is. Of course I have no way of knowing, since my "science experiment" only has one subject and no control group!
Sometimes, though, there is a need for reactive strategies. For example, if Henry is particularly tired and melting down, he might resort to hitting. When that happens, we tell him that we don't like to be hit and if he hits again he'll need to go to time-out until he's ready to be kind to others. Usually, he will hit again, and we will put him in his room. We leave his bedroom door open and tell him he can come out whenever he's ready to be kind.
The other struggle with have with Henry is that he sometimes doesn't listen to us when we ask him to do something. For example, when it's time to clear his plate after snack, he sometimes prefers to go straight to playing. For me, it's important that Henry understands that some things need to be done. In those moments, I now say, "Would you like to put your plate away yourself or would you like me to pick you up and we'll put it away together?" So far, Henry picks the first option every time. He wants to do things independently. I like that the expectation is clear that the plate needs to get put away but I also like that Henry has a choice about how it gets put away.
I use this strategy in other situations, too, such as:
  • When Henry wants to play in the car rather than get in his carseat: "Do you want to climb in yourself or do you want me to put you in?"
  • When Henry wants to look at a book rather than get dressed: "Do you want to put on your underwear yourself or do you want me to help you?"
  • When Henry wants to leave his tools outside rather than bring them in: "Do you want to get your tools yourself or do you want me to carry you outside to pick them up together?"
This discussion is reminding me that I need to learn more about handling interactions with toddlers in ways that cultivate the foundation for self-discipline and self-management, while also ensuring that there are boundaries and consistency in our lives. If you have any book recommendations, please let me know!

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Abby said...

I love Janet Lansbury's website (janetlansbury.com) for solid advice about limit setting and respectful parenting. Sounds like y'all are already well on the path, but the site is so good about concrete ideas in specific challenging situations that you might find it helpful? The Facebook community for her website is really helpful, too.

Caroline A said...

The best resource I've found is AhaParenting - I can find a step by step guide to just about any challenge we're facing. Her book is great too.

Regarding the Terrible Two's, we've found it has a lot to do with temperament. We had one boy that rarely had tantrums and one boy at the other extreme. The arrival of the new baby, the sibling dynamics and your lessened ability to meet everyone's needs at once will likely have an impact on the situation as well. Finding ways to fuel that connection with Henry when the new baby comes will be key!

Carrie said...

I agree with the recs above, plus "Conscious Parenting" on Facebook and the book "Fingerpainting in Psych Class" that goes along with the CP page.

"Terrible Twos" can be such a misnomer, as Caroline A found with one of hers. We skipped them with our first, and then age 3 1/2 - 4 was REALLY HARD.

I am glad to hear from you about the choices you offer. It's funny, but I offer the same ones, and my son also picks the one where he gets to do the thing we want him to do by himself, rather than have us help him. :)

E. said...

Growing up, my Dad always would say to me, "how would you like to go downstairs and get spaghetti sauce?" and it would make me crazy because it was clearly NOT a choice. It was worse in high school when he would ask our friends/boyfriends if they would "like to bring in some groceries" or "like to help clear the table." When we brought it up with him, he claimed that OF COURSE my sister's boyfriend could tell the big scary 6' tall 250 pound man that no, he didn't really want to help clear the table. The end result? We stopped inviting friends over, and started to be pretty resentful of being asked to "help". Honestly, if he had just said, "Please get a jar of spaghetti sauce" it would have seemed much more respectful. Obviously you're giving Henry choices here, but it probably doesn't feel like they are really choices. It seems like he usually picks the one where he is more independent because the other option is something that even a two year old might think is "for babies", like, "do you want me to carry you outside to pick them up together?" I would encourage you to make sure that these sound like actual choices, not like my Dad's "requests for help". "Do you want to get your tools yourself or do you want me to come with you?" seems like a more balanced choice. How does he react when you just ask him to do the chore instead of giving him a choice? Do you only give him the choice when he has refused to complete the chore without the option?

I'll freely admit I know almost nothing about disciplining a two-year-old, I'm just sharing this with you because the "false choice" language of my childhood made me extremely resentful about doing chores (and otherwise my parents were incredibly respectful of my desires and helped raise me to be extremely independent, so this really bugged me.)

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, E.! I only offer to carry him to do it after I've asked him to do it and he doesn't. The other choice has to be something that I can enact. If he refuses to make a choice, then I can start to pick him up and he quickly says he would prefer to do it on his own. Then he knows he needs to get done or he will have to be carried to get it done.

Our Little Beehive said...

Sara when did Henry really start to listen and understand the choices? My son is just starting to understand when I ask him to do things, especially those things he would prefer not to do (ex. "please put your paci in your crib and then we can go downstairs.") I'm curious to hear at what age you feel like the message really started to sink-in with Henry and when he started to obey/choose/comply/whatever and do think whatever age he was is the norm?

Jan Ting said...

I second AhaParenting. She has a website, http://www.ahaparenting.com/

I find her daily email newsletters very insightful and interesting.

A couple of things-- I "teach" at a co-op preschool, and in my daughter's class of 12 two to two and 4 month year olds, we rarely have tantrums (and only from one child who has always had a "hot" temperament, i.e. has been having tantrums since september!). So I'm not sure if the "terrible 2's" really start at age 2!

RE: "choices" - I found the comment about resenting false choices really interesting. I used to give my daughter choices, but she would pretty much refuse both choices. So I stopped doing that a while ago. Another idea for getting him to help (if he doesn't comply with your first request) is to explain to him why you want him to do it. I have found this to be much more useful than offering two choices that are essentially the same choice. Like, if he doesn't want to bring his tools in, explain to him that they will get rusty if he leaves them outside, and then he won't be able to use them next time. If he doesn't want to bring his plate to the sink, that it will be dirty at dinnertime. Or whatever. Maybe this won't work for you, but it works great for my daughter (she will actually talk about the reason why she is doing something the next time she does it). I guess the problem with "logical consequences" is that you have to follow through if the kid still doesn't comply. My daughter is totally a "rules" girl, though, so we haven't run into this too much yet.

RE: time outs. At our school we don't do time outs (so we don't do them at home either). If you think about it, they don't make a lot of sense, especially in the context of your example. He is hitting/acting out because he is TIRED. By saying, "go to your room by yourself until you are ready to be kind," you are pushing him away when he probably needs you most, and are telling him that he is unkind. At school we always try not to label the children but rather their actions. When someone hits, we hold their hands so they can't hit (if they are still actively doing it) and explain that it is not acceptable ("ouch, hitting hurts. we don't want to hurt our friends. hitting isn't nice, is it?" (rather than, "you aren't being nice."). They are much more receptive to rules and reasoning than they might seem! I think "Dr Laura" talks about this and time outs as well.

Anyways, hope some of this is helpful for you. Just some food for thought. (I know parenting advice is such a smorgasbord! which is why I like reading your blog as it gives me ideas...)

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Our Little Beehive! I'm sorry but I can't remember the age.

Hi, Jan Ting! Thank you so much for sharing your strategies!

faux domestic diva said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, faux domestic diva! I'm not sure why you removed your comment, but I had a chance to read it before it was gone and I just wanted to say thank you. Everything I share on this blog is in the spirit of "Here's what we're doing because it makes sense to us. I have no idea if it's the "right" or "best" thing to do, but it's what we're doing. I like to hear what other people are doing and deciding for their families, so I figure I might as well share what we're doing, too."

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