It often requires the patience of two saints to get through the toddler years with twins. From time-outs to counting to flat-out ignoring less-than-desirable behavior, here is what’s worked for us (and what hasn’t).
Many parents learn that time-outs don’t work terribly well during this phase. First, you will have to carry the child to the designated time-out spot, which creates more manual labor for you. Because your child isn’t likely to fully understand why she is there, she’s probably going to escape unless she’s confined somewhere such as her crib or a Pack ‘n Play.
Some people utilize Pack ‘n Plays or cribs for time-outs, but I’ve heard more than once (and tend to agree) that using a child’s crib for a time-out is not the best idea. You do not want your child to develop any negative associations with his crib—at least beyond the fact that it’s time for lights out even though he would prefer to crawl in and out of the Tupperware cabinet for another hour.
That said, time-outs worked quite well for Chrissy’s 20-month-old twin girls. As many of us were when it first debuted, Chrissy was a loyal watcher of CBS’s Super Nanny. (Did anyone else ponder the minor detail that the majority of Super Nanny’s clients seemed to be parents of multiples?) Whenever Chrissy so much as made mention of the Naughty Chair, her daughters would immediately cease and desist the problematic behavior. Thus, for a period, she became known as Super Chrissy.
1 . . . 2 . . . 3
Several years ago, there was a large craze over the concept of counting to three. The premise was that when you began counting, your child would realize that he could choose to stop what he was doing, or, when you got to three, there would be a consequence (of which he was informed ahead of time). The problem with this strategy in the experience of many of my fellow moms is that kids learn fairly quickly that before anything unfortunate happens, mom has to get to “Three.” They continue the behavior until Mom’s said “Two,” and then they stop.
The main problem with this approach, especially early on in the second year, is that young children don’t have a clue what you are doing when you start counting. Most of the time, they’ll just continue what they’re doing. As they reach the latter half of this year, they’ll look at you with a wow-I’ve-sure-got-you-frustrated grin on their face the minute you say “One.”
I knew a mother once who not only counted incessantly, but each “strike” required three sub-strikes. So, the mom would begin counting, and inevitably just after she said “Two,” the kid would stop doing what he was doing. If he didn’t, and she actually uttered the word “Three,” he’d get Strike One. Once she got to Strike Three, the child received one “official” strike.
He required three “official” strikes before he was punished. So, the mom had to successfully get to “Three” nine times before the child suffered a consequence. It was insane. This kid acted up all day long. He knew the way the game was played, and the mom was so terrified of her son being angry with her because she punished him (regardless of the fact that the punishment resulted from his misbehaving nine times) that she ensured that she never had to make good on the consequences, but was being a responsible mother by doing something to enforce good behavior.
When I witnessed these counting episodes day-in and day-out, the child was three or four years old. But clearly, this sort of laissez-faire approach had been utilized all his life because trust me, he had no interest in behaving for any longer than it took his mother to stop counting—for twenty seconds.
My friend Barb, who has been the exception to the rule in a few areas, was just that when it came to counting. When her girls were between eighteen and twenty months old, Olivia was having such frequent and mind-blowing tantrums that counting to three was the only thing that worked—for Barb. I remember this stage of beautiful Olivia’s life as though it were yesterday, and I remember Barb uttering numbers more times during a five-minute phone call with me than any other type of word.
She recently informed me that the counting wasn’t entirely or even predominantly for Olivia’s benefit. It was for Barb’s. She was so frustrated by Olivia’s behavior that counting to three kept her as calm as possible while she attempted to deal with the latest outburst. If Olivia actually responded to the tactic by stopping her tantrum, all the better.
Flat-out ignoring your child’s less-than-acceptable behavior doesn’t work terribly well at this age for anything other than full-blown tantrums. At this age, a child’s ability to understand cause and effect is still maturing. It’s easier for her to understand that if she throws her food on the floor, her plate goes in the sink than it is for her to understand why you’re not helping her when her outburst is the only way she knows to communicate a particular need. She’ll understand that if she’s throwing a major tantrum to get your attention and you walk away, she’s not getting the desired effect.
However, if she’s whining or having a disagreement with her brother over who gets the yellow block, she won’t understand why you’ve left the room. She’s not trying to get your attention at this point; she’s trying to get through a frustrating situation as best she can. She needs your help (and will for some time) to learn how to handle it properly.
Distraction works better at this age than at any other because while they appear to be getting more persistent (and they are), one-year-olds really don’t have the attention span to be attached to anything for very long, including the conviction that the red toy on the other side of the room that her brother is playing with is different from the exact same red toy right in front of her. Many times, diverting a child’s attention with another toy, a butterfly sitting on a flower outside, a plane flying overhead, or the appearance of the floating teddy bear in a commercial for fabric softener will be enough to help your child to forget the frustration she was previously focused on.
Positive reinforcement is a wonderful tool to use at any age. It doesn’t matter how old you are; it always feels good to know that someone else approves of something you have done. When your children share nicely, tell them what a good job they did sharing. When they follow directions, tell them what good listeners they are.