When our daughter turned two years old, I remember thinking, I am so lucky. After all, my pediatrician had mentioned that most of the antics associated with the Terrible Twos typically begin around 16 months of age. We were eight months past that, and were experiencing nothing too terrifying. It occurred to me that the moms who were pulling their hair out with their 2-year-olds must simply be exaggerating or have incredibly high expectations.
Then Grace turned two-and-a-half, did a complete personality shift, and I was irrevocably proven horribly wrong.
Having watched me grow old with frustration and desperation seemingly overnight, my husband arrived home one evening with Parenting the Strong-Willed Child: The Clinically Proven Five-Week Program for Parents of Two- to Six-Year-Olds, by Rex Forehand, PhD. I learned the following week that my girlfriend, Tracy, was devoted to the same book. I’ve always been thankful for the moment when one of us was brave enough to admit to the other that we were reading such a guide. It validated the fact that I wasn’t the only mom with a toddler who appeared well-behaved in public and then turned into someone I barely knew at home.
When our twins, Jack and Henry, reached the age of two, I thought I was prepared. How much worse could it get? One word: much. It was chaos and tantrums times two. And the moments when Grace gets in on the action? They are legendary—and I know they are stealing more than a few years of my life expectancy.
My mom has always said it is better that a child behaves outside the home and is challenging inside than the reverse, but I’ll admit that there have been days when I’ve wished the truth of our situation was out on the table as clear as the Caribbean sea is blue. When a stranger comments on how well-behaved one or all of our kids is, and when I respond that we “have our moments,” she often looks at me as though I’m making it up out of some insane fear of embarrassment for having perfect kids. I’ve even come close at one time or another to actually instigating a problem in Target in order to prove the true nature of the battles I wage at home.
At some point, it dawned on me that my life as a mother felt out of control. It was time to reclaim my position, and I told myself that there had to be a way beyond constant yelling and bribery to whip our household into shape.
First, I acknowledged that there were indeed moments when everyone–including myself–needed a time out. There were days when I was just too tired to deal with what were likely normal toddler antics. Mind you, that knowledge didn’t make those days easier, but it helped me to take a step back now and then.
Second, I briefly entertained the idea that perhaps even I might need a minor attitude adjustment. Frankly, I like to think I’m relatively rational and logical, and it’s hard for me to believe that I need more psychological reconstruction than a 4-year-old or twin 2-year-olds, but I had open arms for anything that might help.
Not surprisingly, I found a wide array of books from which to choose on the topic of fixing-thyself-in-order-to-fix-thy-children. From Parenting with Dignity to How to Behave So Your Preschooler Will Too and Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff with Your Family: Simple Ways to Keep Daily Responsibilities and Household Chaos from Taking Over Your Life (isn’t the issue that it’s already happened?), there are plenty of options for those desperate enough to adopt the strategy of accepting some level of personal responsibility for the unfortunate effects of the psychological disorder also known as toddlerhood.
My mom suggested a book titled Discipline Without Tyranny. That sounded refreshing enough, except it was copyright 1972, and is no longer available. Perhaps parents—and maybe even the author—realized that such an approach is not realistic.
Tracy later informed me that she had taken a few ideas from Parenting Your Strong-Willed Child, and then moved on to Your Three Year Old: Friend or Enemy. Hilarious title, but honestly, there are millions of parents asking themselves on a minute-by-minute basis into which category their child fits. In fact, do a sweep of the books available on this topic and it quickly becomes quite clear that those of us who feel as though we’re going to have two strands of hair left by the time our children reach the age of six are by no means alone.
From the incredibly popular 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12, by Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D. to Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child: Eliminating Conflict by Establishing Clear, Firm, and Respectful Boundaries, by Robert J. MacKenzie, Ed.D., the book choices are endless, as are the suggestions provide therein. I’m personally so tired of counting that I started doing it in other languages so the kids would have a learning experience as they waited for me to get to 2 1/2 in Japanese before they even considered complying.
Finally, mentally beaten and battered almost beyond recognition, I came across a fabulous book entitled Parent Talk: How to Talk to Your Children in Language That Builds Self-Esteem and Encourages Responsibility, by Chick Moorman. Void of long chapters explaining to me why my children do what they do, (truth me told, I don’t care, I just want them the stop!) the book presents a large number of statements or questions parents can use in challenging moments to assist children in developing a sense of responsibility, a healthy level of self-esteem, and control over their actions as well as the consequences (good or bad) of those actions.
Two other fantastic books along those same lines are How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish and Have a New Kid by Friday: How to Change Your Child’s Attitude, Behavior & Character in 5 Days, by Dr. Kevin Leman. As far as I’m concerned, if you have these three books in your arsenal, you’re set.
I’m quite sure there will come a moment when I’ll look back with fond nostalgia at the days when I was frustrated with issues such as toys lying everywhere, dinner menus being balked at, and insistence on wearing plaid sweatpants with a floral sweatshirt to the park in the middle of July. And when that day comes, I hope there are still enough books on the shelves of my bookstore to at least convince me that there is a plan B (and C and G and J) at my disposal. For it’s through having faith that I haven’t yet exhausted every possibility for reform that I am able to wake up each morning to the alarm that consists of three children already screaming at me over their breakfast choices.