One of my books, "Making the 'Terrible' Twos Terrific!", has recently become a best-seller in China, of all places. Seriously! What sorts of problems are Chinese parents having with their toddlers? The same problems American, French, Russian, Australian, Nigerian, Brazilian, Czech and parents of all other nationalities are having with theirs, that's what.
Human nature is human nature, folks. Children do not come into the world civilized; rather, they must be civilized. They must be taught to accept submission to legitimate authority, for starters. They must be taught respect for all people and the property of others. They must be taught to control their impulses, because most of their innate impulses are destructive and self-serving. They must be taught to accept "no" for an answer, to wait in line, and that they aren't the best at everything or even most things. None of that comes easy for a toddler, which is why toddlers scream so much. And by the way, their screams are all screams of pain because nothing is more painful than having to accept that you are not God or even a god.
The "terrible twos" actually begin sometime during a child's second year of life – say, 18 months – and last until around his or her third birthday. That finite period assumes that the child's parents accomplish what is described in the previous paragraph during that time. If they fail to do so, toddlerhood continues. Eventually, it becomes known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and/or bipolar disorder of childhood. Blaming the child's biology (even though no one has proved that said "disorders" are biologically based) is so much more tidy (and profitable) than implying that his parents failed in their mission.
So, the question is, how does one complete the mission by age 3?
First, childproof the home. That ensures that parents will not spend great energy following the living tornado from room to room, slapping his little hands, yelling "stop that!" 50 times a day and generally setting disciplinary precedents that will come back to haunt them.
Second, create a "tantrum place" where said little beastie, when possessed by a demon, can flail and scream all he wants. An out-of-the-way place, preferably, where his flailing and screaming will disturb no one but himself, which is fitting. Simply help him to his special place whenever he begins to scream, deposit him (you'll likely be dragging him at this point), and say, "Here you go! Scream all you want, my sweet little angel," and walk away.
Third, remember that undomesticated barbarians do not sit for time-out. No matter. Select a time-out chair anyway. When he decides to play James Dean, just take him to said chair and put him in it. Then step back and say, "OK, you can get up now." Make sure you say it before he gets up on his own. That creates the illusion that he is obeying you, which is all you're trying to accomplish because it's all you can accomplish.
Fourth, always remember that "no" is the most important word in your vocabulary. The sooner he gets used to it, the sooner you can dispense with the second suggestion, above, and the happier he will be.
Fifth, put him to bed as early as possible.
Write to family psychologist John Rosemond at The Leadership Parenting Institute, 420 Craven St., New Bern, N.C. 28560 or email [email protected] Due to the volume of mail, not every question will be answered.