Thank you for visiting our site and for sending these important
questions. I can understand that you're feeling overwhelmed, especially
with an obviously bright two-year-old and a baby who is just becoming
more active as well. I commend you for wanting alternatives to time-out.
A two-year-old is a very curious person, always experimenting, always
exploring. He is in fact, a scientist! And if you look at his activities
in that way, it can change your perspective and allow creative ideas to
emerge, making life easier for you and for him.
I'd like to suggest an exercise to try. For one day, picture him not
as a small child, but rather as a visiting scientist. Pretend this
scientist is staying at your home for a day. This person needs materials
to use, needs time to do his research, and will need your assistance
from time to time. If we had a visiting scientist at our house, wouldn't
we feel curious ourselves as to what he is doing, and wouldn't we feel
honored to be helping when we can? That's exactly the right attitude to
take with a busy toddler.
Unfortunately, our society doesn't take that attitude, and we're led
to believe that a two-year-old should behave like an adult at all times.
That's absurd and unrealistic, of course, but nevertheless, it's what
many in our society expect. So we hear from relatives, friends,
strangers, and so-called "experts" that our two-year-old is
"misbehaving" when he/she is simply "acting like a
If a 30-year-old "refuses to follow a simple direction"
something is wrong in the relationship that needs to be explored. But a
two-year-old is not an adult! If a two year-old "refuses to follow
a simple direction", it's because he's tired, hungry, wet,
distracted, busy, uninterested, resentful of the approach being used,
confused by the directions that have been given, remembering a painful
experience related to what is being asked of him, sad because of recent
disappointments, overwhelmed by loud noises in the house or
neighborhood, reacting to tensions in the family or bad feelings between
siblings or parents, understandably jealous of attention his sibling is
getting, or frustrated because he's had to wait too long for attention,
and on and on. There is a very good reason for each and every bit of
behavior he presents to us!! Punishing him for doing the very best he
can given his age, the present circumstances, his recent experiences,
and the limited time he's been on this planet is not only obviously
unfair, it's completely ineffective. It's really very simple -
"Children behave as well as they are treated" and as well as
they are feeling at the time.
For all of these reasons, you are very wise to recognize that
punishment doesn't work, and to look for more effective and positive
alternatives. Sometimes it just takes a little imagination and a good
knowledge of our child's personality. When my son was two, he loved
going to playgrounds, but he never wanted to leave. This became a real
problem for me, as it seemed impossible to prevent the tears and
frustration at the end of an otherwise happy day. When I took a little
time to think about what might make this easier, I remembered that he
loved racing with me. The next time we had to leave the playground, I
told him it was time to leave, and asked if he wanted to race me to the
car. He was very happy with this solution.
The most important advice I've ever had is to use humor whenever
possible - not mean humor, of course, but silly humor. Once when my son
at age 7 didn't feel like helping me with cooking, but I could have used
some help, I put up a sign: "Help wanted - banana masher for cake
project". He came several times to interview for the job,
pretending to be too dumb, too weird, too mean, etc., and finally he
appeared as the perfect kitchen helper. Yes, it took time and
imagination, but his delighted helpfulness was worth it. Whenever I
would get too busy to take an understanding approach, and we would both
get upset, that would take even more time to undo the damage. Children
do take our time. They take our energy. They take our love. But the more
time and energy we give, the less they need in the future. And the more
love they can give back.
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