Q. My problem is with my 27-month-old daughter. She is a bright, gregarious, highly coordinated child who loves being outdoors. She also is strong-willed, which I'm glad for.
However, this demand for her own way is extending into every aspect of her life, from getting dressed to taking naps to riding her bike inside to absolutely everything. Lately we've been having just awful times in the mornings. She wakes up fine and then something sets her off.
In essence she is demanding about everything and if she doesn't get her way, huge tantrums develop--often several times a day. She gets lots of love, hugs and attention and generally appears very well-adjusted, but since her second birthday she has become increasingly demanding and possessive. I'm trying not to spank her but whether it's the fact that I'm seven months' pregnant or what, I'm not doing very well at outthinking her at every turn.
A. Your last lines probably tell the whole story: "after her second birthday" and "seven months' pregnant."
The "Terrible Twos" got that name for a reason. When a child knows she can make her arms and legs go the way she wills them, she begins to realize she can become the mistress of her own destiny--and she tries for a whole blessed year. After all, if she can tell her own body what to do, she ought to be able to run every body. This is what makes a 2-year-old as terrible as she is terrific.
The tension between you and your daughter--because of your pregnancy--is probably a little greater than it usually is at this age. Not only is it awkward for you to get around now but parents instinctively know that it's time to push the fledgling from the nest when another one is due. Your daughter no doubt feels a little urgency to grow up and she's resisting. That's all right, for both of you, because that's the way nature is.
And it's also natural for her to try to be independent, but this doesn't mean that she deserves what she yells for, or that you're wrong to deny her.
However, you don't have to take her so seriously. If you do, your unhappiness, and your anger, tell her that the situation matters so much to you that it is worth screaming about.
Laugh with her when she makes foolish demands, as if you know she's just kidding when she wants to do something she knows you don't allow. Sometimes a child will laugh too, as a way to save face when she knows she can't win. Or make a game of it by helping her "put her crankies in her pocket," which may be enough to divert a tantrum. If that doesn't work, use body English: Lift her up wordlessly and firmly and ignore her screams as much as you can. And if you can't, you can say you're sorry she feels so bad; sympathy helps. Or give her a kiss and a hug--as you take her to her room--and a big "Welcome back" when she's feeling sunny again.
It's also wise to talk to her in front of a floor-length mirror or to hold her while you stand before one, without calling attention to the mirror. A small child is almost unable to see herself cry (or himself, for boys are just as vain). You'll probably simmer down too; parents don't like to see themselves squawk either.
And do whisper when she yells. It usually makes a child lower her voice too, if only because you say, "I'm sorry I can't hear you for all the noise."
You can expect your child to take a turn for the better by 30 months, with or without a new baby, but she probably will backslide when the baby is about 3 months old. This is the age when everyone is enchanted by the coos of the new baby and no one remembers to notice the old one.
At that point your little girl will need more loving--when she's good--and more individual attention than you ever thought would be necessary. And at that point, she'll deserve it: First-childitis is much more serious than the Terrible Twos. It's pretty much a lifelong grievance which early cuddling will minimize but never erase. And that's natural too.
Reader Response: I take exception to your advice that a boy who has no problems and who will be 5 in August will be ready to start kindergarten in September.
Experts say boys should be fully 5 1/2 to be mature enough in all areas to succeed in school. The boy who is ready for school before this age is the exception. Schools are geared toward skills that girls acquire at least 6 months before boys: doing written work; sitting still; paying attention for longer spans of time, using fine motor skills.
A child is rarely hurt by waiting to start school and frequently is helped. If a parent has even a shred of doubt, he should wait, for it's twice as hard to correct the problem in school. Why not give boys all the advantages that girls have, by giving the extra time to grow up a little more?