A: Oh boy, do I know how you feel. It’s not hard to remember raising my own children at this age, and, trust me, I can still picture the gashes and scratches from those days. Not fun.
Per usual, I’m going to start with how to understand a 2-year-old. In my opinion, 2-year-olds get a bad rap; they are purely emotional, have almost no consideration for anyone else and can quickly go from laughing to crying, but other than that, they are the sweetest. Their curiosity, cuddliness and unabashed love for their caregivers can easily (hopefully) offset the tantrums.
Parents deem the impulsiveness and aggression of 2-year-olds as misbehavior, but this is simply the reflection of their maturing mind struggling to find itself. Although no one enjoys tantrums and being hit (and I will never recommend that you allow yourself to be smacked, kicked or hit), we have two choices in the moment: to help your young one feel safe and encouraged, or to help your child feel unheard and discouraged.
What makes a 2-year-old feel safe? For us parents, this is complicated. Because children this age have limited language, too much parental talk tends to add frustration to an already fraught situation, so I don’t recommend trying to be rational or “talking her out of” being upset. See it as yelling at a storm: It doesn’t help.
Rather than doing this and increasing frustration, try taking an open stance with her. If she is swinging or thrashing, stay safe yourself, but try to get on her level with a calm face. Your energy and body language communicate that you are lovingly waiting for the storm to pass; this will make your daughter feel safe and therefore calmer. When she calms down, hug her until you both feel at ease, then keep the day moving.
As for the biting at school, unless you sit there in class and follow her around, there isn’t anything you can do. And because 2-year-olds are impulsive, there isn’t anything you can say at home that she will remember in school. Her brain isn’t there yet.
Here is the hard part of parenting: If you take the gentle — yet firm — road, it will take longer, but your 2-year-old will stop biting. She will find new ways to express herself, because it’s safe to do so with her caretakers. If we are punitive, violent and angry, we may see short-term results, but we will ultimately raise the very child we are seeking to “fix”: a child filled with fear, anger and frustration.
The school should be used to biting, and it should have a plan in place to protect your daughter and others. Bites happen, but catching her before her frustration spills over, redirecting her or taking her out of a situation should be the name of the game.
If you can look at what precedes the meltdowns, you can get ahead of your 2-year-old, and she will begin to feel calm. Assuredly, a 2-year-old can begin to lose it for the most basic reasons, such as fatigue or not wanting to leave the park. But try to use humor, distraction, creativity, magical thinking and cuddles to help her transition.
When the going gets really bad, your primary move is to keep yourself safe from her feet, fists and teeth while also keeping yourself calm. Depending on how you were raised and your own buttons, you may be tempted to put your daughter in a timeout, but trust the process.
Timeouts, in theory, started as a way to put a break into fits and tantrums. They weren’t meant to shame; they were meant as a time of attunement with your child. But, somewhere along the way, we began to believe that our very young and immature children would “learn their lesson” by sitting on a step and that they would connect their separation from family or toys to their bad behavior. However, very young children cannot do that. They feel panicked, no lessons are learned, and their tantrums and aggression become worse.
If you stay calm, loving and present (while not allowing yourself to be hit), your daughter will get through this stage. Good luck.
More from Lifestyle: