Parenting a two-year-old is not for the faint of heart. Two-year-olds are fiercely independent one moment and incredibly needy the next. The highs are higher and the lows are lower.
Despite this, I find myself almost looking forward to my youngest child’s two-year-old year. Her joy and excitement will be contagious, she will still fit in my lap and want to cuddle, she will have squishy toddler cheeks, and this might be my last chance to experience this stage.
As a mom of four and a pediatrician, here are some of my go-to tips for this stage of parenting.
1. Develop a discipline game plan.
With our firstborn, we were thrown off by the abrupt need for discipline. All of a sudden, my sweet baby who could do no wrong was a toddler who liked to test the limits, sometimes just for the reaction she would get. There are many effective discipline tactics, whether it be using the time-out, ignoring temper tantrums, creating a distraction, or counting to three before enforcing the consequence. Whatever strategies you choose to use, be consistent with your partner and follow through with discipline.
We used all the approaches listed above. For time-out, the general rule of thumb is one minute per year of age. Find a low-stimulation area in the house for time-out. If the kids are fighting over a toy, put the toy itself in time-out. Have an arsenal of discipline tools to use, and you will find the ones that work best with your child’s temperament. Kids crave boundaries and feel safe and secure when they are in place.
2. Gently encourage potty training.
Introduce the concept toward the end of year one or early in year two, as two-year-olds only become more willful and opinionated as they inch toward their third birthday. It is often said – and I agree – that girls generally potty train a few months earlier than boys.
Present the idea to your child by weaving it into everyday conversation and through repetitive reading of simple children’s books on the topic. Have an open dialogue about how big boys and girls use the potty instead of wearing diapers. Part of your child’s readiness to potty train will be based on his interest level, so talk it up and make it sound wonderful to ditch the diapers. Much of parenting is trying to convince your children to do something you want them to do, but having them think it is their own idea.
Once both you and your child are ready to commit, follow through with a potty chair that is the right size, and have him first practice sitting on it clothed to get comfortable. Help your child start making the connection that when he needs to use the toilet, he can comfortably sit on the chair to do so. We did not offer our children treats after each time they went to the restroom for fear that they would go and pee just a little bit and come back out asking for a piece of candy five times an hour. However, my oldest daughter’s preschool teacher offered each child a single Skittle after successfully using the restroom. In this particular setting, the system was highly effective.
Overall, make potty training a positive experience by offering plenty of praise to your two-year-old. It’s okay to step back if it doesn’t go as planned. Potty training requires intensive work for the parent or caregiver upfront, but the payoff is beyond worth it. Pro tip: About thirty minutes after meals is the best time to encourage your child to have a bowel movement. Also, don’t worry about training them during nap and nighttime at first. For some kids, continence in these settings won’t happen for another several months or even years.
3. Savor the mornings.
Two-year-olds are almost always in their best mood in the mornings (during or after breakfast, of course). Sneak in some quality time to connect with your child, whether it is five or fifteen minutes before the craziness of the day begins. A quick book, favorite song, or laugh can go a long way. My second daughter was an early riser, and we would sometimes sneak out of the house for a quick stroll before the others got up. When my children were going to daycare, I would intentionally carve out a few minutes to connect before the morning hustle.
4. Mentally and physically prepare for the witching hour in advance.
Whether you work for your household, work from home, or work outside the home, there is no avoiding the witching hour. As dinner time nears, transitions are taking place. Families are slowly being reunited. Everyone is getting accustomed to being back together while also processing the ups and downs from their own day. Children who have played nicely all day at school are now picking fights with their siblings. The biological needs of hunger and fatigue also set in. Brace yourself as a parent. One step at a time. Dinner. Clean up. Bath/jammies. Bed time routine. Keep your eyes on the prize and your effort will pay off once everyone is tucked in (and asleep).
5. Simple activities are often the most enjoyable.
When my firstborn turned two years old and I had a newborn at the same time, I wanted to take the older one out on all sorts of adventures (this was pre-COVID obviously). These outings ended up in disappointment for all. By the time everyone was fed, dressed, and piled in the car, we only had an hour until we had to get ready for lunch and nap time. At that life stage, we found a nearby quiet playground to frequent or played with bubbles and chalk outside our house. Save the more adventurous outings for when you have more backup (in the form of another caretaker) or patience to tolerate things not going as planned.
During the pandemic, simple activities have been a way of life. My family and I have explored just about every playground, park, or green space within a 20-minute radius from our home.
I started writing these tips when my now four-year-old was two. It was an exhausting time and I needed to take a step back to, first of all, remind myself of fundamentals that worked with my older children, and secondly, to reframe my attitude and expectations for this stage. I hope my tips will help you focus your parenting energy and bond with your little one. As I pull out clothes for my baby, I cringe as it seems like just yesterday that her siblings wore the same outfits, when in actuality more than six years have elapsed! Savor every minute.
photo: Scott Schwartzkopf