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Terrible Twos are a great teaching opportunity

terrible twos just aren't terrible.
terrible twos just aren't terrible.

Every parent has heard about the “terrible twos”, a time when toddlers seem to be in high gear to wreak destruction and disobedience. This is not the case, according to a new report released by The Wonder Weeks:

Research shows that the so-called “terrible twos” don’t need to exist when it comes to child development. In fact, the behavior often associated with this stage – tantrums, moodiness, nagging and an affinity for the word “no” – begins shortly after the first birthday. For parents, it is important to jump into action at this point so they can prevent the “two’s” from becoming terrible and turn them into something tremendous.

International research on infants has shown that 64 weeks after due date, or at roughly 15 months, a baby’s brain makes a gigantic leap forward. Babyhood is over and life as a toddler begins. This leap is significant as it is the basis for the person your child has the potential to become as s/he grows.

According to Frans Plooij, Ph.D., author of the international bestseller The Wonder Weeks and one of the world’s top specialists in infant/child development and parent-baby interactions, in order to make toddlerhood easier for both parent and child, parents need to understand what’s happening in their child’s brain and embrace what he is going through. By understanding what is going on in the brain at the age of 64 weeks (ninth mental leap) and 75 weeks (tenth and last mental leap in infancy), you can moderate the behavior of your “teenaging toddler” and help him navigate this period of development.

This stage, including the supposed “terrible twos” is cause for celebration, says Dr. Plooij, and needs to be approached as such. In the years since the publication of his original book, Dr. Plooij continued to research the developmental leaps in infants together with numerous national and international experts. The results are found in The Wonder Weeks, which explores how the ninth and tenth are key leaps to form the basis of a well-educated child in cleverness and in well-raised person.

These leaps are tremendous as it is during this time that a child begins to learn about – and set – values and norms that will carry him through life. This period, which Dr. Plooij refers to as “teenaging toddlers” is similar to a first adolescence.

“Temper tantrums, manipulation and a healthy ego are all part of a baby’s sense of self as they enter toddler-hood,” according to Dr. Plooij. “Much like a teenager, a toddler will pout, push buttons and challenge to norm in order to get his way.” For both the toddler and the teenager, it amounts to learning how to assert himself and separate himself from everyone around him.

For the first time, a child understands he is a different person than mommy and his family is a different family than another family. Once he comprehends these differences, he learns to “play” with them. How? By tempting the rules and even acting out. At this age in development, the now-toddler has figured out how to push the right buttons until he gets what he wants.

According to Dr. Plooij, and the premise of his research, this doesn’t have to be a dreadful time between parent and child if the parent is prepared. “If you know what is going on in your child’s brain,” he says, “you know what you can demand from him. If you don’t know this you ask too little, giving no challenge to the child and allowing him to “be the boss,” or you demand too much, which can be frustrating for the child because he is simply not able to meet the too high standards. So the key is to ask that what they can handle, no more, no less, and setting reachable – but still challenging – goals.”

“Your toddler is now learning to be himself in a group,” he continues, “and all the nagging and temper tantrums are just his way of saying ‘Hey, Mom, give me some guidance here!’”

A child doesn’t need to act so “terrible,” as long as you know what to do and, more important: why he is acting this way. By understanding these leaps you can make the transition into toddlerhood, and the subsequent stages including the “terrible two’s,” into the “tremendous two’s” and beyond. “Tremendous,” says Dr. Plooij, “because it is with these leaps that a huge part of socialization is set for life. And tremendous: because good values and norms start now. If you invest in your toddler in this time, it will pay off for lifetime and especially in puberty.”

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