Thursday, May 1, 2014

Parenting: Two to Three Years

I know I'm not posting regularly, so thanks to those of you who are sticking around!

To be honest, it's extremely difficult emotionally for me to look back at what I did in ignorance when I know now how damaging my choices were.

So, I've already made posts in this series herehere, and here if you want to catch up.

Two to three years old is still a time of tremendous growth in the child's brain. At this stage, kids are starting to make the connections between objects (matching pairs, assembling small puzzles, understanding that numbers have value, etc.), showing rudimentary logic, and understanding sequence. It is at this age, you child might be able to follow a set of two instructions, such as, "First, pick up your Legos, then get your shoes." It is more likely your child won't consistently be able to do both tasks without reminders or help, but this ability is beginning.

The most important thing parents need to realize about this age is that two year olds' flawed understanding of cause-and-effect leads them to believe that everything that happens is a result of an action on the part of the child. For instance, your child may say, "I looked at this book, and then the mail came!" Consequently, s/he may express confusion when s/he looks at the same book the next day and the mail doesn't suddenly appear.

This age is also firmly rooted in the belief that "words are magic" and if they can come up with the right combination, what they're saying is absolutely true. For example, if your two year old spills a drink (because s/he wanted to carry it to the table "myself!"), s/he may blurt out, "I didn't spill that!"

From the parent's perspective, it's easy to conclude you have a little liar on your hands. However, your child isn't speaking an untruth to deceive you. S/he is trying (in his/her immature, child-like way) to actually fix what s/he's done! Instead of punishing your child, you can say, "Oh, no...accidents happen. I know you didn't spill on purpose, and you wish it didn't happen. Here's a towel; you can help me clean it up." This dialogue shows the child how to take responsibility while gently pointing out the difference between "I didn't spill that!" and "I didn't mean to spill that."

 I have a two year old right now who has been disciplined in this manner. She will come running to me saying, "I need towel, Mommy! Clean my mess!" Obviously, being two, there are times when she tries to take care of things all by herself, and I find a towel carefully placed over spilled cereal or tracked in mud. I take great encouragement from those instances though, because she is showing independence and personal responsibility the best she can.

Reasoning doesn't work well with this age. Again, they believe they can cause any effect and are still learning to distinguish fantasy from reality. Therefore, punishments like time-outs aren't as effective as they appear. Twos are great with sequence, so they may write on a wall, then put themselves in time-out because that's what happened last time. They don't understand why they shouldn't write on the wall or that time-out is meant to be punishment. They are simply following a known sequence of events.

Sadly, two is the age when many parents begin spanking (if they haven't already). With so much cognitive development happening, twos behavior is illogical and erratic. Strict rules and physical punishments at this age can actually impair cognitive development and make kids more aggressive. Severe punishments can cause brain damage.

All the traditional Christian parenting advice I previously followed sets up a damaging paradigm in the home. Spanking and punishing children for a normal part of cognitive development isn't loving. I daresay, it even provokes in them angry exasperation. This in turn causes more behavior problems, followed by more punishment. It's a vicious, vicious cycle.

Instead, I encourage you to work with your child, not against him/her. The goal is not to "make" your child do this or that; the goal is to encourage your child to make the best choices s/he can at this age and give positive reinforcement when s/he succeeds.

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