02 May 2008

the taming of the two~

I will apologize up front...
yes, it is another novel...

The proverbial two...terrible twos, terrific twos.

I get more questions about two year olds than anything else. I guess you all think since I've done it coming up on six times that I must have some answers...ha ha. Noah is my most challenging two yet. Has it occurred to anyone that maybe God has allowed me to experience the twos five times thus far because I'm really hard headed and tend to learn lessons the hard way? Maybe the refining that God wants to do in parents can be accomplished in some people with two or three but for me takes ___ (pick your number)?

All joking aside, I've recently had several people ask me some specific questions about two year old issues. While I in no way claim to know everything (or even much at all), I am glad to pass on what I have learned/am learning, and the resources that I go to.

Valuable Resources:

As with any and all of the resources I mention, each one is to be weighed in light of scripture, and in light of God's vision for your family. No man, woman, ministry, organization, etc. is perfect, nor infallible. I'm just laying it out there saying this is what we've used and what's worked for us. Not every resource works for every child, nor will it mesh with every parenting style or personality. And we do not subscribe to any of these methods or philosophies hook, line, and sinker. We've taken what works for us and discarded the rest.

The first resource that proved invaluable to Glen and I in our baptism by fire (Anna was your textbook strong-willed child) and that we were so thankful to be introduced to right as we needed guidance and practical advice, was the No Greater Joy ministry, specifically the To Train Up A Child books. Michael Pearl is highly respected, and highly despised. For us, his child training advice was wonderful. In my opinion, since he has five grown children, all happily married, all involved in some way in the ministry with their parents, enjoying great relationship with their parents into adulthood, he must know a thing or two. He values first time obedience, tying heart strings, corporal punishment without anger, administered in love, and training. His training advice is awesome, one of mine and Glen's most used tools in toddler hood, and I will talk more about it later.

We love anything by Focus on the Family as both of us were raised listening to Dr. Dobson on the radio. Another excellent website with a wealth of information, a lot of it very practical and very specific, is Raising Godly Tomatoes. It is written from a large family perspective, but is excellent. Think "... a child left to himself disgraces his mother." Proverbs 29:15

Directing Vision Daily is by Danny Silk at Bethel Church in Redding, California, and is reminiscent of Parenting With Love and Logic. They come into play more as your children grow and are all about giving choices, natural consequences, and learning responsibility. I am in dire need of refreshing myself in these ideas as it's been awhile and I am sorely out of practice.

I also really like Raising Your Children In Grace by Liberated Living Ministries. It opened up a whole new way of thinking for me in regards to teaching my children to listen to the Holy Spirit themselves instead of feeling that I needed to be their holy spirit (and trust me, He is much kinder and gentler than I am).

For infants, babies, and even young toddlers, Secrets of the Baby Whisperer and the Babywise books were helpful. I know Babywise is very controversial, and I will say that we do not follow a by the clock feeding routine for our babies. We do utilize a eat, play, sleep routine laid out by the Baby Whisperer that literally revolutionized our life when Noah was born, but we do not feed by the clock. I attribute the ability to lay Noah and Haven down in their bed, whenever needed, and they will go right to sleep, sometimes playing quietly for awhile, even if they are not tired. I obviously don't do this often (meaning lay them down when it's not actually nap time), but when I'm pregnant, I have been known to have 9:30 or 10am nap time around here :o) Babywise is really good for training your babies and toddlers to play in a pack n play, their room, or any area with boundaries. But again, that is where the training tool comes into play.

These are the few resources I can think of off the top of my head.

A couple of specific questions I've received...

I have an almost 5 year old and a 2 1/2 year old. Both boys. Our 2 1/2 has been a textbook two year old. When he is sweet, he is so sweet and loving, but we have had a long season of tantrums, things thrown in anger/frustration, hitting other children, going literally berserk at diaper changes, clothing changes, etc. I am that mom in grocery stores and the like who you both dread because I am there and pity. I have been consistent (mostly) with discipline to what seems like no avail. Truly, no improvement whatsoever. Is there any advice you could offer me? I completely broke down today in tears. I feel like I've tried everything. Thank you for your time :) (BTW- I am a Christian. My husband and I are very committed to training them up in godly instruction and Biblical discipline. Our family is filled with much love. We're just stressed and perplexed as to what to do.)

I will first say that the part of when he is sweet, he is so sweet and loving, but we have had a long season of.... describes Noah to a "t". He is such a sweetie. Absolutely adorable. But if you catch him in a grumpy mood, or move one of his carefully arranged (fill in the blank), you'd better watch out! So mom, I am in the boat with you!

My first response would be to ask if Mom and Dad are both on board with expectations and discipline methods. Two year olds are boundary testers. They want to know where the lines fall. Then, they will test the boundaries to see if they are rubber bands or more of say..., an electric fence type boundary :o) They really do find security and are more at peace when they know what to expect. I've seen this play out more and more with each child as they observe their older siblings actions. That being said, even when there are firm boundaries, each child is different and some of those twos will test that electric fence over and over and over and over and over....

Then, I would ask about spanking. Yes, the S word. I believe it is Biblical when done without anger and in love, with lots of hugs and kisses (and prayers), immediate forgiveness and restoration of fellowship. For a two year old, spankings are more of firm swats often done within the context of training sessions, but depending on the age (new twos are vastly different than almost threes), they will be used for discipline when there has been outright disobedience and/or rebellion. So I asked this mom about spanking...

Yes, we are OK with spanking. We don't use our hand, but rather another little "rod" of sorts for that. Even doing that though, my son will go into even greater hysterics- the heaving and sobbing kind. We can't even get to any kind of attitude change, or even a breakthrough in understanding that what he has done is wrong...

I understand the use of a rod, we do that as well when they are older, but when they are young, it is often more traumatic and removes the "right then and now association" if you have to retrieve a rod or paddle. We probably switch to a rod around the age of four when spankings are given as a result of direct disobedience. I use the term spanking in two ways. In the younger years, it is rarely an actual spanking, it is usually a stinging swat in order to train. As they grow older, it is more of what is commonly referred to as "spanking" in that it is given as a result of direct disobedience. That is when we use a rod/paddle. Make sense? Please don't think I'm saying the use of a rod in the younger years is wrong or that you should change the way you do things. I totally understand the concept of hands being used for love that a lot of parents lean toward, and I respect that. I'm just saying how we do things.

All I can do is answer as to what I would do in that situation. I wouldn't worry too much about attitude change other than them just learning to submit to your authority. They don't really have to understand why at that age, they are more in a training stage of learning what behaviour is acceptable and what is not. It is probably basic two year old defiance/boundary testing, and all they really need to understand is that the behaviour was not okay, there is a consequence, and mom or dad is going to win. It's more of a lesson in association with behaviour and consequence. As far as the hysterics, I will talk in a few minutes about trainging your child to be quiet on command or to at least cry quietly. If it were my child (and it has been, believe me!), as soon as the hysterics started, I would immediately switch to the training/discipline being targeted at the hysterics. Once they have regained their self control, I would hold firm in winning the first battle. This process can take a little while the first few times, but once they learn what is expected, it goes very quickly. I promise. I will also say, though, that sometimes the hysterics and sobbing just need good old fashioned comforting. Hold your position, but just empathize and comfort.

Another thing I would think of asking is if life has been out of order. Is there parental conflict, issues with an older sibling, a move, anything to cause insecurity? This mom sounds like her home is a loving, safe place and she is just dealing with a "very two" two year old, but these are just thoughts off the top of my head.

My specific responses to some of these issues are:

tantrums and things thrown in anger~ sounds to me like your typical communication issues. All of our kids have done this, particularly when they are frustrated at their inability to communicate. We laugh and walk away from tantrums. For throwing something in anger, I would probably say firmly, "No. We do not throw things.", give one firm swat that stings (not on a diaper, not through clothing. On the leg, or on the hand if he is wearing pants) and then try and help them figure out what they need or want.

hitting other children~ pretty much the same as above. It is usually done out of frustration and not meanness, but unacceptable, nonetheless. I would say "No, no. We do not hit people.", give the firm swat (probably two or maybe three) and remove them from the situation, but preferably leave them in view of the fun that may be going on. This will involve the mom quite possibly having to hold a very mad child firmly in her lap as long as it takes for he or she (the child, not the mom - ha ha) to calm down. If it happens in the context of play dates, you may need to explain to the other mom or moms upfront that you are training your child and that if it happens, to carry on as normal and just ignore the mad child. Depending on the age of the child, you could require an apology after he or she calms down.

going berserk at diaper/clothing changes~ we train (I promise I will explain) our children from pretty young to sit still when having his or her diaper changed. This involves a good natured smile and a sweet sounding "be still", coupled with yes, again, a swat that stings enough to cause an association with the action and pain. As this can be done from a pretty young age, we do not do it as punishment or discipline. It is approached from the viewpoint of associating an undesirable action with mild pain. The child doesn't see us as the bad guy because we're smiling and talking sweetly, he just learns that his leg hurts a little if he wiggles a lot during a diaper change. As far as changing clothes, it would probably be helpful to offer a couple of choices, but if it turns into a battle of the will, I'd just stick it out until I won. On a side note, and I will explain this in further detail as well, we do not let our children go berserk. We teach them how to be quiet and have self control over their emotions. It is really quite cool and I have to completely credit Glen with teaching me it was possible for a young child to master this skill.

That's just what my initial thoughts would be. I would advise spending some time reading at the Raising Godly Tomatoes site, the No Greater Joy books, and lots of cuddling and just following mom around learning to be helpful. Two year olds want Independence, and if you give it to them in appropriate, measured doses, they will not demand it so much at inopportune times. I would also recommend a toddler boot camp, kind of basic training. But trust me, we've all been the Mom In The Grocery Store :o)

I would also say, it is important to win. Every time. Especially if your child is in a testing the boundaries stage. I have several memories of literally sitting down in the floor, and (for example) saying "Put the block in the basket," and having the child refuse, getting a spank, and me repeating until they choose obedience. It sounds mean on the surface, but I am training for the long term. I'm concerned about first of all, their hearts, but also with the mindset that I'm raising adults. How much easier it will be for them to obey us as parents as they get older, future employers or others they are under, and most importantly obey God if they are literally "trained" in obedience from a young age.

Let me also add, to this mom in particular as she has been consistent and not seen much improvement, that sometimes, it just takes time, and really, it's hard, but it's really okay. You're not a bad mom, you're not doing something wrong, you're not failing your children, you're not ruining them, you're not failing God, it's not you. Sometimes you just have to cry out for mercy and breakthrough and wait for the maturity level to kick in. Chalk it up to the Holy Spirit doing His refining work in your character as you learn to persevere, trust/lean on/cling desperately to God, and practice kindness, gentleness, patience, and all those great fruits of the spirit that for me anyway, often seem to grow very slowly and fall off the tree right as I begin to think I'm the one doing the fruit growing :o)

"Hi Shyla, I just have a quick question. It is really hard for my husband and I to take our children to church. How do you do it with six? I know you like to keep your children in church with you, but how do you do it and not annoy or distract everyone around you? And are you able to actually get anything out of your worship time?"

Okay, for those of you that have actually sat behind/in front of/in view of my family or (gasp!) even on the same row with us at church, don't fall on the floor laughing or point and yell hypocrite :o) What I'm going to say is an ideal, a perfect Sunday, not something we've actually achieved to perfection.

First of all, we attend a very "grace oriented" church. Our roots go back to home church, graduating to a gym with a rug and little kids dancing all over the place and parents with strollers. It has grown to standing room only, and sadly, the rug is gone, but the attitude of grace toward children is still there. That being said, we highly value the example it sets for our children of just going. Every week. Unless we're sick. We don't wake up and say we don't feel like it (sometimes we don't), we're too tired (often we are, we do not have a good track record of night sleeping babies, you'll have to find advice about that somewhere else!), or it's too hard (it is hard, at first. It does get easier. But it's still not perfect.) Glen and I both grew up going to church every week, and we think it is important to not get the idea into our children's heads that how we feel is to be used as an excuse to not go. Because there is always an excuse :o) This is not legalism, this is loyalty, faithfulness, perseverance and habit forming.

Do we get a lot out of our worship time? Well, I get loads of snuggles. My kids are virtual monkeys on me. We are constantly picking up, passing off, switching babies, and I'm often found with two kids in my lap and two more leaning on either side. So yes, you could say I get something out of it :o) Spiritually? Yes, in bits and pieces. I am in a season where my life is about discipling and setting an example. I need to be getting spiritually fed in my own quiet time (which truthfully, is a struggle for me to prioritize) and not expecting it all to come from church. Although I do struggle with setting aside time every day, I am in constant communion with the Father and I do read my Bible, so I don't need my relationship to flow solely from "attending."

So do my kids act crazy? No. They do not. They move around a lot because there are a lot of them and they like to take turns with Glen and me, and they like to take turns holding the baby and entertaining him, but they have been trained in how to act. We don't let them have games, we do allow small toys for the younger ones. We don't let them hang over the back and watch/play with other children. Our older ones (mid-two on) are expected to sit forward. Our even older ones are expected to listen and follow along with the songs. This is accomplished through stated expectations and lots of reminders. We do try and train them from a young age (12ish months) to sit in our laps quietly, and this has to initially be done at home, usually at Bible story time. It is actually much easier than it sounds, and I feel it is highly valuable as it is a lesson in self control. We tell our children it is the one time of week that we set aside specifically for God as His time, and it is to be treated as a privilege and with respect.

"My son hates naptime. He used to be fine when it was time to lay down, but recently he's been getting out of his bed."

At this point, several people I can think of off the top of my head are thinking "that's me, I asked that question." Trust me, a lot of people ask me that question. Just so everyone knows, it happens to all of them. At least all of mine. For one thing, all my children have gone through cycles where they don't need naps for a week or two (we still require them, though), but then they fall back into the routine. Most of our children have outgrown them fully when they are around five. We still have quiet time for all ages as it is mostly so I can have quiet time. The older ones are allowed to play quietly.

Anyway, when our kids have done this, the first time we put them back in their bed and tell them it's time to go to sleep and not to get out of bed again. Some won't test the waters...yet. When they do, it becomes a battle that I have to win. They climb out, I spank them, lay them back down, tell them in no uncertain terms to not get out of bed again or they will get another spanking, and then leave. Some will cry, I then employ our "be quiet method," and help them regain self control, then I leave. If they get out of bed again, I repeat. Sometimes this will require sitting outside their bedroom door for the entire naptime until they give in. In my experience, our kids have had enough training by then to know we mean business and will only get out once, twice, maybe three times at the most. But if it's a new thing, be prepared to stick it out. Trust me, it's worth it!


To give credit where credit is due, pretty much all the techniques and methods I have I have learned through mainly the above mentioned resources or the moms on the MOMYS board. I do often (especially Monday mornings) ask God to just give me specific wisdom, discernment, insight, and practical answers for what I deal with in every child. Sometimes this comes in the form of divine revelation, sometimes through the Word (think Proverbs especially), but often it comes through resources, whatever they may be. Do they always work perfectly? Of course not. But they sure are helpful most of the time. If you try it and it fails, ask God to give you insight into what you need to do. And you know, sometimes it's a stage. It's just a process of growing up. And truthfully, I'm usually learning just as much, if not more, than my child. The Holy Spirit OFTEN uses my children as a mirror.

Routine~ For all kids, of all ages, this is key. They know what to expect and when to expect it. My kids don't fight naptime or jobs (for the most part) because they know it's just what we do. Job time is job time. School time is school time. Quiet time is quiet time. Period. The little ones don't question it because the big ones don't :o)

Tomato Staking~ Glen is actually the master at this, but he couldn't even tell you the term. It's really just keeping your kids with you in whatever you are doing. It is particularly helpful to bring someone back in line when they are testing the waters. It fosters fellowship and helpfulness and gives a sense of responsibility and being needed to the little ones, but can also be effectively utilized as a consequence or discipline for the older ones. For the little ones it's a fun privilege to do laundry, help with dinner, etc. and for the older ones it's a loss of freedom and independence if things are out of whack. It also builds fellowship between parents and older kids too if it's done in the spirit of just hanging out together and enjoying one anothers company and not being utilized as a discipline technique. Did that make sense?

Training~ This is the big one and the best one in my opinion. It can start very, very early. Definitely before the age of one. It is exactly what it sounds like. It happens in the safety and context of home. We teach them at home so that when we're in public, they already know how to respond. There are different guidelines, boundaries, and methods depending on the age of the child and the situation, but here is some of what we do in a nutshell.

1. Basic Training/Boot Camp: We initially do this with our babies and it is done as explained earlier. Not as a punishment, it is purely training. It is often done proactively. When we see the need arise (think plates getting pulled off the table, a coffee table with breakable things, a hot fireplace), we have training sessions. We set the child down with a desirable object within reach and we tell them to not touch. When they do, we spank their hand. Some people pull hair (gently) or thump the back of their head so that it's done out of sight. Kind of like I mentioned before in learning to associate pain with the action. We just spank their hand because we want them to learn the consequence of disobedience comes from mom and dad. We repeat until they master self control and choose to occupy themselves otherwise. We do it enough that they learn and understand what no means and what is expected. Usually it is said in a very happy voice, and we say "No, no, that's not for Haven. Don't touch!" Eventually, you can just say, "No, no, that's not for Haven, and they will obey." Obviously you wouldn't say Haven :o) You do have to do it often and repeat when necessary. (Teaching them to come when you call them falls under this category and I know parents that once their mobile infants are old enough to comprehend (this is key to a lot of things, gauge your child, we definitely don't want to discipline, etc. for something they can't comprehend!) they train them to come when called. We've not really done this much, although we do expect it when they are older.) Basic training/Boot camp needs to be repeated all throughout toddler hood, it will just evolve with the age of the child.

2. Blanket Training: I love this. I remember taking Anna to a party when she was a baby, laying out a blanket, showing her the boundaries, giving her a small swat once or twice when she tried to crawl off, but after that, she played happily and contentedly on the blanket for the rest of the party. Everyone was amazed. This can be done within the boundaries of a rug, a blanket, a room, etc. And it does not produce a miserable child sitting there sullenly, it allows them to master self control and learn to use their imagination and/or play happily with the toys and books provided. This is a wonderful tool for homeschooling moms as well.

3.Training to be quiet: This is another great thing that I credit Glen with. It is what most people don't think a small child can master and the idea doesn't even occur to them. It is what is most helpful in church or in public. We train our children to either be completely quiet, or cry quietly. When one of our children is angry after being told no or something along those lines, meaning they are crying out of anger, frustration, defiance, or rebellion, we teach them to stop. We say, "Be quiet." And we cover their mouth (not their nose!). We do not by any means prevent them from breathing, we just muffle the sound so that they understand what we mean. We then remove our hand. When they cry loudly again (they will, remember, they are learning how to gain self control and be quiet), we will spank their leg, say "be quiet," and cover their mouth again (same as before, not covering their nose or hindering breathing). You just have to repeat it unti they learn. They will. And it actually happens pretty quickly.

Here is an example of when this come in handy: Noah sees someone in church with a snack and wants some. Oh yeah, we don't do snack in church, not even for our little ones. Well, the baby is okay, but not two and up. We just take a snack in the car and then they get snack again in class, occasionally we will take apples or little bagels, but nothing involving baggies, cups, or pieces like goldfish or cheerios...but that's just us, you probably think we're really mean by now anyway :o) Okay, so he gets mad, begins to throw a fit and protest loudly. I'll hold him on my lap and tell him to be quiet. He immediately (okay, well sometimes I have to say it two or even three times...in the spirit of honesty and full disclosure) closes his mouth and holds in his cry. He knows how to be quiet and/or cry quietly. If he doesn't listen the first time I say it, I'll give him a small reminder swat to let him know I mean business, and he then masters self control. It really is amazing how well it works. It's great for those store tantrums!

Well, it is really, really late and I've been working on this all night. If I think of anything else I'll add to it later. Basically, most kids respond really well to non-negotiable boundaries. It's when Mom and Dad are too busy, too tired, too frustrated, etc. to enforce the boundaries that little people get out of control. I am just as guilty as anyone in this, my kids are not perfect, I am far from perfect. They're pretty good though, we get compliments mostly everywhere we go, and for that, I am extremely thankful. I will say that none of my children have been exceptionally challenging. None of them have any serious issues. I never want to make anyone feel that they are a failure! Some children are more challenging than others, this is just what has worked for us. I know it sounds like we spend a lot of time swatting and spanking, but truthfully, we don't. There is some at the outset of training, and the reminders, but once the expectations are laid out and the lines are drawn, it really makes for a happy, peaceful home. We have lots of fun together. Are there challenges? Absolutely! Loads! This has actually been a really good brain jog for me as we've gotton a lot more lax with the latter children. That probably explains why Noah is our "most two" two year old. I can think of several "boot camp" and tomato staking situations that need to be made a priority around here, and I've got to listen to the Danny Silk stuff again so that Anna and I can stop trying to out-control one another. Maybe someone could hold me accountable to that? Any takers?

Also, for me as a homeschooling mom, it is well worth it to take some days off school when needed to deal with discipline issues and have boot camp. If you're spending a lot of time re-acting to your kids, that's usually a big sign you need a boot camp and is time well spent. I've also learned that when I am spending a lot of time being angry and frustrated at particular behaviours, those are the issues I need to specifically focus on and put energy into changing. That same energy I'm putting into being frustrated needs to be redirected into proactively training my children and changing their behaviour.

So, anyone, please feel free to comment and add to these ideas. What has worked for you? What are some alternatives? Any questions? Other ideas? I would love to get a little discussion going and am always up for learning new tools and getting fresh ideas and perspective.

Good Night.


Serene in Singapore said...

And that's exactly what we do here too! The only thing I have never gotten around doing is Blanket TRaining.

Kim said...

Shyla, thank you so much for taking the immense time it must have taken (especially in light of all that you do)to sit down with thoughtfulness and wisdom and write all this instruction and encouragement. Thank you, thank you. I am eager to get to those resources you mentioned and I appreciate you sharing what you and your husband have implemented. I feel encouraged and hopeful. We are doing what you all do, but it needs some tweaking and refining. God has answered the cry of my heart through you. Again, thank you so much.Bless you and your sweet family.

Adina said...

Oh Shyla,

I just love you and Glen and the way you are raising your children. Keep up the good work!

Oh, and we used to sit next to you in church all the time and I'm not laughing at all!

Wendy said...

Joe (2yrs, 1 mo) has totally been in the leaving-the-bed-at-naptime stage. When he first started doing this, it took about 20 minutes or more to even get out of the room, giving him a swat every time he got out and putting him right back in bed (not cuddling after the swat at that point, since I think that attention is what he really wanted- he so loves to cuddle), then had to stand outside the door for another 20 minutes watching through a crack. The next day, it didn't take nearly as long. He is still fighting it, but usually only for a few minutes for him to stay in bed, then he will sit for 5-10 minutes pouting, then finally just go to sleep. Consistency and perseverence!

I SO wish I had done the crying training thing, though... It it too late for an almost 4 yr old?

Anyway, just wanted to echo the thanks, Shyla...

Christy said...

Kudos to you for taking the time to share your valuable experiences! I was directed to your blog from Lori's post a couple nights ago. Are there any more specific details or tips you can give on blanket training?

Rachel said...

Shyla, this is awesome. I hadn't heard of a couple of your resources, and am excited to find them. I was taking inventory of behaviors I want to change in my 2yr old as I read through your amazing experience and humble wisdom. I sometimes forget I am the one training my child, not the other way around!

Miss B said...

HerRoyalExcitedness sent me to your blog when I had questions about training kids. What fun it was to find pictures of Anna... whom I had taught just YESTERDAY at the Academy for Summer Camp. She's a delight, and now I have greater insight. When your kids get to Middle School, I'm going to learn all I can from you!

"How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about arithmetic, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness." ~GK Chesterton

2012 November

2012 November