Your toddler is fussy; they are a poor sleeper, picky eater and a testy two year-old. Your hope: this is just a phase… the terrible twos… something they will grow out of and you both will survive.
Parents looking for help during this time are ultimately seeking to learn how to support their child in three ways: socially, emotionally and cognitively. By supporting their kids in these three ways they arm their child with secure attachment which helps them to navigate through their terrible twos and come out peacefully on the other side.
As your child ages, what psychological development is going on in the background?
Attachment is the psychological connectedness between human beings. Secure attachment forms when an infant’s needs are met when they seek out a trusted caregiver. From changing diapers, to answering cries to comforting when they need to be held-- parents play the central role in helping children develop a sense that their world is safe, and from that secure base children can explore their environment and return back to their secure base (Bowlby, 1988).
Additionally, as a child grows, their parents act as a central figure helping the child to learn to regulate or manage their feelings. In parallel, Siegel (1999) notes that as emotional regulation occurs, child also learns to develop self-regulation autonomy. What this amounts to is that as parents teach kids that they can be self-reliant, children also grow in their ability to trust themselves and the world around them. It is believed that from the foundation of secure attachment with parents/caregivers that children also develop socially and emotionally.
As an infant develops into a toddler, the opportunities arise for self-control and managing frustrations. The caregiver allows the child to practice self-modulating behaviors, yet helps a child regulate when the situation is beyond their capacity. As a child grows, the caregiver's tasks shift to encouraging mastery, establishing behavioral boundaries, and offering corrective feedback on self-regulation efforts. Self-awareness and self-organization are believed to be the results of effectively moving through these emotional developmental stages.
How can you develop a secure attachment with your child if they are pushing you away, disregarding your boundaries or defying your rules?
It’s important to note that your child’s meltdowns may be more than defiant behavior. If your child has not adequately developed an ability to manage their emotions and self-regulate when the environment is too loud, intense or overwhelming, or they are stressed out or unable to communicate their wants they may meltdown and have a tantrum.
Parents will often see a tantrum as defiant behavior (and at times that may be true); however, for children, there’s much more going on. At the time of the tantrum, their brain is being flooded by peptides and hormones and their automatic nervous system is responding with an increased heart rate and elevated respiration. Essentially, your child can’t rationally think at this time. Liken this to a time when you were so mad you forgot what you are arguing about.