How to get a 2 year old to listen?
May 2, 2006 1:09 PM   Subscribe

I have a 2 year old that is telling me "no" and telling me that I am "not nice". She puonds fer fists on her legs when she gets mad and I am at my wits end. Please Help
posted by Tiffanyfinch2003 to Human Relations (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Been there. Realize that she's learing how language, gestures and communication work, and she's not all that good at it yet and she's probably (definitely) very frustrated a lot of the time.

Set a good example -- communicate with her the way you hope she'll communicate with you -- and don't let it get to you.

I've heard that this phase will be over in 25 years or so. I'm kinda hoping that it doesn't take that long, but I'm pretty sure I'm still in that phase myself . . .
posted by JekPorkins at 1:13 PM on May 2, 2006

Welcome to the world of two year olds (and up). She is beginning to become self-aware, and needs to express herself. She is also beginning to test her environment, to see what (amongst other things) she will be able to get away with. You'll need to be the mommy/daddy and become the top dog in her pack...
posted by Gungho at 1:16 PM on May 2, 2006

Just be firm and let her know that acting out like that isn't a good way to behave. I think behaviour like that will pass quicker than you think if you can show your two year old that they aren't going to get the response they want if they act like a jerk.
posted by chunking express at 1:16 PM on May 2, 2006

Best answer: I just laid down the law on my 3 yr old last week and it was the best thing I've ever done. It's easy to slip into being too accomodating, and it doesn't help the kid. Here's what happened with me, take what might be useful to your situation, and ignore the rest:

There was a LOT of whining. It took me a while to identify it as whining, because kids really DO hurt themselves, think things are too hot or cold, get bothered by a book out of place, etc. But it was getting to the point where I would cringe when I heard "Mommmeeee." I googled "stop the whining" and everyone agreed:
* Never give into a request made in a whiny voice (this includes screaming crying)
* Calmly tell them you will do it if the request is made in a nice voice.

A couple of times I said, "You can settle down, or we can have a timeout. Your choice." There were a few timeouts. But you know what? The problem totally disappeared in 3 days.

I was so stunned that I'd been unconsciously encouraging the behavior. But I had. I then realized I was also unconsciously encouraging disrespect and incessant stalling by letting him do things like hit me, yell at me, and stall over everything - bedtime, getting into and out of the car, getting dressed, etc.

So the next day I decided the rule was: "I ask once, I warn once, then I pick you up." My boy hates being picked up, since he'd rather run on his own 2 feet. So that was adequate punishment. Now when I say, "It's time to hop in the seat for dinner" he usually goes. If not, I say "this is your one warning." If he doesn't heed the warning, I pick him up and plunk him in the seat. And after he hollers about that I say, "OK, next time when I say it's time to hop in the seat - you can hop in the seat. And then I won't have to pick you up."

Consistency is key.

And coming up with a battle plan you can live with. If you threaten something you have to be willing to do it. If you've thought thru all the alternatives and have a mental flowchart in your head you don't even get angry. You just follow the flowchart. And lo and behold, the behavior just goes away.

Seriously. It was like a miracle.
posted by selfmedicating at 1:20 PM on May 2, 2006

She's at the stage where she understands that her desires may be different from yours and she wants to emphasize that dichotomy. Do you have community health nurse or community health unit in your area? Call and ask if they can provide some handouts, refer you to a toddler group led by a nurse or early childhood leader, or recommend some books. If your child is in a playgroup, preschool or daycare, talk to the leader.
posted by acoutu at 1:20 PM on May 2, 2006

Seriously, think of it like dog training. The more attention you give her when she has a tantrum the more she'll "learn" to do it. I don't mean ignore her, but deal with it calmly and use skills of distraction.
posted by A189Nut at 1:20 PM on May 2, 2006

I know this is cold comfort right now, but that's normal behaviour for two-year-olds. The best advice I can give is 1) try to stay calm (which might require getting others to spell you so you can take breaks, despite the ruckus she's likely to kick up), 2) be consistent, and 3) wait for her to get a bit older: Three is better than two, four is better than three, and so on until the teenage years.

Also, if you're not sure how to react to something, sometimes it's best not to do anything. Ignoring bad behaviour while rewarding behaviour you want can be amazingly effective.

Really, try to get away a bit occasionally. That's what we grandparents are for.
posted by timeistight at 1:22 PM on May 2, 2006

Give her a time out. Not a long time out, but a time out. Make it very clear to her that she is *not* getting off the couch until the timer rings. Set it for 2 or 3 minutes, then leave the room and close the door. She'll probably yell and cry, but hold firm.

Don't make the timeout in her bedroom, since you want her to see that as the place to sleep, not a place where she's being punished.

Make sure you're getting enough sleep. Take a nap when she does.

At some point, she's going to throw a real tantrum and you'll be stunned. My wife called the hospital hotline the first time my daughter had one.
posted by donpardo at 1:26 PM on May 2, 2006

timeistight is right: consistency is huge. If the kids know what to expect, they learn the rules.
posted by donpardo at 1:29 PM on May 2, 2006

One good strategy is to try and acknowledge your kid's feelings, it tends to make them realize that you're listening even when you're not giving in.

"You're angry because I want you to take a nap and you want to play. But it's naptime, and you're tired. So I'm going to put you in your room, and you can look at your books until you're sleepy. When you wake up we'll go play outside". And follow that kind of talk up with consistency--at this age you will want to keep kind of an iron grip.

The two books that helped my older child live to the age of three are Becoming The Parent You Want To Be and How To Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk.

I refer back to these books often, in hopes that they will help my younger child live to the age of two. They're just good common sense books that offer practical ways of handling what is really just a developmentally normal way to behave.
posted by padraigin at 1:35 PM on May 2, 2006

From last month: Our two and a half year old is driving everyone crazy. He’s going through a phase of extreme uncooperativeness. Lots of good stories and suggestions in the comments.
posted by mbrubeck at 1:46 PM on May 2, 2006

Top notch advice up above. Your (and every) two year old is totally intoxicated by the amount of power he has. Thus, he's totally furious about things he can't control. Give him choices so he gets to be in control, but YOU get to be in control of the choices he has. Stay calm, stay in control.

Read The Magic Years for insights into the world of children at this age.
posted by jasper411 at 1:47 PM on May 2, 2006

man i'm not a parent or a dog owner but it sounds the same as the stuff that the Dog whisperer says on that show. most of the problems are caused by the owners refusing to take charge.
posted by alkupe at 1:53 PM on May 2, 2006

When my daughter was two, she picked up “You can’t tell me what to do” from her playmates. Of course, we consistently gave her time outs every time we heard the phrase. However, her little two-year-old ego sometimes just couldn’t hold back. She’d start to say the line, realize what she was doing, start crying in anticipation of the inevitable punishment...and finish saying it anyway. It was actually kinda cute.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:53 PM on May 2, 2006

posted by caddis at 1:56 PM on May 2, 2006

MrMoonPie, my older daughter went through a phase where her compulsion to say "NO" to everything was so strong that if you offered her ice cream, her inner conflict would almost cause her to burst into flames.
posted by padraigin at 2:17 PM on May 2, 2006

when she is calm, you need to inform her that screaming, pounding her fists on her legs, telling her parents "no" and "you're not nice" is ... not nice

the advice people have above is good ... you should not be very concerned about this ... it's normal and it will pass ... unless you fail to be firm and calm when you are dealing with it

she's testing your limits ... make sure you have some
posted by pyramid termite at 2:19 PM on May 2, 2006

When you communicate with her, make sure that you are kneeling down and looking her in the eye. You need to be on her level. Speak in a firm, authoritative voice. And everyone else is right, be consistent. And make sure that your caregivers are consistent as well if she is any sort of a daycare situation.

She sounds pretty normal for a 2 year old. My one-year-old is already starting with the "no" stage. I try to reinforce the positive behavior by speaking in a higher, happier voice when she's good. This is actually working out really well. She has this habit of emptying off the two bottom shelves of our bookshelf. As soon as she's done, I say "okay now, can you be a good girl and help Mommy put all of these books back? I know you want to help!" And she does! I think this also helps her to feel involved.
posted by Ostara at 2:22 PM on May 2, 2006

I'll 2nd padraigin's advice. There's no need for a ban on saying 'no' to your parents - we encourage our 2y.o. to say 'no please' and 'stop please' when he doesn't want something. It doesn't mean he will always get what he wants, but it does mean that he is always communicating with us and not turning to non-verbal methods.
posted by magwich at 2:46 PM on May 2, 2006

Mark selfmedicating as best answer and move on. She quickly sums up everything I've learned after spending several years working with kids of all ages at summer camp.

Lay down the law. Then give warnings. Then enforce. Ad nauseum. They'll get the hint.

Oh yeah, and what everybody else said. This is a normal two year old. She just found out she has power to change her surroundings, and she's using it.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 2:52 PM on May 2, 2006

For disciplining toddlers, 1-2-3 Magic has worked pretty well for us. It's similar to what selfmedicating does: you give two warnings before you give a timeout.

For more general parenting advice, you might find The 7 Worst Things Parents Do to be helpful.

Second padraigin's recommendation on How to Talk So Kids Will Listen.
posted by russilwvong at 2:55 PM on May 2, 2006

Well, you have a two year old.

When they get to three you can ask us why they answer everything you say with the question "But why?"
posted by zaelic at 3:27 PM on May 2, 2006

I feel lucky-- my daughter never told me I'm "not nice".
The worst of her behaviour was throwing tantrums when it was time to leave a park to go home and have dinner. Or when she wanted to look at EVERYTHING at a grocery store aisle and resented being told to move along... But at the time, we found that lots and lots of really long walks when she got angry and frustrated helped a lot, along with attempts to redirect her attention to other things like books or a favorite song.
posted by GoodJob! at 3:55 PM on May 2, 2006

I love mimi smartypants style of parenting. Scroll down to the paragraph titled 'There is hatred in the world' to see how she deals with a similar situation.

Good luck, stay calm and take the time to take care of yourself. Two-year-olds are such a challenge!
posted by Space Kitty at 4:10 PM on May 2, 2006

Two-year olds...sometimes you just have to breathe and wait it out. That said, if the "not nice" comments are an everyday thing and not just a reaction to "you have to do this/can't do that," there's great advice (and commiseration) in the "My 2.5 yr. old son hates me" thread. Check it out, and best of luck.
posted by ellanea at 4:39 PM on May 2, 2006

It sounds like you're intimidated by her. That's bad, because it gives her the control instead of you. You are the parent, and you are in charge. If she figures out that you are afraid of her, she can carry that all the way through childhood and adolescence and into serious rebellion. She's a toddler, not a rattlesnake to be feared. Kids that age can smell fear a mile away.

Three things in dealing with toddlers have helped me, as both an RN and a parent:

1) At this stage of development, toddlers are becoming aware that they have choices but they are not yet aware that other people have feelings and needs. That's why they want to control everything and everyone – they think the world literally revolves around them. It's a good idea to give her as many choices as you can and let her participate in the timing of events. For example, when you're ready to get her dressed in the morning, don't spring it on her by saying, "It's time to get dressed," because she'll likely say, "No!" Give her warning by saying, "When X is over (a cartoon on TV or whatever), it's time to get dressed - five minutes." Then keep reminding her, so that she can wrap her head around the idea.

Likewise, when you're dressing her, give her a choice of apparel rather than telling her she's going to wear what you want. Say something like, "Do you want to wear your blue shirt or your red shirt today?" She gets a choice, which makes her feel better, and you get the shirt on her body without too much fuss.

2) You have to be willing to make good on your discipline threats. If she starts throwing one of her "you're not nice" fits in the grocery store and you tell her to stop or you'll leave, you absolutely have to be prepared to leave immediately if she doesn't stop. Again, you are the parent, not her, and you have to make and enforce the rules. Nothing makes me sadder than to see a child throwing a tantrum in a restaurant while the parents try to bribe him into behaving so they can stay: "Here, if you'll be quiet you can have some ice cream!" "If you'll stop crying I'll get you a new toy when we leave!" It may work once but it doesn't work in the long run, because the child learns to associate tantrums with rewards instead of severe consequences. If all she has to do is pitch a fit when she wants something, guess what she's going to do?

3) As most others have said, consistency is key. Do NOT be afraid of her and do NOT give her rewards for bad behavior. A fit must be followed with a time-out or a quick exit from the store or other public place. If you waver, that's the beginning of trouble.

Of course you're not perfect, and perfection isn't necessary. In the end, she will outgrow it if you parent her consistently and lovingly. Really, she will. Then she'll get a driver's license. It doesn't get easier as they get older – it just gets different.
posted by lambchop1 at 5:06 PM on May 2, 2006

Response by poster: One person said that I was Afraid of my daughter, but I don't think I am. What I am scared of is that I am not handling her the best way possible and that I might make things worse. Thanks for all of the advice! It was much needed
posted by Tiffanyfinch2003 at 1:22 PM on May 3, 2006

« Older Maybe just a bike from now on.   |   Selling mp3s: the "middle step" Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.