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June 2011

Two a Tee

Your Tot Has a Mind of His Own

By Deborah Wood, Ph.D.

A note about child development: The purpose of this series is to help parents and caregivers recognize normal stages and to provide age-appropriate activities, nurturing and guidance. Each child is unique. Rates of development can differ widely among normally developing children, and each child can have “fast” or “slow” rates of development in different areas and at different times. These descriptions are merely based on typical behaviors for the age. If your child is not exhibiting “normal” developmental behaviors, there is no cause for alarm. However, discussion with a development specialist can help you determine if any special interventions are necessary.

By 24 months a child has had enough life experience to have some solid expectations of his world. These are some of the things he has come to count on: you (of course), his food, his furniture, his clothing, a car ride/stroller and/or other means of getting around to his familiar places, and some favorite books and toys. A new understanding is that his mind and your mind are not one and the same.

In a Word, “No!”

He may start the year off with 50 to 200 spoken words (understanding many more than he speaks), absorbing words and phrases he hears each day. Be careful what you say around your vocabulary sponge since he may soak up some colorful language inadvertently! Echolalia is the practice of repeating the last thing he heard. For example, “Good morning, my sweet darling. Isn’t it a beautiful day?” is answered with, “Boo-ful day!” because that was the last part of your sentence. Take advantage of his pattern of repeating your words to speak clearly and frequently to him. While his enunciation is not yet perfect, he will probably imitate your inflection and facial expression precisely. If you happen to remark in exasperation while you’re out together that the weather is “extremely humid,” you’ll hear the same tone of voice as he tells Grandma about how “steamy hoomid” it was outside.

Echolalia can also be used to guide his behavior. Two-year-olds like to say, “No!” so it’s a good idea to offer a choice of two things so he can reject one of them. Here’s the trick: If you have a preference for which of the two you’d like him to choose, say it second. “Would you like to wear your red shirt or your blue shirt?” He’ll answer, “Boo shirt!” as he reaches for the last thing he heard you say.

Me and My Shadow

As with your language, your physical actions are being scrutinized for replication. While he’s watching, be on your best behavior. Such things as acts of kindness, habits for good health and the pursuit of happiness are transmitted from parent to child. Have him help you pack up cans for a food drive. Let him rip the lettuce for the salad. Take a parent and child exercise or yoga class. Toilet training and teeth brushing can be as natural as him wanting to do as you do in the bathroom. Dancing and singing together to your favorite music counts both as a healthy habit and as sharing your musical passions with him.

This is a great age for chores, although they may take twice as long. His role in getting the laundry done could include taking each wet item you pass him from the washer to load into the dryer. You’ll find that if you spend some time “helping him help you” he’ll soon have his fill and go off to play. Likewise, if you have work you’d rather do without him, first spend a chunk of time with him. When I was in graduate school, my son had his own (yard sale find) typewriter on which he and I would peck away pretending to compose stories about our dog or letters to Grandma. Soon he’d brush me aside, focused on the project at hand, and I could get to work on my own keyboard.

Avoid Power Struggles

As much as he imitates whatever you do, don’t expect your 2-year-old to readily do your bidding. A 2-year-old can be a contrary soul. Tell him to climb up on the couch so you can put his shoes on, and he’s likely to drop to the floor and pull his socks off. Rather, try to make what you want him to do his idea. For example, if you want to put his pajamas on him, start out trying to put the bottoms on his head. “What’s the matter with these pajamas?” you’ll say. “I can’t get them on you tonight.” He’ll laugh as he holds a foot in your direction to tell you, “No, Daddy! On feet!”

Another technique for avoiding a war of wills is to go along with his ideas whenever feasible. If he insists on wearing one red sock and one blue sock, what’s the problem? Research shows that the more a parent complies with his child, the more likely the child is to comply with his parent. (Buckling up in the car, for example.) Ask yourself, will anyone’s health or safety be jeopardized? Can we afford any loss of time or money this action could incur? Would anyone be annoyed, offended or inconvenienced by this? Wearing socks of two different colors hardly imposes an irreparable risk.

The logic of a 2-year-old is pretty straightforward. He lives in the pleasure of here and now. A bubble bath has nothing to do with getting clean. It’s pure fun. A telephone—real or toy—instantly connects him with his favorite person (or television character). He will sing his favorite song lying in his bed, riding in the car and in the waiting room at the dentist. Use his logic of living in the moment; it’s easier than trying to convince him of what’s to come. Instead of arguing with him that he needs to put his sweater on because it’s chilly outside, take him and the sweater out where the chilly breeze is. Now it makes perfect sense to him.

“Gimmee!”

One of the challenges of 2-year-olds in the plural, especially getting closer to age 3, is that they tend to grab toys from each other. He is figuring out that the other child enjoying the toy, is a lot like me, therefore I could be enjoying that toy! This is a normal stage of social development called parallel play, and the best solution is to have duplicate items so the children can copy each other, side by side, without conflict.

Stay close when he’s around other children, since they can be unpredictably dangerous. Biting is a common strategy at an age when his words are not yet effective to get him the toy he needs. If one child hurts another, be a model of compassion. Give all your attention to the wounded so the aggressor doesn’t gain attention for causing pain. At age 3 he will begin to learn how his actions cause reactions in others, and by 4, he will be more motivated to play with the other child. For now, he just wants the toy.

Holding an object turns out to be a great way to help him leave a place he is enjoying. A stuffed animal he’s always had accompanies the transitions to and from his grandparents’. A picture he’s scribbled can be carried home from a friend’s house. Even a brochure on proper dental hygiene can help him “hold onto” the happy experience of singing for his fans as he departs the waiting room at the dentist’s office.


Deborah Wood is a child development specialist residing in Annapolis.