When my sweet-natured toddler Harry reached his second birthday without any tantrums, I quietly congratulated myself. He was a loving, contented little lad who hardly ever raised his voice.
Inwardly I thought that the legendary Terrible Twos simply happened to parents who hadn’t laid down proper ground rules for their children, or who didn’t have enough time for them. I’m not going to lie; I felt pretty damned smug.
Then Harry reached two years and four months, and the Terrible Twos kicked in with a vengeance.
[Mum Diary: Why meeting other mums will keep you sane]
[Mum Diary: Should I just ditch my parenting self-help books?]
My sweet, polite little boy can go from happy to meltdown within 15 seconds simply by seeing something he wants but not instantly having it in his hands. Sometimes what he wants is our crystal vase (wedding present), so the tantrum can last quite a while.
It’s exhausting and I’d be lying if I said it’s not infuriating. The trouble is that it’s also quite often very funny and I have to leave the room to chuckle. Laughing at him when he’s upset really offends him – it’s astonishing how dignified he can suddenly become when you’ve laughed at his fury.
But generally, discipline isn’t easy. He’s still very young and doesn’t always understand why he’s being told off. Quite a lot of the worst things he does (running over his baby brother Olly with a toy monster truck for example) are because he forgets what’s allowed because he is so very focused on his game.
And quite a lot of the official advice is simply too old for him. Here are a few of the methods I’ve tried.
The Naughty Step
I love Supernanny; I’d watch that show compulsively if my husband didn’t complain that the crying is bad enough when it’s our own kids. He sees no reason why we should watch other people’s when ours are finally in bed.
And I am a big believer in the Naughty Step – for older children. But we have tried it with Harry and he simply doesn’t comprehend what’s going on. He can’t understand why I’m dragging him out to the hall to tell him off, and then gets on with playing when I leave him.
When I return, he’s forgotten what he did wrong in the first place and is just pleased to see me again. So that’s a no.
[Mum Diary: I can't wait to embarrass my children too!]
[Mum Diary: That awkward moment when you forget you can’t sing]
If you’ve ever wondered how it would feel to destroy someone’s joy in life completely, simply confiscate a toy from Harry.
The howls, the distress, the tears… The staring around wildly at the utter ruination of his life’s hopes and dreams – that’s what happens when you take away a toy, even just for five minutes.
Just last night I warned him that if he kicked me again I would take away Bunny Munro (his cuddly rabbit that we have accidentally named after a book about a sex addict). So, when he kicked me again, the rabbit went into the wardrobe for five minutes.
Despite having it back in plenty of time for bed, Harry actually woke in the night wailing that Bunny Munro was in the wardrobe. It’s quite hard to enforce discipline that seems to be mentally scarring your child!
The worst thing is that sometimes when I am about to remove a toy he will start to cry: “Noooo! I don’t want consequences!” which makes me laugh and ruins the whole thing.
Counting to three
Wow this is powerful. By the time I reach number two, Harry has dropped whatever thing he shouldn’t have and is sitting in terrified silence.
I don’t know how long counting to three will hold such terror for Harry – presumably at some point he will call my bluff and realise that I don’t suddenly develop magical, maniacal powers of punishment simply by reaching the number three.
As it is, this works well. I’m just scared to over-use it.
[Mum Diary: I was mistaken for a perfect parent!]
[Mum Diary: Why are mums always late? It's took an hour to get my two in the car...]
A major problem that I have with discipline is that I want my boys to love spending time with me. When Baby Olly cries, he needs something – even if that’s just a reassuring cuddle. And when he’s in my arms, everything is better. I have the power to make him completely content.
So when Harry cries, my instincts are the same. I want to scoop him up, cuddle him tightly and tell him he can have whatever it is he wants straight away. But I also don’t want the kind of toddler that you see on Joe Frost’s Extreme Parenting, or the kind of child that other adults don’t want around.
Realising that I have to be stern sometimes means that I can’t be Harry’s best friend, no matter how much I want to be.
That’s really hard, for both of us – but I hope that it means we’ll have a better relationship in the long term. As long as he forgives me one day for putting Bunny Munro in the wardrobe.
What do you do? How did you discipline your toddlers? Are parents too lax or too authoritarian? Let me know how you handled the Terrible Twos in the comments below.