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My second son recently turned two. Friends have commented that my first son skipped the terrible twos. They presume my professional skill set will get us through them again. I don’t fancy my chances. This series of articles presents ten tips for negotiating this time with small ones. Know that with every strike of the keys, I remind myself that advice is easy to give and hard to follow. I will be attempting to practice what I preach this coming year: wish me luck!

It is common for young children to get overwhelmed, and to express their overwhelm with uninhibited emotional outbursts. There is a glorious freedom in crying just as loudly as you feel, and crying without worrying about what your face looks like, all screwed up and covered in snot! There is something wonderfully liberating about a child who is happy to express their emotions fully.

Yes, it’s wonderful, but it is also loud, frustrating, embarrassing (you’re on the school run, in the supermarket, Ofsted have just turned up in your setting) and we want it to stop! Plus it is often unreasonable (to our eyes): you told them they could not hold the sharp knife, could not put their hand in the oven, could not push the other child over.

Often we find ourselves on sides in these situations. They are on one side “want knife” and you are on the other “no”. What to do?

First, if you can, move away, physically from whatever the situation is. So if it is the knife, take the knife and put it away, so that it is physically not a part of the drama anymore. Then what you are left with is a screaming two-year-old and a frustrated adult.

Deal with the frustrated adult first – a few deep breaths, look away, look at the sky, remember someone who loves you, do whatever it takes.

It is very tempting for everyone involved to continue the conversation. “Want knife” they stutter between sobs. “You cannot have the knife” you lovingly explain “the knife can hurt you”. “WANT KNIFE” comes the return, complete with a volume shift in the wailing.

In such a heightened emotional state no one can reason, whether they are 2 or 102, so step one is to get out of this state. A lot of 2-year-olds get left until they calm down. This can be very difficult and upsetting, both for the 2-year-old and everyone around them. This is because they do not yet have the emotional regulation skills to calm down. It is a bit like leaving them on a diving board and telling them to dive down, but without teaching them how to dive. All they can do is fall, so they cling on to where they are (the heightened emotional state).

Physiologically, what happens if a young child is left to cry it out, is that they eventually wear out. They do not calm down. Nor do they learn to calm down. They simply exhaust themselves. Think about it, it was only a matter of months ago that they were a baby, and if they were distressed they would have been rocked and soothed by a trusted adult. The nearness of that adult, the feeling of that adult’s heartbeat, the smell of that adult’s pheromones, the movement of that adult’s body, would all have helped them to calm down. Two-year-olds still need to co-regulate with an adult….so….

After you have got out of the physical situation (put the knife away) and you’re in the situation with the crying child and a semi-calm adult (you’ve done your deep breaths by this point), pause any conversation you’re having. They may say “want knife” but you are not going to respond at this point. It’s not ignoring them, you’re dealing with things in order. Go over to them and be with them. If they will sit on your lap that’s great. If they’re needing to stomp, sit calmly near them. Offer them the sounds you would have made for them when they were a baby. See them, not as defiant, but as distressed, lost in that overwhelming criss-cross of neural networks that is their brain. Feel compassion for the state they’ve gotten into.

Once they are with you, and the sobs have faded, then you can try to explain that knives are sharp….or maybe you prefer a peaceful life and will strike up a conversation about beetles!

About the author:

Joanna Grace is an international Sensory Engagement and Inclusion Specialist, trainer, author, TEDx speaker and founder of The Sensory Projects. Joanna draws on her own personal experiences to inform her writing surround neurodivergence, SEN, and inclusion in early years.

About the author:

Joanna Grace is an international Sensory Engagement and Inclusion Specialist, trainer, author, TEDx speaker and founder of The Sensory Projects. Joanna draws on her own personal experiences to inform her writing surround neurodivergence, SEN, and inclusion in early years.

About the author:

Joanna Grace is an international Sensory Engagement and Inclusion Specialist, trainer, author, TEDx speaker and founder of The Sensory Projects. Joanna draws on her own personal experiences to inform her writing surround neurodivergence, SEN, and inclusion in early years.

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