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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!

When I was fresh out of university, I got a job working as a teaching assistant in a secondary school. It was such good training for the work I have done since, supporting children with different special educational needs and disabilities. One year, I was assigned to support a particular child, in tutor group 14. So I followed said child from lesson to lesson. We would walk into science and the teacher would greet us, remarking to me: “Oh I love tutor group 14, they’re always so easy to teach” the children would settle down to work, put their hands up to suggest answers to questions, and pack up and stand behind their desks like angels. We would walk down the hall to English where the teacher would roll their eyes at me at the door: “Oh goodness, I’d forgotten I have this lot on a Tuesday”. They wouldn’t settle, they shouted out, it took several minutes after the bell had gone for them to be dismissed.

There is a saying in teaching: You make the weather in your classroom. It is true. I think I would have known the saying to be true had I not worked in teaching, but witnessing it in action as someone who followed the class from room to room and watched their behaviour and demeanour change in seconds depending on the….I was going to type “on the way they were greeted at the door” but it wasn’t even that. The teacher who was dreading their arrival might be perfectly cheery at the door, it was quite literally the mood of that teacher, however well masked, somehow the children felt it. Just as if it really had been the weather in the room.

There were times in my teaching career that I had to remind myself, on days when things were going badly: “I make the weather in this room” and sure enough, it would be something going on inside me that I was witnessing in the behaviour of the children around me.
Now as a parent I see it is true in my house. We – the adults, make the weather in the room. Sometimes the forecast for my husband and I is the same, other times you can feel the difference as one of us leaves or enters the room, the effect is instant - just like a cold pressure front rolling in. The most obvious one is when one or other of us has a short fuse, even if we bite our tongue, the effect is instantaneous: gone is the peaceful colouring in, enter the chanting of silly ditties.

What can you do if you notice it happening to you? I’m afraid I’m out of sage advice here. I can tell you what works for me is moving location. I can be heard mumbling through my grump: “Children are easier outside”. For my husband, it is making him laugh, then he forgets he’s annoyed with life. What is it for you? There are two tricks to changing the weather in your household or setting: the first is recognising that it is you that is causing it (when it very much feels like them) and the second is knowing what to do about it (take a tea break or lock yourself in the bathroom and figure it out).

If you notice particular pinch points in the weather then it’s worth investigating further to find out what is causing them. Do these bad weather patches have a monsoon type rhythm to them, always occurring at the same time or place? It is easy to say: “It’s because they are tired” and it likely is, but children can be tired without screaming and shouting. Is it because when they are tired, they are being asked to do lots of things, like brush teeth and get pyjamas on? Could some of these things be moved? You can eat dinner in pyjamas. Is it because the combination of activities and tiredness don’t mix, the stimulation of gadgets doesn’t blend well with sharing and being tired?

For us, we found it was dinner time. You’d sit down. The food was there. And both me and my husband did a kind of mental ‘switch off’. Not out of cruelty you understand, more just the sheer relief of being able to sit down and there actually being food to eat. Mentally our attention sank to a Homer Simpson level of “Food”. Consequently (you’ve heard of the pea flinging already in article five) dinner times became an act of survival.

At least he was secured, strapped into his high-chair at the end of the table, flinging peas, and when he ran out of peas, his cutlery would come clattering down to us. He’d shout to be released, and we would say: “Just wait until Mummy’s finished eating”. We would try to entertain him, cajole him, feed him treats just to buy us enough time to chew and to swallow.

Then one day I walked into our dinning room just as dinner was starting and for a moment, I saw it differently. We have a long dinner table with trestle seating. My husband and my other son and I, and any guests we have perch on the benches. The 2-year-old is in a high-chair that has its own table section at the far end of the table. He was completely out of it.

I dispensed with the high-chair, and let him kneel on the bench between us. We made sure to engage him in conversation from the start of dinner (so that he wouldn’t have to fling forks at us to get us to chat). We ask him about his day, and his brother translates what he thinks is being said. The peas remain an issue, and probably will for life to be fair….we do find it funny. I think I’ll crack that one when I’m no longer amused by it myself. Eating is a lot calmer now. He wasn’t being unreasonable before, he wasn’t ‘being 2’, he was just doing his best to communicate with the resources he has at hand. If you invited me around to dinner and then strapped me in a chair far away from the conversation I might fling a fork or two
as well!

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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