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Do you find yourself thinking that your two-year-old is not just terrible, but that he is not your child at all? He is an alien from another planet come to live in your child’s body, perhaps, and the alien does not realize that you and your child usually communicate a lot better than this! Welcome to the world of disequilibrium, a very real and comforting place, if only because you can know that what your child is going through is normal, and that it will pass. Even better, you do have some control over how quickly your child passes through these difficult times. You can also influence your relationship with your child, your child’s character development, and your own sanity!

Around two and a half years of age, children go through phenomenal growth not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally. You can tell by his language skills that your child is suddenly thinking hypothetically, sympathizing with others, or creating imaginary friends. This takes much greater leaps in brainpower than your daily decisions on what route to drive to the grocery store. Your toddler is also constantly struggling to find the balance between comfort in your arms and the independence he must grasp in order to continue to grow. The stress of all of these internal struggles amounts to what childcare experts refer to as disequilibruim. As the name implies, imagine feeling unbalanced from morning to night, and it will be easier to see your little one from a more sympathetic perspective.

Reign him in when he screams for freedom. You and your child may both think that when he flails his arms and shouts at you to leave him alone that he needs a few days in the woods, but he doesn’t. With your newfound sympathy for his predicament, calmly enforce your household rules a little more stringently than usual. Your child needs reassurance that what he has learned about the world is true and constant. What helps him regain equilibrium is the same consequence for the same misbehavior, even if it means twenty time outs in one day. Follow up your discipline by twenty loving hugs, and your little alien will quickly learn that rules still apply. He will know that you still love him, and the world will slowly become a less overwhelming place.

Satiate her need for responsibility. You may wonder how it can work to refuse your little adventurer all of the independence she is demanding. It works because you do not refuse her. You find some areas of her life in which she can have more control while still refusing to allow her to play with knives or color on the walls. Place her clothes in drawers or shelves she can reach. Allow her to make choices, but do not overwhelm her. Do not ask, “what do you want to wear,” but rather, “what pajamas do you want to wear,” or “which T-shirt do you want to wear?” Create her own craft drawers that she can access on her own when she wants to color, but with stringent rules on what she will do with those crayons when she chooses to remove them from the drawer! Also, find more ways that your child can help around the house. Let her place dishes in the dishwasher after you rinse them, put some of her clean clothes away, and carry things to their place in the house for you. Sometimes she will refuse, but if you move on as if it is a special privilege, she will soon come to love helping. Her newfound responsibilities will go a long way in calming her, since she will be busy and interested in her new tasks.

Finally, be prepared for more. When you see how quickly your child’s outrageous behavior subsides, do not think that it is over. Disequilibrium will reoccur in most children. Just handle each meltdown with a little extra love and discipline, and you will see the episode subside much more quickly than even you thought possible. The biggest benefits from handling these trying times calmly and thoughtfully will be a trusting relationship between you and your child, and his own self- confidence. Your child can remain loving and respectful while fearlessly exploring his world.