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Dear Mother Wit: “My Two-Year-Old Is Telling Me ‘No’!”

Dear Mother Wit:

I popped my daughter on the behind today. I feel bad, but I don’t know how else to get her to pay attention to me.  She’s 27 months and taking me through the terrible twos.  When I tell her to do something, she says, “No!” with an attitude.  How does a child that young even know how to have an attitude?  The more I try to correct her, the more stubborn she gets.  I love her so much, but I cannot have her being disrespectful.  I wasn’t raised like that.  My mama would have popped me in the mouth if I acted like that.  If hitting is bad and my daughter won’t listen, what am I supposed to do?  I need some advice because I’m fed up!

Dear Fed Up Mama:

I remember feeling exactly that way with each of my children.  They can work your nerves like a full-time job with overtime, can’t they?  

I know what your daughter is doing feels like disrespect.  But at just past two years old, she doesn’t understand “disrespect” the way that we do.  She’s just learning to be her own person and a natural part of that is starting to see herself as separate from you.  It’s easy to feel angry and frustrated, but this is an important stage that’s gonna set the tone for your relationship with her in the years to come.  

Here are a few things you can try:

First, as crazy as it sounds, she’s not disrespecting you!   She’s learning the power of “NO,” which is something she needs to know as she grows up.  Right now it feels bad because she’s defying you.  If you can see it that way, try to take a deep breath and move out of feeling angry.  The calmer you can be with her, the more power and authority you will have.

Let her know the rules—explain things simply in a way that she can understand.  Have a plan in place so that when she gets stubborn, you already know how you’re going to handle it.  Let her know what will happen if she doesn’t do as you say.  For instance, “When mommy tells you to do something, I need for you to do it.  The first time.  If you don’t listen and do as I say, then you’ll have to go to time-out.  That means you can’t play with your toys or watch TV or anything fun.  You have to sit still and stare at the wall.”  The hardest thing about discipline can be to follow up on what you promised.  So be prepared to put your plan into action.  

Now, she’s gonna test you to see if you mean it.  So when she acts out, punish her as you said you would.  You don’t have to yell, scream or hit her (even though you might want to).  You’ll have to do this more than once to teach her what she needs to know.  The important thing is to stick to the plan and let her know the pattern: if she acts out, she gets punished.  

If your daughter cries or gets upset or throws a tantrum, try to remember that she’s not being “bad.” She’s too young to know how to express her feelings, especially frustration or anger.  She might also be feeling sad.  When her punishment is over, talk with her calmly.  Explain that she needs to do as you say. Give her a hug and tell her you love her.  Remind her that you’re in charge, and that you know she can do the right thing.

Also praise and compliment her when she does things right, especially doing as you say.  Catch her being good and let her know you’re pleased.

The “terrible twos” won’t last forever.  They’re a normal and healthy part of your daughter’s growth, no matter how frustrating it feels to you.  Find ways to release your stress and focus on making sure she knows you’re the Head Momma in Charge.  This is where you’re teaching her how to treat you.  And it’s important because the next time she acts this way, she’ll have hormones and be asking for your car keys.  But don’t worry—I’ll be here for you when that time comes!

With love,

Mother Wit.

2 comments on Dear Mother Wit: “My Two-Year-Old Is Telling Me ‘No’!”

  1. L.R. says:

    This is right on time. I have a two year old and her personality is really coming through. This is great advice that I will incorporate into raising my baby. My two older children got spanked but it never worked. I will NOT be spanking my two yr old. My ways have changed.

  2. Marti says:

    It helped me to understand that behaviors will escalate before being extinguished, or however it works with young children

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