Everyone has heard of the terrible twos, but I seem to have a very challenging two year old boy! He is a wonderful, funny, loving child and very active and curious, but he refuses to follow simple orders and runs away at every opportunity. He is at preschool for a few hours a couple of mornings a week and we are well-known by the teachers and other mothers, because I am always chasing him (including in the car park which is terrifying for me). I try not to feel embarrassed but I know people are thinking I can't control my own child.
Can you suggest a loving approach to convincing him to obey at least some basic requests? I often lose my patience and shout at him, and then feel terrible about it later. My husband and I have never smacked him and I know that wouldn't be a solution. I couldn't bear to anyway! Any advice would be much appreciated! Thank you so much! :)
It sounds like you love your son very much and that you don't want him to be hurt. But without firm, loving, discipline, your child may end up being hurt (throwing himself into a tantrum, possibly being hit by a car in the parking lot, running into the street when a car is coming, reaching for a sharp knife on the counter, etc.).
Most days may present a safety concern for your child, so it's super important that you train your child right now to obey you, cheerfully.
In our home, we chose to spank our children when they directly disobeyed us. This was very effective and spankings were extremely rare. Once the child knew what a spanking was, all we had to do was remind them of what would happen if they didn't obey, and they quickly obeyed.
Now, I know that this forum promotes gentle parenting, so though the way we disciplined was quick and easy and only used occasionally, I can also give some ideas for training without spankings, though from all I've read, there is much more time and effort involved (I preferred to spend my time playing with my little ones, rather than disciplining them).
As the Office Manager of a preschool (for 6 years before I had my first child), I learned some other ways to discipline. The first thing we did when a child did something wrong, was to get down on the child's level, get their attention, and speak sternly to them. The tone of voice and look on my face told the child that I was very serious. If a child hit another child, I would say, "That's not okay. I will not let you do that." If the child decided to throw a tantrum, then I would hold the child tightly so that they could not hurt himself or me. If the child said, "let me go", I would tell him that I would let him go as soon as he stopped fighting.
Usually the child would stop fighting after awhile, and then I would let the child go. At that point, the child was required to sit in a chair by himself, to give him time to collect himself.
A good rule of thumb for "time outs" is one minute for every year that the child is old. If your child is 2 years old, then sitting in time out for 2 minutes should be enough time for the child to realize he is missing out on fun, and yet not so long that the child can't stay in his seat.
Some people will actually have a room in the house (a guest room) that is used for time outs. If the child doesn't obey, they are taken to that room and left alone for a time. I wouldn't use this with a 2 year old unless I was putting the child in his crib or I knew the room that the child was going to be in was baby proof and very safe for him. I've found that it's best to work with a 2 year old until they have a happy face and are willingly doing what you want them to do.
In the case of having to run after your child, while the teachers and other parents look on... I might advise the following scenario... I will call your son "Jacob" for reference...
It would be best to role play this a few times before going out.
Set up a situation at home where he is playing with toys, and you let him know, that when you call him, he needs to stop what he's doing and come to you. Play this out a few times. He plays with a toy, you go into the kitchen and then you call him. If he doesn't stop what he's doing immediately, and come to you, you immediately go to him. You will not be calling him 2 or 3 or 10 times before moving towards him. You call him once, and then move.
When you reach him, (make sure you are at his eye level and he is looking at you), you say to him, "When mummy calls you, you need to come. Then take him by the hand, and lead him to the kitchen." You can do this over and over again until he understands the expectation and he responds. This training at home should make it much easier for him to respond properly at school.
If your son throws a tantrum when you reach him and take his hand, say, "I won't let you do that." If he won't walk on his own two feet with you, then you need to put him in time out, or hold him until he calms down (as noted above).
This is training, and it's hard work. But if you are consistent (consistency is important) then he will learn how to respond properly and happily when you call. You don't want to reward him for good behavior, other than praising him and hugging him. You don't want to give him toys or treats for simply obeying you. And you certainly don't want to bribe him. If you do these things, he will come to expect "goodies" each time you call him or give him direction, and the first time you don't "deliver" those methods will become ineffective. Those are NOT good methods - you want your child to obey you because you are the parent and it is your responsibility to train them. If you can capture their heart at the age of 2, you will have a good chance of keeping their heart through their high school years.
So now you've practiced at home... but it's time for preschool. How will he respond when you pick him up and tell him it's time to go?
Before you drop Jacob off at school, let him know that he will not get any TV (or whatever fun activities you provide for him after school) if he doesn't come when it's time to go. Set the expectation before you leave the school.
1. You arrive to pick up your son. After briefly talking to the teacher, you tell Jacob it's time to go, and call him over to you.
2. Jacob ignores you and continues playing.
3. You immediately move towards Jacob, excusing yourself from any other conversations. Training Jacob has become your highest priority and all of your focus must shift towards this training. View his disobedience as an opportunity for training, rather than allowing it to frustrate you.
4. You quickly move to Jacob and take him by the hand and lead him to the door. If he throws a tantrum, get down at his eye level and let him know that this is not okay, and you won't let him do that. 2 year olds beg (in their own stubborn way) for boundaries. They WANT you to take control (because their little 2 year old bodies are out of control) and they want you to not let them act out. This actually provides happiness for them once they learn to respond positively to your direction.
5. If Jacob continues to throw a tantrum, this is the time to pick him up (thankfully it's much easier to do this at 2, then at 3 or 4) and take him to the car. The teachers would much rather see you taking control of the situation and training your child, even if it means taking a screaming child to the car. Once your child is in the car (or another room), hold him or strap him in his car seat until he settles down. Even if this takes 30 minutes, just sit there until he realizes that you're not going anywhere or doing anything until he settles down.
Once he has settled down, walk him back into the classroom to get his jacket, lunch box, etc. but this time, hold his hand and do not let him go to the toys. He must learn to be able to stay at your side whenever you want him to. This is important in walking through stores, as he outgrows his stroller and will be required to walk and stay next to you as he grows each year.
I know this is long, but I hope it gives you some helpful insight in training. It does take effort and it does take time, but it is very worth it to invest in your son's training now to make your parenting more enjoyable and easier next year :-)