My child at 20 months – is this a preview of the terrible twos? Or even worse, puberty?

Is there such a thing as the witching hour for 20 month olds? I swear, it’s like we’ve time-traveled back to when Ellie was a tiny newborn and evenings were … scary. I thought we were in the clear. Not so much.

Just a couple weeks ago you could find me gushing to friends and family about how “19 months is my favorite stage yet!” – there was no fussing, no fighting, Ellie was sleeping well and seemed to be really settled in to her 19-month-old age. I knew it would be short-lived so I soaked up every bit of awesomeness. I wrote in my journal, I spent extra time, I took more pictures and videos than usual, and then I mourned its passing once it was gone. I have a vague memory of talking to a Mom a few weeks ago (I don’t even remember exactly which Mom) and when I told her how much I was loving this stage, she said “yea, I remember something happening at 20 months. Things got hard and then by the time she was 2, things were better.” And I remember thinking “oh that sucks, thank goodness that won’t happen here.” Mistake. I know better than to think that way but I couldn’t help it when things were going so well – my kid was showing no signs of regressing into a whiny, fussy, mini-tantrum throwing little stinker. I even stupidly thought that maybe we were passed the “no!” stage already, you know, because Ellie “seems so advanced.” Again, I know better. I have to remind myself a lot that she’s only 20 months old, she’s not even two. It’s just hard when she understands so much, and can communicate so well for her young age. I expect more from her and that’s probably not fair.

So yea, evenings have been especially hard. She cries at the drop of a dime, sometimes throwing her into a crying fit that lasts for over 5 minutes. Her answer is “no!” to most questions and her favorite phrase is “I don’t wanna _____ (fill in the blank)!!!” even if it IS something she wants. She is set off so easily and for no reason and Chris and I look at each other wondering if our daughter is mentally unstable. I tell him “she’s just going through something, let her get it out,” as if I’m talking about a hormonal pre-teen. And then I find myself wondering if this is how puberty will be. Irrational and emotional, pushing me away, pulling me in…the drama! This is new to me, and as much as I pray for this stage to pass, it probably won’t as quickly as I’d like, and will be something we have to contend with for much of Ellie’s childhood. So for now, I am employing the following techniques:

  • Deep Breathing. Tantrums are annoying and ridiculous and impossible to ignore. I find myself not knowing exactly how to react, so I try not to right away. I take some deep breaths and try to remain rational myself – lord knows one of us has to be.
  • Putting myself in her shoes. She’s only 20 months old, she doesn’t know how to process emotions or verbalize feelings or express frustration other than through crying. It must be scary and confusing. I don’t want to feed into it and coddle her, and yet I want to be sympathetic. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for her.
  • Picking and choosing our battles. Chris and I have to judge when she needs to be left alone, put on timeout (which means sitting on the floor while we count to 30), given a little attention, or be consoled, depending on the situation. Did she deliberately throw her food on the floor? Time out. Is she fake-crying for attention? Left alone. Did she bump her head? Hugs and kisses.
  • Talking to her. Sometimes she doesn’t want to hear it and just yells back at me “No Mama no!” but on some level I think she hears me so I make sure to validate her feelings. Real conversation: “I know you’re upset that I didn’t let you cut the cucumbers with Mama’s knife. It’s not that I don’t want you to help me make dinner, it’s just that knives are dangerous. I’m sorry that frustrated you but I need to make sure that you are safe.”
  • Offering alternatives and distractions. Again, depending on the type of fit, we’ll try to engage her in a game, a book, or doing something silly. Daddy can make her laugh unlike anyone else so usually he’s her best bet at distracting with one of their funny little games.
  • Loving her when its done. This one is the easiest to do. When she’s done with her fit, I always make sure to give her a Mama hug and tell her I’m glad she feels all better. I give her lots of kisses and tell her how much I love her, how much I’ll ALWAYS love her.

Was that Mom I talked to right when she said there’s something that happens at 20 months? Is it a thing? Or is it just the beginning of the the “Terrible Two” stage and I shouldn’t hold my breath hoping it passes by next month? Will these techniques work on a hormonal pre-teen in the future? 😉 Leave a comment!

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