Archive for Saturday, August 24, 2002

Terrible twos’ also can be precious years

August 24, 2002


I have a 2-year-old boy who is as cute as a bug's ear and I love him dearly, but he nearly drives me crazy. He throws the most violent temper tantrums and gets into everything. Why is he like this, and are other toddlers so difficult?

Your description of your toddler comes right out of the child-development textbooks. That time of life begins with a bang (like the crash of a lamp or a porcelain vase) at about 18 months of age and runs hot and heavy until about the third birthday. A toddler is a hard-nosed opponent of law and order, and he honestly believes the universe circles around him. In his cute little way, he is curious and charming, funny and lovable, exciting and selfish and demanding and rebellious and destructive.

Comedian Bill Cosby must have had some personal experience with toddlers. He is quoted as saying, "Give me 200 active 2-year-olds and I could conquer the world."

Children between 15 and 36 months of age do not want to be restricted or inhibited in any manner, nor are they inclined to conceal their opinions. Bedtime becomes an exhausting, dreaded ordeal each night. They want to play with everything in reach, particularly fragile and expensive ornaments. They prefer using their pants rather than the potty, and insist on eating with their hands. And most of what goes in their mouths is not food. When they break loose in a store, they run as fast as their little legs will carry them. They pick up the kitty by its ears and then scream bloody murder when scratched. They want mommy within three feet of them all day, preferably in the role of their full-time playmate. Truly, the toddler is a tiger but a precious one.

I hope you won't get too distressed by the frustrations of the toddler years. It is a very brief period of development that will be over before you know it. With all its challenges, it is also a delightful time when your little boy is at his cutest. Approach him with a smile and a hug. But don't fail to establish yourself as the boss during this period. All the years to come will be influenced by the relationship you build during this 18-month window.

The children who play with my kids in the neighborhood are familiar with terrible programs on television and cable TV. I can't believe that their parents let them watch such violent and sexualized stuff. What are the long-term consequences of this programming on children?

It is sad and very difficult to understand why so many parents fail to supervise what their kids watch. To those who let them watch anything they wish, I would pose this proposition: Suppose a complete stranger came to your door and said, "You look tired. Why don't you let me take care of your children for a day or two?" I doubt if many of you would say, "Great idea. Come on in."

That's a story Peggy Charren, president of Action for Children's Television, likes to tell. Her point is well-taken. When we sit our children in front of the television set, we're giving control over them to complete strangers; and more and more, that's a risky thing to do. An increasing number of studies have found that violence on television frequently leads to later aggressive behavior by children and teen-agers.

One of the most conclusive studies was conducted by Dr. Leonard D. Aaron. He examined a group of children at age 8 and then again at 19 and finally at 30. Children in the United States, Australia, Finland, Israel and Poland were studied. The outcome was the same; the more frequently the participants watched violent television at age 8, the more serious were the crimes that they were convicted of by age 30, and the more aggressive was their behavior when drinking. It's time for parents to control the amount and the content of television that their children are watching. The consequences of not doing so can be catastrophic.

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