Children up to the age of two are unaware of how to behave and are used to hearing the word “No.” At this stage, a parent’s goal is to help the child become autonomous and acknowledge that he is separate and individual. Although this is the stage of the “terrible twos,” keep in mind the child’s rebellious behavior is not to demonstrate disrespect, but rather recognize he is separate from his parents. Adjusting a child’s environment to fit their needs and eliminating as many frustrations as possible can help develop a sense of autonomy. Childproofing the home is one way to remove frustrating obstacles for the child. Also allow for adequate time to switch tasks by giving advance notice of when the child will be expected to eat lunch, brush his teeth, get dressed, go shopping, etc. When asking your child to complete a task, such as brushing their teeth, use positive suggestions like, “Now it’s time to let the toothbrush clean our teeth,” instead of “Brush your teeth.”
Once children realize they are separate individuals, they will strive to be capable at mastering tasks themselves. Children ages three to six begin to realize they receive attention from others as they accomplish new tasks. Parents must be careful not to give tasks beyond their level of mastery, or feelings of incompetence will arise. Parents should provide opportunities for success for their children. Suggested tasks include using step stools to reach light switches and cabinets, low hanging hooks to help hang their clothes, plastic dinner dishes for meals, furniture that fits their body size, and space for outdoor recreational activities such as running, jumping, and climbing. Keep in mind that mastery of skills and tasks instills a sense of confidence in children.
During the first six years, children attempt to develop a sense of autonomy, attachment, and mastery, as they are also learning to accept and understand their bodies, language, and the rules of the home. Although it is difficult at times to accept the noise, dirt, and messes children make, try to remain focused on providing safe outlets for children’s growth while protecting your home and peace of mind.