Definition and Asl

Definition: “Terrible twos” occur when children are between the ages of one and three years old. This is usually when children throw a lot of tantrums, and rebel, saying “no!” to many things you tell them. How can you effectively deal with this situation?

First, understand the root (asl): children cannot keep their strong emotions inside. They cry, they scream, they stomp, they fling themselves on the floor. As a parent, you feel embarrassed or even angry by this behaviour.

Remember what rasulullah (ﷺ) said:

The pen has been lifted from three; for the sleeping person until he awakens, for the boy until he becomes young man and for the mentally insane until he regains sanity. (Jaami’ at-Tirmidhi and An-Nasaa’i)

Right. So children are not accountable, or sinful, for their actions. What do we do?

Dealing with Difficult Situations

  • Think about it from the child’s perspective: They don’t now better. Often, we give them completely ineffective or incomprehensible responses (that they don’t understand). You have to deal with them in their language and on their level of understanding. As Allah says in Surah Nahl, 16:125: Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction [...]
  • Give them a choice: This, often, makes the difference between compliance and a complete meltdown. (Choices can even be tough, like choosing between broccoli or eggplant.)
  • Build routines: Children thrive on routines. It makes them feel safe and that things are under control.
  • Lead by example: How you react directly affects them. If you act cool in stressful situations, they will too. If you freak out, yell, and panic, they will follow your lead.
  • Use positive enforcement: don’t be that parent that ignores their child until they do something bad; that encourages bad behaviour. From their perspective, they crave attention; give them due attention for good things they do (even if small) with complements and new toys (remember, speak to them in the language they understand) for good behaviour. This leads to good habits.
  • Don’t be a control freak: Give them the independence they crave. Gradually, push them into it. Start with simple choices, like letting your two year-old do things without your permission.
  • Enforce reasonable consequences: Take away toys for a period of time, and remove them from the situation. They will learn and adjust their behaviour.
  • Don’t give in: children will learn that they can get their way by repeating their behaviour. (If you have multiple caretakers in your house, like two parents, they will learn which one goes easy on them and gives in.)
  • Stay in control: when you take their behaviour personally, you engage in negative energy. Just separate yourself emotionally from their behaviour. See them as a child that they are, think about what they’re feeling, and influence the situation based on that.
  • Remove them from the public: take them somewhere private, like to the car or into a dressing room or a private corner, so they calm down. Talk to them about what happened, how they reacted, and behavioural alternatives. (As Imam Ash-Shafi’ee said, naseeha (advivce) in public is not advice, it’s humiliation.)
  • Encourage healthy eating: sugar can impact their emotions a lot. Keep it to a minimum.
  • Be consistent: this is the *number one rule of parenting.** If they know there will always be a consequence, they will think twice next time.

Behaviour Doesn’t Change Overnight

Remember that behaviour changes over months, not overnight. If something doesn’t work, experiment, and try something else.

Finally, always always always make good du’as for your children. As rasulullah (ﷺ) said:

ثَلاَثُ دَعَوَاتٍ مُسْتَجَابَاتٌ دَعْوَةُ الْمَظْلُومِ وَدَعْوَةُ الْمُسَافِرِ وَدَعْوَةُ الْوَالِدِ عَلَى وَلَدِهِ

Three supplications are responded to: The supplication of the oppressed, the supplication of the traveler, and the supplication of the parent (for or) against his child. (Jaami’ at-Tirmidhi)

One mom, when angered at her child, would say “may Allah make you imam of the ka’bah.” Guess what? He was (Imam Sudais, hafidhahullah).

Wallahu a’lam.

Source: AlKauthar Institute: Parenting Matters. Taught by Shaykh Alaa Elsayed. University of Toronto, Toronto, November 2014.