Monday, April 4, 2011

How do I improve my relationship with my 2-year-old?

The Question:
Dear Jane,

I just stumbled upon your blog and started reading some various posts. I want to ask you and tell you a little bit about my 2 year old daughter and our relationship. She is beautiful. She isbdetermined, strong willed, defiant, dominant and oh so tiny. Any one that comes in contact with Lucy knows she's there. I love her; she is now my middle child. I have a 6 year old son and 4 1/2 month old son. My daughter Lucy is still not speaking and is easily frustrated with me. If she does not get what she wants immediately she screams at me unceasingly. Her and I seem to be continually battling with no winner. I don't yell, spank or say mean things to her, but I have noticed myself pull away from her needs and sometimes I feel it is simply easier to just ignore her adamant, demanding ways. Our relationship is very strained and it worries me. She is somehow different, happier easier to get along with around everyone close to her, her dad, grandma, aunt, etc.

I try to reason with her, set limits, but everything is a fight. We fight when I do her hair, change her diaper, dress her, try to make her meals. She demands so much attention it is taking away from her siblings. She loves her baby brother constantly wants to hold, and cuddle him, but her and her older brother are constantly fighting and she is always destroying anything he is playing with. He never wants to play with her or have her around. By evening I am so drained from the fighting and her constant screaming I want nothing to do with her, but of course she insists I put her to bed. I want our relationship to be better and for her to love me and I want to nurture her in the ways she needs. Even as a baby she wanted to be left alone. She wouldn't sleep in my bed even though I tried she wanted to be in a cradle by herself beside my bed. She didn't want heldand cuddled but instead would love to be left on her stomach on a blanket on the floor until she fell asleep. I nursed her until just weeks before her brother was born and have always tried to remain attached. She has such a strong spirit and I know she is sent from my Father in Heaven I just wish I knew what I needed to do to be the mother she needs me to be.

Thank You,


The Answer:
Dear Lyndsay,

Thank you for your letter. You’ve done a good job of describing the frustration of a challenging child. In my experience of raising a large family, I acknowledge that some children seem “easier” than others. Our challenge as mothers is to resist the temptation to compare and to develop a strong bond and relationship with each one, independent of the rest. It’s human nature, I think, for our hearts to gravitate toward the pleasant well-behaved child and to emotionally distance ourselves from the more challenging one. We do this in a number of ways.

I may have mentioned this in an earlier post, but I had an interesting conversation with a group of friends one day. One of them confessed that she had a “favorite” child. She told us who it was and listed the many reasons that this child had won her heart over the others (they had common interests, the child was grateful, made her proud in public, generous, happy, etc). The others in the group acknowledged that they too had favorite children. Then the conversation turned to the child they “didn’t really like”. Everyone laughed—knowing that “didn’t really like” was a strong phrase and that of course, they loved all of their children. But there was one, they all agreed, who was hard almost from the beginning and that it had never changed. They listed their grievances with “the difficult child” and they certainly seemed justified in their position.

You haven’t made such a claim about Lucy, but it’s easy to see that things might head in that direction. I would caution you and all mothers against establishing such labels—even in your own mind. It’s easy to build a case against a child, to go back and support your case with historical evidence, to continue gathering evidence daily. We do this because, in a way, it absolves us of personal responsibility. “This is just a hard child and has been from the start”. But such thought processes are unproductive and destructive. Very soon, a child senses that he is not like the others in our eyes and continues behaviors that divide and separate. When we recognize that a breech like this is beginning to form, we do everything in our power to repair it and bring a child into the secure circle of our approval and love.

I realize that this is just exactly what you are asking me how to do. The reason that I went into some detail about the mental attitudes of mothers, is that if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll recognize that this is where the breech starts and that this is where the repair must begin.

There are two infallible ways of changing a heart. The first is prayer. Pray all through the day that you can be filled with love and understanding for your child and that she can feel it. Pray for ideas and thoughts and then act on every positive impulse. You mentioned in your letter that she seems to do better with others than with you. That’s good news in a way because it shows that she can control her behavior (admirable for a two year old) and that you can focus on your relationship. That brings me to my second point. Do all the tried and true things that strengthen any relationship. Invest unhurried time. Play with her and let her lead the play. Make lots of eye contact and when you look at her, think, “I love you.”

As a grandmother of grandchildren that live far away, I usually have only a few days to win over my two-year-old grandchildren. They don’t really want me to cuddle and hold them until we’ve spent some quality time together. I have a big fuzzy bean bag that we toss back and forth for as long as they want. There’s lots of smiles and eye contact. Then we read books (more close contact). We play hide and seek. Soon we have a nice little bond going.

You are her primary relationship. Much of your time is spent, of necessity, coercing her to do things that she doesn’t really want to do. This strains your relationship so you have to counterbalance all that coercion with praise, approval, smiles, hugs and meaningful comfortable time together. My experience has been that when my children feel really loved by me and when our relationship is solid, they begin to want to please me. And when I see them doing any little thing—making even the tiniest effort to comply or obey, I stop everything and look into their eyes and compliment them and thank them and hug them. The tide begins to turn.

Finally, recognize that this is the child that is going to teach you all the attributes of godliness—patience, long-suffering, gentleness, charity. This is the child that is going to force you to seek help—to search ponder and pray. You’ve been wanting to put more of that into your life, right? Now you have a purpose! This is the child that is going to refine and change you. This is the child that is going to grow up and remember the many ways that you loved her.

May the Lord bless you in your efforts.