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.



  1. Beautiful and true. thank you. I have two 2 year olds who I need to do better with.

  2. I agree, beautiful and true. We must resist the impulse to label our children. I once heard a wise mother say that that was what Christ gave to her relationship with her children, the knowledge that people can change and a resistance to stick them with any labels.

    I have also found that when my children feel loved their behavior improves dramatically. When they feel dumped on, days turn rough and everything is a fight.

    Also - another point of view - I had a child who was very difficult in the beginning. Now she is the calmest child you could imagine. I realized that the shift came after we had lived in one place for a couple of years. For the first four years or so of her life things were always changing. We moved a lot, new babies entered our family, etc. She absolutely craves stability and order. I think that her acting out was her way of dealing with all those changes at such a young age. She was exploring and finding limits with each change. Once our family life was more settled she did much better. Now changes in her life seem to come at a pace she can anticipate and prepare for.

  3. Jane, I love how the first piece of advice you give is to pray. Anytime I have a problem with any child of mine, no matter how big or small, and I ask my parents, who successfully raised six children, for advice, their first advice is always to pray. Pray because Heavenly Father knows our children best and He can give us insight that we probably can't find anywhere else. Even just helping us have the patience to cope with difficulties as they arise. Thanks.

  4. I would add to Jane's great advice the encouragement to just hang in there. I've had some kids who were extremely challenging at two but become quite sweet and amazing a year or two later. Continue to love and work and be patient and laugh at yourself and the challenges you're experiencing and things will get better. Two can be a tough age.

    One advantage to having been through the terrible two's a few times before is that I hardly notice how obstinate my current two-year-old is. She screams at the top of her lungs and throws fits, but I really barely notice. I kind of laugh to myself at times, try to ignore or redirect as much of the bad behavior as I can, and then lavish on the love when she's being good.

    Chances are, your daughter will outgrow most of the her frustrating behaviors.

  5. Thank you for this post (and everyone's additional comments). I have a 2 1/2 year old that has all of a sudden started some RIDICULOUS fits over the most dumb things. In comparison to many other kids I realize I have been blessed with a super easy kid. But, the fits are uncontrollable once they occur. So, I have been having to really put a lot of thought and effort into what is triggering them and take a new approach.

    Thanks again and I'm so glad you are going to try to update more often. I will be honest and tell you that I don't always naturally want to take the straight LOVE approach in parenting. I do find my initial reaction wanting to be to yell and I have to really put a lot of effort into watching how I react. Your blog is such a great resource for me and I know that the "love" approach is something that will benefit both me and my relationship with my boys! Thanks again!

  6. I can't remember who said it, but in this last Conference, someone talked about the blessing of a difficult child. I'd recommend reading the Conference Ensign when it comes out.

  7. I have a difficult "middle" child too. He became much more difficult after we had our 3 child last July. We make sure we praise every good thing he does & allow him to help a lot with the baby and he's done a lot better. His older brother started school 1 month after the baby was born so the oldest was getting praise about things he was doing at school, and everyone was ahhhing over the new baby & I think that as the middle child he wanted people to know he was special too. He has come a long way in the last few months as we have found things for him to learn to do that we can ahh over (learning to read)and as we've let him help with the baby. (He LOVES to be the one to throw the diapers away, which of course is great for me too!) So I agree with Jane, do the one on one time & find things they do & then just compliment them as much as possible. I have found that our stubborn one is actually the one with the best personality & will be the one keeping our family laughing for years to come!

  8. @bequi-- The conference talk was by Elder Lynn G. Robbins on Sunday afternoon. It was an incredible talk that goes right along with all Jane talks about. I loved his emphasis on praising the attributes of Christ that we see in our children. He also talked well of the "parenting 505" class Lindsay and many of us are enrolled in.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. I was having a similar experience with my 18 month old son. We did not get along at all. I knew I needed to change my mindset about him. I started looking past his craziness (he would seriously never sit still) and thought about how full of life he was. I made a list of the cute things he did and things he did that made me smile. On really frustrating days I'd go and read those things. It helped me remember how amazing he was and forget about the things that upset me.

    Things are much better now. I think it was a change in both of us. He is still very "full of life," but I can handle it now. And I think he's happier because he can sense that my feelings towards him are better.

    It's exactly like Jane said. Our mental attitudes can change the situation (or at least make it easier to deal with). We just have to change how we view our child.

  11. lovely post. Whenever I get frustrated with my daughter I pray and ask for my heart to be filled with love. It helps so much. I'm so grateful for that power in my life.

  12. I hate to admit this, but I had a hard time really loving my second child, for some similar and some different reasons as yours. I hated that I was like that. So I prayed every day that I would love her, love her a lot, as much as my first. The other night as I stayed up to decorate for her birthday, I started crying as I thought of her and how much I love her now. Prayer cab really change hearts.

  13. One thing that this sweet mother may want to look into is the possibility that her daughter may have Asperger's syndrome. Two of my eleven children have mild Asperger's, and it really is a whole different ball game! Her daughter sounds a bit like my Aspie daughter (not talking at that age, being unreasonable, demanding and angry)and for me, it was a helpful thing to know.


  14. You are a well of love and support! Thanks for doing this blog. Thanks for sharing your love and guidance! My Aunt Susan was the chosen favorite of her eight siblings. Years after my GM passed away she told me the special "hell' it was to be the one with that annointment. It not only effects your other children, it hurts your "chosen one". That child is the other, not quite like her siblings and it was not of her choosing! It is a lot of pressure for the easy child.

  15. Have you had her hearing and speech checked? My third child did not speak until she was three. The two's were filled with MANY temper tantrums because of her lack of knowing how to communicate what she wanted!
    Now at 3 1/2 it's a whole different ballgame! Still a strong personality but she talks nonstop! Love it!

    Good luck. I wholeheartedly agree with every spiritual idea in the comments, but I also think some questions to the pediatrician might be in order.

  16. Thank you. That's all I want to say. Thank you for saying the words I needed to hear.

  17. I'm bawling! Thank you for that wonderful insight and advice!!

  18. Bible verses reveal to us what Gods will is. Our journey in life may take us through tears and fiery trials but God will walk with us through it all to "Shalom". Shalom is Peace, wellness that is nothing missing nothing broken, wholeness, completeness. It is deep and wide and touches every area of our life. This is the supernatural definition of wellness.

  19. Oh Jane, you are just am amazing as I remember. Thank you for that beautiful post and words of encouragement. I so often think of how this is our only "now" and I just want to enjoy EVERY second. BUT it can be hard to do when things get hectic. I need to remember that I can change the situation. I also loved how you said that our children will learn to have joy too, I know that is true and want so badly to teach that to my children. You are such a beautiful mother, I was always SO excited when we got to visit you growing up. You were always so happy and when I think of you I think of your smile. Thank you so much for the sweet card you sent me... it really meant so very much to me. And I hope you know my little Marlee is certainly named after you! She has the sweetest spirit and has been such a great source of joy for me. I hope you are doing well Jane... I look forward to continuing to read this beautiful blog!



  20. Just found this blog. It stopped me. I have been praying about my 2 year old and now have some direction. Thank you. It was a beautiful post.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.