Characteristics of Two (and a half) Year Old Behavior

Babaganouski is two and a half and this is a time of a child’s life when they can become a LITTLE difficult! A fantastic Maternal and Child Health Nurse I had for my first two children used to speak about periods of equilibrium and disequilibrium in children.

Louise Bates Ames also discusses this theory of child development in her book Your Two-Year-Old: Terrible or Tender. Disequilibrium is the half year period before a child’s birthday, (in this instance from 2 1/2 until 3 years old) where children are confused, emotional, temperamental and may have difficulty completing tasks that they previously have easily accomplished. They then move into phases of equilibrium where they seem to have “got it all together”.

I think knowing this information makes the periods of disequilibrium easier to cope with – you know that there is an end in sight! Two and a half years old is the peak age of disequilibrium. I have noted from a handout I received from my Maternal and Child Health Nurse some of the outstanding characteristics of two and half years. This list should bring a smile to the face of any parent who has a child this age, as they can take some comfort knowing that this behavior is age appropriate.

Characteristics of a two and a half year olds behavior.

  • 2 1/2 year olds are rigid and inflexible. They want exactly what they want, when they want it. They cannot adapt, give in, wait a little while. Everything has to be done just so. Everything has to be right in the place they consider proper. For any domestic routine, they set up a rigid sequence of events which must always follow each other always in exactly the same manner.
  • They are extremely domineering and demanding. They must give orders. They must make the decisions. If they decide, “mummy do”, daddy cannot be accepted as substitute. If they decide, “Me do it myself”, then no one is allowed to help them, no matter how awkward or incapable they themselves may be.
  • 2 1/2 is an age of violent emotions. There is little modulation to the emotional life of children this age.
  • It is an age of opposite extremes. With no ability to choose between alternatives (it is almost impossible for 2 1/2’s to make a clear cut choice and stick to it). Children of this age shuttle back and forth endlessly between two extremes, seeming to be trying to include both in their decision. “I will – I won’t”, “I want – I don’t want it”, “Go out – stay in”. If someone doesn’t cut into this back and forth shuttling, it has been known to go on for upwards of an hour or more. The decision of what clothes to wear may ursurp a whole morning for a conflict-ridden 2 1/1 year old.
  • Another characteristic of this is age is preservation – that is, the children want to go on and on with whatever they are doing. Not only right at the moment but from day to day. If you read four stories before bedtime yesterday, they want four stories – and the same ones, too – today. It is very difficult with many children this age to introduce new clothes, new pieces of furniture, new things to eat. They want things to go on just the way they have always been or at least hold on to the old as new things are added.

So how do you then manage the behavior of the two and a half year old? The hand out had this sound advice:

Managing a two and a half year olds behavior.

  • Working around the behaviour characteristics of two and a half is often much more successful than trying to meet them head on. (For us with Babaganouski, I know that he will always want me to read his lunch time story before his nap. He often doesn’t want to stop playing though to go to bed. On weekends, I give him the choice of coming to have the story with me now, or in 10 minutes and dad will read the story. He always stops playing and comes with me!)
  • Streamline all routines, limit choices and avoid situations where the child takes over.
  • Great patience, a real understanding of the difficulties of the age, and a willingness to use endless techniques to get around rigidities and rituals and stubbornness will help get through through the time till the difficult 2 1/2 year old turns 3.

EDIT: To handle the tantrum at the time of the event you may like to try the discipline strategy of bringing them in close – it is an alternative to time out.