My 2 year old daughter has started shouting at me all day long, every day. Usually for things I would happily give her if she just asked for them in her regular voice. I have tried to respond to her needs since she was born. So far I have attachment parented, nursed, coslept, and have avoided punishments for her. We try to live peacefully, and I am usually patient, yet this wears me down so much. She even will swing her arm, as if to hit me, but not actually make contact. I am concerned for what is going on in her right now that is creating this. I don't know if this behavior is something developmentally right for her, because of something I am doing wrong, or because what she sees other kids doing. Our neighbor's children are very disrespectful of their parents, and recently we have witnessed twice children hitting their parents in stores. If that is the case, I feel even more helpless trying to have a peaceful daily life, because I have little control of behavior she will see in others. If there is something I can do to help her, I will happily do it. I respect your work and would appreciate your advice so much.
Dear Mother of a shouting 2-year-old,
I can imagine how frustrating it is for you to have your sweet child, whose needs are generally met peacefully, start shouting and attempting to hit. I am glad that you are seeking to understand her need rather than scold her. There is always an innocent reason behind children’s behavior.
It is not possible for me to know for sure why she is acting in this way, but most often, when a child is well bonded and happy, it is some innocent attempt to figure something out. Your guess may be all there is to it. She may be scared by what she sees that other children do and she wants to try it on and sense what it feels like, in hopes to become comfortable or to understand it. If this is the case, she needs guidance as well as an outlet for her feelings.
What would be helpful to her is your authentic reaction to her emotional expression, “Oh my, you are shouting, what is the matter sweetheart?” If she swings her arm at you or keep shouting, keep showing interest in her expression and not to the content of her request. “Did you see the other child shouting or swinging his hand like this? Show mommy what he did,” and hand her a doll to show you.
At another, neutral time, you can also provide theatrical play where the two of you do shouting matches in an acting fun style. You can play this game with your husband too and laugh together. A power game of her shouting can also be very healing. Read that section on power games in my book.
In addition, there is no need to feel helpless about the neighbors. Instead, connect with your toddler right away when you see her watching such behavior. You can say, “This child must be in pain.” After she sees such behavior, help her process it by saying, “Something is hurting this child. He and his mom may need help.” She may not understand everything, but she will get that you don’t see this behavior as peaceful.
When she shouts, respond to her emotional expression. In my book, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves,” there is a chapter on responding to tantrum as an emotional expression rather than a way of communication. Follow the guidance in that chapter so your daughter can express herself fully and know she can count on your leadership and your love.
If there is a deeper stress under your child’s behavior, I would need to know much more about both of you. I can do that in a phone session which you can sign up for on my site.