Well I broke my promise and reproduced anyway. So when I noticed Josie starting to pull random crazy toddler drama, like laying on the floor screaming when I wouldn't let her put her carry a full glass of ice water around, I decided maybe I needed a plan B that was better than the shoe store parents.
I picked up the exciting sequel to "The Happiest Baby on the Block": "The Happiest Toddler on the Block" by Harvey Karp.
This book is full of tips to make life with a crazy toddler easier. The main gist is that toddlers have very simple brains. When we're all happy, we instinctively use simple language they understand... "Yay fun you went down the slide!" But when they make us mad, we tend to flip into authoritarian adult mode. "Now Betsy, Jon wants to play with the ball so you have to let him have his turn. Remember last week we talked about sharing? I don't want to have to tell you again that you can't always have whatever toy you want."
The issue is that now instead of just having no ball to play with, Betsy also has to deal with this adult who clearly does not understand her situation. With her little brain overloaded with emotion, there's no way complicated sentences or logical arguments are going to sink in. She doesn't know what you're saying, doesn't think you know what she's saying, it's an express train to tantrum-ville.
So Dr. Karp recommends changing up our reactions. First, acknowledge your toddler's feelings so they feel like you "get it" and relate to them. "Betsy is mad mad mad! She really wanted that ball!" And you keep repeating that idea until you get through. He calls it the "fast food rule", because it's sort of like when the burger king cashier repeats your order back to you so you feel all warm and fuzzy.
When you feel like you've got her attention and there's hope in sight, then you can move on to your side of the situation... "But NO ball. John's ball. We can have fun with these blocks!"
My daughter is barely one so I hadn't really been explaining things to her in complex language anyway, but I have tried some of the techniques in the books because I know she understands more language than she lets on. I think it makes her happier just because it forces me to be focused and come across like I have a really good idea for whatever drama is going on, instead of just being angry. I've actually gotten her to smile a few times in the middle of the tears, just by "sportscasting" her actions like the book says, sometimes laying on the floor with her as she's picking a place to throw down.
The good news is that Dr. Karp says the "terrible twos" tend to curve off at the actual age of two... the most terrible age is really 18-24 months. Then at the three year mark things get weird again... kids are caught between wanting to act like babies and wanting to do everything for themselves.
But although the book is about difficult topics, you can tell it's written by someone who loves toddlers. He conveys how exciting this age is, how fast things change, and how much love these little cave-people have to give us. We are ambassadors between worlds, he says, creating new members of civilization. Learn their language, put your foot down when something's unacceptable, admire how cute it all is.