I can't even count how many times I hear this from parents every year. And I empathize. I remember what it was like to experience this as a new parent.
The good news is that it's probably just a very typical phase of development, known as "disequilibrium." Children go in and out of disequilibrium periods on a regular basis throughout childhood. It's normal, and even necessary to their development.
The bad news is that there is no "cure."
But when parents are armed with knowledge, they find it MUCH easier to cope and to avoid becoming overwhelmed. They can even help their child cope with this difficult time as well, if they understand a little bit about disequilibrium:
-In typical development, periods of equilibrium are interwoven with periods of disequilibrium.
-Children usually alternate between these two states on a fairly regular basis all through childhood, and into the teen years.
-The timing of these cycles are very individual, but research has shown that it’s common for children to experience equilibrium around their birthdays and disequilibrium around their half-birthdays. So, for example, you may find your two- year-old to be easy and happy, but when he/she reaches two and a half, it may be a very stormy time in the child’s development.
-Equilibrium describes the periods when the child is relatively easy to live with, happy, and steady. Parenting feels rewarding during these times.
-Disequilibrium describes the periods when the opposite is true. The child is oppositional, difficult, frequently upset, and negative. Parenting feels difficult.
-Equilibrium is described as the periods when the individual is consolidating and practicing known skills. Think of these periods as the plateaus.
-Disequilibrium is described as the periods when the individual is ready to learn NEW skills, and is often feeling the frustration and restlessness that accompanies this learning. Think of these periods as the “uphill climb” of development.
-For some children, the movement from equilibrium to disequilibrium can seem to happen overnight, leaving both child and parent shocked and confused at the sudden changes in feelings and behavior.
-Disequilibrium often precedes a physical, cognitive, or emotional growth spurt.
-Physical symptoms sometimes accompany disequilibrium. Children can have trouble going to sleep or staying asleep. They may have a larger or smaller appetite, or have different tastes in food. They may have more or less energy than before, and may be a bit more accident-prone.
-When parents understand that disequilibrium is a natural part of development, they are better prepared to cope with the difficulties.
-Disequilibrium is not an ideal time for big changes in the family’s lifestyle, or for parents to “lay down the law.” Research shows that flexibility and understanding, combined with appropriate firmness and consistency, seem to help children through these rough times.
-While I recognize that this isn’t easy, I recommend that parents do their best to “embrace the disequlibrium” as much as possible, and try to realize that these rough periods are necessary for healthy development.
-This is an excellent article about disequilibrium, as well as many other useful articles:
The book series published by the Gesell Institute of Human Development begins with Your One Year Old, and provides a very helpful and read-able book for each year of childhood up to the early teens. These books are based on decades of thorough longitudinal research, and describe the disequilibrium periods that can be expected, as well as other characteristics of the age. I recommend that parents read these books each year a few months in advance of their children’s birthdays. You will be armed with very helpful knowledge, and you will find the ups and downs of your child’s development to be much easier to understand. Available in libraries, bookstores, and online.