In a few short weeks I will have on my hands, for the third time, a sweet little two-year old! That’s right, my youngest is having his second birthday, so I thought the perfect subject to tackle today is the terrible twos. When people find out my baby is turning two they look at me like they are sorry for me and ask if he’s hit the terrible twos yet. It’s well-intentioned, but sad that as a society we have this degrading view of two-year olds as little monsters! So, as parents we brace ourselves for the worst, ready to resist any kind of defiant behavior.
I want to help shift this perspective! The main problem with the terrible twos isn’t the two year olds, it is the negative label. When we see something as negative we just perpetuate the idea and set up the scene for a negative experience. (I wrote a little bit about how we see our children here, if you want to read a little more about seeing the good in your kids.) So lets ditch the label and look at the development of the two year old.
As our children move from baby to toddler they are gaining a vast amount of skills and knowledge everyday. They are going from dependent to independent and it is a very exciting time for them. They know very little of the world around them, and now that they can walk and use their fine and gross motor skills they want to explore and learn about everything around them. We are all born with a curiosity to learn about the world around us, and two seems to be the age that we are finally in enough control of our bodies to be able to do so!
The two year old is also wanting to assert his or her individuality. They are beginning to show preferences, even though they may not be able to verbalize them very well. My almost two year old knows what he wants when he wants it, and sometimes he changes his mind at the drop of a coin. When my four year old was two he would tell me everyday that he wanted toast, but he didn’t want me to cook it. I would give him a piece of bread and he would get angry, so then I would stick the piece of bread in the toaster and he would get angry too. He thought uncooked toast was a possibility and couldn’t understand why I couldn’t make it happen. It can be a lot to keep up with at times, but they certainly aren’t terrible. I have the ability to regulate my emotions that they haven’t quite mastered yet, and when I keep that in mind, I can be present with them during their emotional outbursts rather than fighting against them.
Another hallmark of this age is wanting to do things on their own. My baby loves opening oranges by himself. He asks me for an orange and gets very angry if I start to peel it for him. Sure, it takes him quite a while to open it, but he loves the challenge and gets so excited when he has finally accomplished the goal that he set out to do. The glee in his eyes when he says, “did it!” is so worth the small mess he makes doing it himself.
Now that we understand a little more about the development of the two year the question is how do we allow them to experience and explore while keeping them safe and and maintaining our sanity?
Understanding is the main key. It isn’t a time for them to just drive you crazy and make as big a mess as possible. That certainly isn’t the goal. This is the time when they are beginning to grow into who they will be! They are learning what they like and don’t like, they are learning natural limits, they are learning boundaries, they are learning their own strength, and they are learning their space and place in the world! When we understand this it is easier to accept our role as guide and guardian, and if we allow them the freedom to explore, the terrible parts will be few and far between.
When they take all the tupperware out of the cupboard, instead of being frustrated with the mess, you can choose to see them as exploring the depth of the cupboard. When they spill the milk all over the table, you can see them as exploring the wonder of liquids. The possibilities are endless. You can set up your house to accommodate them and make sure they will stay safe, but also remember, a happy house is sometimes a messy house when children are involved. Be there with them, discover with them, let them do things on their own that are within their grasp. Be patient with them when they change their minds back and forth. Say yes as often as you can!
Lets change the mindset that two year olds are terrible tantrum machines. Two year olds are full of curiosity for the worlds around them, so rather than resist this stage of development, lets let them flow through it and flow with them! Lets keep their curiosity and zest for life alive.
Do you have any funny stories about your kids when they were two? Are you nervous for your child to turn two? We would love to hear your stories in the comment section below!