The girls turned 2 at the end of May and while I’d be the first to admit that everyday is not a walk in the park, I’d hazard a guess that 90% of our days are pretty awesome. And yes, I’m fully committed to the subject line of this post. Call me crazy, but I believe that all children are inherently good and referring to a developmental phenomenon — a period of tremendous growth, learning and mental leaps — as “The Terrible Twos” just makes me angry.
Parents are constantly warning you about what’s ahead. You’ll never sleep again. Just wait until they start crawling. Your life is no longer your own. Just wait until they start walking. Just wait until they start school. The teenage years are gonna be rough. But no prediction is quite as dire as the terrible twos. It’s a knee-jerk reaction people have when learning you have a 2 year-old. People cringe and repeat the age-old stereotype, Yikes, terrible twos! Good luck with that. 2 year-olds get a bad rap.
Ah, the “Terrible Twos”, a stereotype that pop psychology uses to refer to a stage of development marked by defiance and tantrums. The funny thing about this little misnomer is that it actually has nothing to do with an age. 2 year-olds are handfuls, but so are 1 year-olds and 5 year-olds and 17 year-olds. Do 2 year-olds throw tantrums? Yes. Do 6 year-olds throw tantrums? Yes. Do 34 year-olds throw tantrums? Yes. Misbehavior may be a perfectly normal part of growing up, but that doesn’t make it excusable. Accepting this behavior just perpetuates the stereotype. It’s important to have realistic expectations, but it’s never too early to set a foundation for discipline.
Jeremiah and I were talking just the other night about how headstrong Kayleigh is. At 2, she has already mastered the art of the rolled eye and No is certainly a favorite word. She is quick to anger and gets frustrated easily. She is all of those things that can make you throw your hands in the air. But, at the same time she is very independent, brave, cerebral and verbal. You can watch the wheels turn when she stacks blocks, reads book, and learns a new word. Her curiosity is a wander to behold. What’s funny to me is that she didn’t become these things overnight. She didn’t turn 2 and suddenly grasp ahold of her personality. It’s been their from day 1.
My issue with stereotyping this stage of development in toddler growth is that it sends the wrong message to the toddler, as well. Yes, they hear you whispering about their morning tantrum, they feel your anxiety about going to the grocery store, they see you roll your eyes when they throw their water bottle to the ground in a fit of anger. Kids are very intuitive. Labelling their natural emotional responses can send the wrong message. A sensitive child may retreat, while it may only fuel the behavior of a more confident child. I said earlier that Kayleigh has mastered the art of the eye roll. Where do you think she got that from…
Is it okay for them to flush Matchbox cars down the toilet, throw blocks at their siblings heads and color on the walls. Of course not, but calling this behavior terrible and naughty isn’t really accurate. Sure, throwing a block at you is probably a form of retaliation, but it’s not always that. Sometimes they think it’s a game. What’s the difference between throwing a block and throwing a ball. You do tell them to throw balls, right? Anger, sadness, and frustration are things that adults can articulate, but that doesn’t mean we adults always react appropriately. Children don’t know what feelings are, they simply feel them and react accordingly. And it’s ok to feel those things. We can’t control how we feel. We can, however, control the way we react to those feelings and that’s exactly what toddlers need to learn to do. They need to feel their emotions and then they need to learn how to manage those feelings in the real world.
My daughters test me everyday. They push the boundaries, try my patience and sometimes they act like monkeys that won’t stop jumping (and falling off) the bed. Some days I get so frustrated with all the cleaning up after, fighting over (every toy, who gets the pink water bottle, and which nursery rhyme to listen to), and the 2-going-on-16 attitudes that I want to run outside and scream. But, the truth is that I hope my girls always have the confidence to challenge me. I hope they are stubborn and irrepressible and vivacious. I hope that they ask hard questions. I hope they continue to have big, bold, wild imaginations. I hope they are brave, unique and headstrong. It’s my job to mold their natural inclinations — these beautiful characteristics — to help them understand the appropriate times to stop and go, push and pull, draw the line or bend ever so slightly, because right now they may be wild banshees in the throes of a developmental phenomenon, but if I do my job right, tomorrow they’ll be fearless crackerjacks taking the world by storm.