My little girl is two years old. In most circles, that fact is normally followed by ghostly ‘oooh’ sounds.
That bothers me.
It bothers me that there’s an assumed reaction to becoming two years old. It bothers me that an avalanche of bad behaviour is prophetically cast over wary mothers and unsuspecting toddlers. It bothers me that it seems an inexplicable and inescapable fact: The next year of your life is going to suck. Good luck!
Let me tie a couple of thoughts together for you, and see whether you can see where I’m coming from by the end of it:
Firstly, I believe strongly in the power of words. Call a child stupid, and he’ll act stupid. Call her a brat and she’ll act like one. They’ll believe it’s what you expect of them and do their best to live up to that expectation. I remember the story of Nicky Cruz. His mother called him the Son of Satan while in a trance when he was three years old. He describes that as the moment his heart turned to stone. As a teen he became the leader of the most notorious and feared gang in New York City, before a street preacher finally changed his life. It’s a phenomenal story and one I’ve treasured since my teen years myself, but the point here is about the impact of his mother’s words on his young and impressionable mind and how they set his future in motion.
Secondly, our minds often control our outcomes. If I think I’m going to have a terrible day, I usually do. If I anticipate a really miserable time, it normally is. What we think transfers into our realities, and often times, what we expect actually happens. (Hence cursing or not cursing our two year olds, and ourselves, by our expectations and words.)
Thirdly, developmentally speaking, around two years old is a massive learning curve for a child. Yes, it may be frustrating (okay, scratch that. IS frustrating) for us as parents. Yes, it can feel like beating your head against a brick wall. Yes, there are times you want to run screaming into the fields. But wow. What an incredible time.
I found a lovely description of what happens to a two year old:
Just about all two-year-olds like to explore, examine, test, and try to figure out what is happening in the world around them. Day by day, you can watch your child make connections and discover relationships. He will start to demonstrate new abilities – to communicate, to perform, and to exert his independence – all on his own. It is unfortunate (although understandable) that this age is typically referred to as the terrible twos. The reality of being two means standing up for oneself as an individual in no uncertain terms, and is an entirely normal part of development. True, it can be frustrating at times, but try not to let your child’s temporary phase of defiance and tantrums overshadow his new achievements and abilities.
That resonated so well with me, I almost didn’t want to put it in here, because I feel like the author of that has said in the last 18 words what it’s taken me an essay to say.
This paragraph thrilled me, actually, when I first read it. It’s so true. My husband and I often look at each other and shake our heads in sheer wonder. Sometimes we don’t even know where Ameli picked up the words she’s using. We don’t know where she learned to do xyz. She’ll pick up her baby doll and start singing a song to it, making up a tune to go with the words of a nursery rhyme I played out on the palm of her hand once. It blows my mind. It is quite literally development day by day.
We can all agree that that’s great, I know.
The difficulty comes in the next part – exerting independence. “The reality of being two means standing up for oneself as an individual in no uncertain terms.” Oh boy. If I had a penny for every ‘No’ we’ve heard in the last few months… I’d be on a cruise right now. It’s frustrating. It’s infuriating. Why? Not because she’s exerting her independence – that bit makes me proud – no, it’s because she’s not bending to my will. (Who’s the two year old now?) I get angry, because she’s not doing things my way. Because she’s not doing what I want. (For good reason too, I mean, I’m the adult. I can see that the time’s run out on the parking meter, or that the food’s going to burn if I don’t get back into the kitchen immediately, or that I’m going to have to pick up the toys if she doesn’t. Or that she needs to brush her teeth. I’m the adult, I can see the greater picture – she can’t. And it’s impossible to explain ‘closing time’ and similar concepts to an actual two year old.) But the reality is that my frustration is born from the exact same place as her perceived disobedience – having a will and wishing to exert it.
This is, of course, where a lot of parents believe it’s our job to bend that will, to break it and shape it. This isn’t really something I believe, but that’s a topic for a whole other discussion. In short, however, I do not believe that parenting is about dominating, forcing and ‘being the boss‘. Rather, I see it as being about guiding a child with love, patience, and understanding and being permissive without letting your child run rings around you. I do believe in discipline but not in domination.)
The concept of ‘terrible two’s’, in my view, sets us all up for a horrible time. It deflates me before we start. It gets my back up and I feel like I have to grit my teeth and close my eyes and just-get-through-it (and yes, some days it’s how I feel too, especially being pregnant and tired at the same time!)
I’d rather give us a fighting chance though. I’d rather view the days ahead with excitement and gratitude and hope. How about the ‘Incredible Two’s’? I know it doesn’t alliterate, but it still kind of rolls off the tongue. And it makes me feel like we’re about to embark on an incredible journey, where I get to act as guide, as companion and as mentor, rather than dragging a kicking and screaming toddler through.
*The next question is ‘That’s all fine and well, but how do we cope with the Incredible Two’s when they’re feeling rather more terrible?’ Well… I’m working on that, and I’ll get back to you, but I think the Positive Discipline website is a good place to start.
**We are no where near expert on this. In fact, as pregnancy has progressed, patience has become almost visibly non-existent in me. Being imperfect doesn’t mean I can’t strive for ideal though, so when we fall down, we apologise and start fresh again tomorrow. Remember that wonderfully freeing 80/20 rule.
How To (Not) Curse A Two Year Old
I loved this post! I am immersed in life with my highly spirited 2yo son and a 3 yo daughter – it’s incredibly inspiring and delightful but frustrating and exhausting too! My 2yo has just discovered the power of throwing and while I would like to rejoice in his skills to make objects fly through the air, it’s not so much fun when they are hard, big and aimed straight at our heads or pots on the stove!
You are so right though about how our expectations create the day ahead…it’s been a rough few days for me but occasionally I’ll stop and give myself a pep talk about how much I love the kids and want to be appreciative, how I am creative enough to think of ways for us all to be happy etc etc and it really does help turn things around.
No age is perfect – even as a Mama aged 34 I am still a work in progress so to have huge expectations of these wee ones is just too much. Let’s rejoice in their power, will and general terrificness (and ours)!
Great post, Lushka! Really insightful and useful for parents going through some challenging times with their little ones.
I found three to be more challenging than 2 because of the real pull they experience between independence and toddlerhood. It’s like the tween years when they’re too big for the liitle and too little for the big.
Lovely post and I agree whole-heartedly, though am not brilliant at dealing with it. Usually it takes us one big fight to realise what is happening (independence is the most common) and then we adjust our reactions and expectations. For example, after a massive fight to get Eleanor to wear her pyjama bottoms, we’ve let her leave them off for the last two days. But it really is a miraculous age, with so much happening.
I honestly LOVE the 2yo stage. I get sick of correcting all the well-meaning people who say, “oh the terrible twos” with “naaah, TERRIFIC twos!” I have had the two year old who used banshee screaming as her *only* form of communication for the entire year. I have (now) the two year old who requires physically removing from every single pickle she gets herself into because she is so determined to figure it all out herself.
Two year olds are not defiant. They are not disobedient. They are not contrary. They are passionate and determined and brave and bright. They are fascinating to watch bloom!
(The toughest age for me so far has always been the fourth-birthday growth spurt, accompanied by a BIG hormone surge including teenage door slamming and eating twenty meals a day! I love four year olds too, but they have the edge on two year olds for parental frustration hands down!)