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.