Terrible Twos?


Does your child look like this a lot of the time? If so, he/she might be going through the “terrible twos”.

I have always heard horror stories about the “terrible twos” that toddlers go through as they grow and develop. Tantrums in public, tantrums in private… refusal to follow directions… a stubbornly set jaw or blank face at best when told “no.” I decided to reserve my judgement about the “terribleness” of the “twos” until I had personal experience on the subject. Even though he still has a few months before his second birthday, our oldest child, Charbel, has already begun his “terrible twos,” and I am therefore in the process of formulating my opinion on the subject.

I definitely understand where the “terrible twos” gets its reputation. It really is terribly frustrating when our son screams if we take away something he’s not allowed to play with, frowns and presses his lips tightly together in disapproval of the meal he’s supposed to eat, or screams when he wants to be in one place and has to be in another. He knows and understands just enough to express his own will, but not enough to listen to reason or reach a logical conclusion. The result truly can, at times, be called “terrible.”

But for every reason I can think of that make the “twos” “terrible,” I can think of at least three that make them terrific.  We now have a child that knows what it means to give a hug and kiss. He gets excited and appreciates surprises – he recognizes that it’s something new. He is growing mentally by leaps and bounds – learning to recognize patterns and follow simple directions. He can remember routines and participate more in activities. He can choose what toy he wants to play with and, for the most part, use it properly. We can see his imagination and simple skills of association at work. Charbel understands a lot of what we say, and has a wide enough vocabulary to accurately tell us what he wants, most of the time. When he’s in a good mood, which is, after all, most of the time, he asks for things very nicely. He’s understanding our expectations more and more each day, and he tries to actively participate in whatever we’re doing, whether it’s trying to help us put his shoes on, pretending to wash his own face with a kleenex or wet-wipe, or picking up his toys one-by-one when he’s done with them and putting them back in the big toy bucket.

It’s impossible for these positive developments to occur without some struggles along the way, but the delight of seeing out little person learn who he is, discover and forge his own personality, and participate more and more actively in our family life is unbeatable.

I think the hardest part of the “terrible” twos is that the toddler’s reactions can easily be interpreted as a battle of wills, quickly turning into a contest between opposing forces – the child’s will and the parents will. The parent faces the necessity of  winning the war of wills at all costs, and given the simple, but tireless determination of a toddler, this can be exhausting and frustrating. This approach, however, has the underlying assumption that the toddler is deliberately defying authority, and thus pits the parent against the child. Understanding that the child does not have this intention can greatly help parents stay patient and learn how to help their child through this stage. Instead of being an enemy, the parents should be a trusted guide. Instead of allowing the child’s demonstration of will to become a contest, parents can turn it into a learning opportunity.

The child does not stubbornly refuse to conform out of rebellion or defiance; the child simply doesn’t yet know how to control or guide his newly discovered will. He now knows that he has a will – there are things he wants and things he doesn’t want. Tantrums arise as the child learns that he can’t have everything he wants, but hasn’t yet learned how to react when he may not have his own way. Understanding the emotions and confusions the little one faces inside when running into these situations can help parents understand that the child needs guidance, not competition. In most cases, the child wants to please the parents, but doesn’t know how. Guiding the child doesn’t mean “giving in” about important matters; it means showing the child how to react when they can’t have what they want. It means giving them an alternative to a temper tantrum. It means teaching them how to distract themselves from the “no win” situation, and consistently setting clear, attainable expectations regarding their actions.

When the child begins a temper tantrum, instead of responding by simply holding out against the toddler, the parents can calmly tell the child what they should say, or what they should do (emphasizing the positive, desired action, rather than the negative of what is forbidden), and move the child away from the cause of the tantrum.  I believe it is also helpful to let the child express himself. We know from personal experience that moving on from an incident does not necessarily mitigate the feelings of anger and frustration. While we tell our child that they may not disobey us, we have to at the same time teach him what he can do, in addition to distracting himself, in order to release his emotions, like expressing them politely, or running them off.  It can still take time for him to calm down, but if the parents repeatedly react this way, not giving the toddler his way, but using difficult moments to help him develop, the toddler will not only end up respecting his parents, but will also be learning, over time, how to guide himself through the process of distracting himself and getting engaged in something else that is allowed. This type of guidance takes more time than simply refusing to give in to the child’s demand, but it is an investment that will pay off in the future, with a child that knows strategies of how to face difficulties and deal with them.

I’m still in the process of wrestling through my own experiences with our son as he goes through this challenging period. I have already decided, however, that the joys outweigh the difficulties, and therefore prefer to leave behind the terminology of “terrible twos” in favor of the “terrific twos.” I am proud of the great effort I see our son putting forth as he learns how to express himself and be himself while remaining within the boundaries that we set, hopefully for his own good, and I look forward to all the stages of childhood that are approaching (perhaps somewhat apprehensively about the teens, but that included!), and am sure that each, in its own way, will have the combination of the terrible and terrific. I hope that, as I spend these years trying to bring out the best in my children as a parent, I use their reactions and experiences, and the advice I give them, as a reminder and challenge to bring out the best in myself as well. Many thanks to Our Lord for bringing our two children to us. Charbel is well on his way and makes us increasingly proud as he keeps growing by leaps and bounds. Little Paul is still only six months, and I have to admit that the cuddle time I have with him is a needed break during the more challenging moments of parenting the toddler! The two of them are a perfect combination, and I feel privileged to be their mother and watch them grow up together.

4 thoughts on “Terrible Twos?

  1. I have to admit I love the “terrible twos.” 18-24 months was the roughest period, but once Marko turned two he got a lot more self-control … plus his molars were in, and that helps too. ;) I just treat tantrums like crying in a younger child … the child is upset and that’s the only way he knows of to express that. Sometimes he wants a hug, sometimes he just wants to be left alone, but either way, it’s okay for him to be upset. It doesn’t mean I’m going to give him whatever he wants, but I don’t get mad at him for feeling bad. He’s only two; he has lots of time to learn self-control.

    But the FUN of two … well, it can’t be beat. Actually getting to have a conversation with a child after two years of waiting. Playing pretend. The silly things they say. I do love babies, but there’s a lot to be said for two-year-olds!

  2. Ellen , I red your experience with the twos, you made me feel like living with you people. All children behave the same , but some are so stuborn they just want to do things their own hay , and what you are teaching Charbel is right thing , carry on with your way , even his fiance ( my wife ) says let him do what he wants , and if you don’t want him you can send him to us . She’s just koking . god bless you , love you all .

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