Rebranding the “Terrible Twos”

Two-year-olds suffer from an image problem.

“Has she hit her ‘terrible twos’ yet?”

I’ve heard it a number of times now that I’m the mom of a two-and-a-half-year-old—from other moms of babies and toddlers, parents of grown children, people who do not have children. I usually smile and say something to the effective of “nope, it’s tough, but she’s not terrible!” Sometimes, if they don’t pick up on my dismissal, they’ll warn (threaten?) me, “well, just you wait…”

"Sad Toddler" by Nate Grigg on Flickr

“Sad Toddler” by Nate Grigg on Flickr

I try to cut people some slack when they make unsolicited remarks to me as a mom. Before I was a parent, I’m sure I said dumb, inappropriate, or insensitive things to other parents out of ignorance. I just didn’t how annoying it can be to hear certain remarks on repeat, having to grin through it all. And in fact, I know I’ve stuck my foot in my mouth with other moms before, even now when I should know better. It happens.

But the terrible twos thing is really getting to me. Perhaps I haven’t yet experienced the full range of crazy that may be coming at me. Or perhaps my kid is breezing through two with ease thanks to her pleasant disposition and good language skills. That I can usually stave off a tantrum with a talk is surely not every other mom and dad’s experience dealing with their toddlers.

Though I recognize these possibilities, I still think there’s something foolish about making negative assumptions and predictions of a child’s behaviour.

"Rebranding the Terrible Twos" on the self-styled life

Linden went through a “planking” phase of just stopping and laying down in the middle of a walk. So fun.

For one, we may be setting ourselves up to expect bad and terrible behaviour, to the point where we primarily focus on that behaviour and don’t recognize when our children are behaving well. In the course of a day, I see a huge range of behaviours from my kid. Though some days are harder than others, there’s always at least a few positive things to take away from the day.

We may also tend to let bad behaviour slide, chalking it up to those “inevitable” months or years of terribleness. Having low expectations sets us up for low results. I worry that the whole “terrible two’s” thing can become an excuse for behaviour that we could and should be correcting.

By declaring terribleness inevitable, we’re also missing out on the power of setting positive expectations. I have concluded that we don’t give kids enough credit and they can understand a lot more than we expect. While there are many parenting methods and tricks and not everything works for every kid, I have found that establishing a reasonable, positive expectation and sharing that with my child, tends to yield a better outcome. When I take a moment to get down at Linden’s level and explain that I know she can be a good girl and stay next to mommy and not touch things without asking before we head into the store, she usually follows those rules when we’re inside. It’s the times when I’m in a hurry and fail to take the two minutes to lay it out in advance that I end up with a screaming, flailing child under my arm as I apologize my way through the check-out line (yes, this has happened, exactly as described).

At Ikea, with the dog she named "BeeSee".

At Ikea, with the dog she named “BeeSee”.

Repetition influences our thinking. The more we hear that our child is terrible, simply because of their age, the more we may come to believe this to be true. So, here’s my declaration. I refuse to label my child as “terrible,” even though she happens to be two. It’s true–sometimes she’s an asshole. Sometimes she makes me lose my mind. But mostly, she’s entertaining, sweet, loving, smart, and amazing.

I hope this comes across less as judgement/criticism and more as an invitation to reconsider the way we approach these challenging years of our children’s lives and our lives as parents. I am no parenting expert, but my own experience is leading me to believe that this “Terrible Twos” business is doing us no favours.

Do you have experience with a 2-year-old? What methods do you find helpful for dealing with this challenging period? Or has your experience led you to believe that the Terrible 2s are indeed real, inevitable, and not worth fighting?


11 responses to “Rebranding the “Terrible Twos”

  1. I can honestly say I never thought of the stage of “terrible twos” really. I thought of it more of a growth that my child was learning to be themselves. Yes, being down at their level and not a “giant” and giving them expectations ahead of time are just appropriate. Because my 2 children were only 16 months apart, it wasn’t until the next phase they went into that I thought about what I had just gone through. Having worked in a school and with children a large part of my life, I believe in the 3 C”s – Care, Consequence, and Consistency. With this approach, it doesn’t matter what age your child is as they will know what the boundaries will be. I am thankful that for all the times I went to bed and thought I had terrible children and that I was a terrible Mom,in reality, my children were very good children if you looked around at others which is not a good way to deal with your own. Children do learn from what they see and it sounds like you are doing a great job, Jean.

    • Yes, something I probably should make clearer is that I think it’s definitely helpful when people commiserate about the difficulties of kids at this age (or at any, really). It can definitely be easy to think that you’re the only one having trouble. Motherhood can be very isolating and create lots of self-doubt!

      I like the 3Cs. It helps to have a system for yourself to follow too!

      Thanks for commenting and for the words of encouragement 🙂

  2. Raising children has some terrible moments but I did not find it ever lasted very long. On the whole I thought my children were incredible and marveled at each step in their development. Your insight about how things go badly when YOU are rushed is very good.

  3. We have definitely experienced some “terrible” behaviour, but I wouldn’t label him as such and am much more inclined to remember the neat stuff he said and did during the twos. Even with a child who could clearly articulate WHY he was screaming, yelling, hitting, stomping, etc…it was clear that he was figuring out how to manage his complex emotions and we definitely had some very trying days! Now my friend’s all warn me of what’s to come as he becomes a “threenager”…which gives both three year olds and teenagers a bad name! Although, when he says things like, “I don’t like you right now! Don’t talk to ME like that! YOU do it! I want to stay awake all night and I don’t want to EVER go to bed!” I am reminded of myself as a 13 year old 😉

    • lol “threenager” I get the teen girl warning a lot, too. haha
      Yeah, there’s not question that some moments (like all of today) are ridiculously hard. And at many points I feel like I’m dealing with a totally insane, completely irrational person.

      But yeah, lots of sweetness, too, and I can just see her wading through the complex emotions and difficulties of only having 2 years of experience in this crazy place!

  4. Okay okay so no ‘terrible twos’ for you but just you wait until you get to the tiresome-threes, the frantic-fours and the frustrating-fives…Only kidding 🙂

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