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…”
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.
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).
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?