Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Not So Terrible Twos

For nearly a year now, I've been trying to write a post about the "terrible twos." But I can't quite get the words to come out the way I want to. And since Charlotte will be three in less than a week, I thought it was high time I got to wrapping my brain around my thoughts.

It used to be, BK (Before Kids), that I thought that every two year old was terrible and could not be controlled. That tantrums were a fact of life. All the while though, I also thought that my child would NEVER be like that.

Raise your hand if you agreed with me BK.

Okay, hands down. I know you did. Every parent thinks that. The truth is, ALL of us are wrong. Tantrums from two year-olds are probably inevitable. But not because some magic tantrum switch flips in their brain. Two year-olds are stuck in a communication limbo. And calling them terrible does nothing to improve their attitude, or ours. Which is why I don't like the phrase "Terrible Twos."

Beth, at The Natural Mommy, once wrote in reference to her own two year-old daughter, " I cannot make her actions acceptable simply by using that phrase." I agree completely. I perceive that some parents or other care givers use that phrase to excuse unacceptable behavior. To write it off as if it were inevitable and we can not expect anything more from our toddlers. That it will pass all on its own.

But now that Charlotte has almost passed through this so-called "stage," I beg to differ. It is possible I believe, to avoid the "Terrible Twos." Let me back up ad start from the beginning.

I hate tantrums. I despise whining. I try to make sure it is clear that neither are tolerated in our house. So, I wanted to figure out what was causing tantrums. And as I looked around, read blogs, browsed parenting magazines and websites, it occurred to me that lots of tantrums resulted in unmet expectations on the part of the toddler.

For example, the toddler is playing in the evening and is enjoying their toy time. Then, in the middle of a critical event in the lives of her dolls, Mom or Dad says, okay, put it away, it's bedtime. For some kids, that would result in a tantrum. They had no expectation that bedtime was right now because they have no concept of time yet.

But how do you fix that? You can't exactly sit a two year-old down and explain all the nuances of prime-time TV, cookie eating, and toy sharing. They are just not cognitively ready for most of that.

So what we did was teach our daughter to communicate. We taught her sign language. We read books about emotions so she could put words to how she felt. We spent time explaining what would happen when we were in specific situations. We gave (and still do) give her time warnings when a fun activity is about to end. We had high expectations for her behavior. We made sure she got enough one-on-one attention during the day that she didn't feel the need to constantly command it with tears and screaming. All of these tools helped us guide her behavior to an acceptable level.

And yes, she has been known the pitch a fit. But honestly, the big ones are pretty rare. Time out works for her. Knowing she will have space and time to do the things she loves works for her. If I honestly look at some of these tantrum moments, what I really see is my own failure to set the stage for an appropriate response. That isn't an excuse for her behavior either, but it does serve as a reminder to me that as the momma, I really do set the stage every morning for what kind of day we have.

After a year of mulling this over and comparing it to our real life experience, I'm still not 100% sure I laid out my thoughts in the best way... but I needed to get this post out of my head.

Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts about the "terrible twos," but whatever you do, don't call my daughters terrible. :)


  1. Sounds like you hit it on the head.
    In my parenting classes, I call them the "terrific twos" because SO MUCH terrific stuff is going on INSIDE their brains...the problem is...they don't have the ability to get it out in a way that is understood by us!
    Forming linguistic phonemes is HARD and in her head, she sounds JUST LIKE WHY OH WHY don't you understand?!?!
    The Gross motor skills necessary for sign language or other visual communication techniques are much easier to grasp from 18 to 36 months AND set a phenomenal foundation for spoken language later on in life.
    Tantrums still happen...we all get tired, groggy or have an ache or pain that can throw us off kilter (even the best of us) but expecting those, rather than punishing those, make them easier to get through for the tantrum-er and the tantrum-ee :)

    Nice job Jennifer!

  2. This is a great post on two year olds! You did an excellent job of putting it down "on paper". :)

  3. nice articel, i really enjoy reading your article, keep sharing

  4. I agree that difficulty communicating is the main feature of the terrible twos. I've observed in my own children, and the children of my friends, that the children who talk early, and are relatively fluent by age 2, or soon after, two is a delightful year. HOWEVER, perhaps because two was so easy with these kids, three seems to be a challenging year. It seems like (at least for those early-talkers) 3 is the year of asserting their own will/mind, and so there is more intentional "boundary testing". This doesn't make the 3 yr old (or 2 yr old, or ANY child) terrible, and I don't like that term at all. BUT I wish someone had warned me, as my kids were turning 3 and I was feeling pretty good about my "easy" kids and my parenting, that I was about to hit some rough waters (5 1/2 was another rough age for my kids).


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