In my experience, the popular phrase, “terrible twos” is misleading. First of all, as many a frazzled mother has discovered on Google several months after their child’s first birthday, the classic “terrible twos” struggles begin long before two years of age. And secondly, all children are different, and my own experience has been that the “twos” are much easier to handle than the “ones.” Some of this perception may be due to the fact that I was pregnant for the 7 months preceding Rowan’s second birthday. But I can actually pinpoint the true origin of difficulty to when he started to learn to walk just before his first birthday.
—Aside: I’ll stop here to say that the “ones” were good and filled with wonder. See photos below* and any of my other blog posts, photo shares, and Facebook entries for info on all of the endearing and fun stuff….
But this time also contained unique challenges as described below—
It seemed like “the ones” were filled with frustration *for Rowan*. He was undertaking the huge tasks of learning motor skills and speech, and neither progressed as fast or executed itself as reliably as he would have liked. He adamantly refused help except when he suddenly needed help, so he wanted a caretaker hovering nearby and giving him undivided attention. That was a good plan anyway because with his ever-evolving motor skills he always reached the next high surface that wasn’t childproofed yet. The kid used a yard stick to knock things off of the high kitchen bar…
During “the ones,” despite my very close supervision, he climbed on tables, into boxes and pans, and up his high chair, flipped head over heels like a cartoon over the support bar under the kitchen table, knocked himself out falling off of a chair- twice, turned water faucets on without my knowledge, swiped containers of food from counters, knocked over hot coffee, got ahold of my sewing scissors, fought wildly during every diaper change, and developed a fascination with running the length of our sectional and body slamming me when I was curled up against the arm rest with morning sickness. Yes, sometimes “the ones” were filled with frustration for us both.
A big problem for me with this age was that his attention span, language, and reasoning limited the type of discipline I could use to address these behaviors. He didn’t understand explanations. He wouldn’t stay in time out. He loved being held in place at the time out spot and made a game of being returned to it, even when done stoically. (Related side note: he also took to biting during this age.) Loss of privileges was too far removed from the infraction mentally and time-wise to have any effect.
But now, in the twos, he can tell me what he wants and why he’s upset. We can talk about the feelings underlying the behaviors. And I can tell him what the rules, limits, and consequences are, and why. I can give him a time limit and/or a count down. We can discuss ways to solve his problems and evaluate how his choices worked. His growing sense of empathy is heart warming. And *everything* is a learning opportunity.
Oh, you want pancakes?
Great, let’s count ingredients and discuss kitchen safety while we make some.
You’d like to play outside?
Alright! Find your socks and shoes and bring them to me.
Uh-oh, you spilled milk?
Ok, I’ll walk you through the steps of cleaning up.
Hm, you kicked the dog again?
That’s three so you’ve lost your favorite toy for the day. And say sorry to the dog. (We really do practice social skills with the pets and sometimes toys; “3” is a reference to 1-2-3 Magic.)
Also, not so accident-prone anymore, Rowan doesn’t insist on my undivided attention often. With the emergence of imaginary play, he can occupy himself independently for quite a while. But thankfully he’s still glad to let me join in sometimes- it’s fun building Legos, playing in a pillow fort, or getting to be the wind that knocks a cardboard brick wall down! He’s also quite interested in the tasks that I do, and I love trying to explain what I’m doing and how he can help.
So to any moms currently being tackled by a carnivorous 18 month old wondering, “then what are the ‘terrible twos’ going to be like?!” I want you to know that the answer might just be, “Terrific!”
*Yes that’s blue paint on Rowan’s hand from the art project that had his attention 10 minutes prior to the bubbles. Both activities were a lot of fun though.