“Just what is the big deal with the terrible twos?” a mom recently asked. She had been talking with other mothers who were discussing avoiding the terrible twos. Several of them had prided themselves on the fact that they had little struggle at that time in their child’s life and were encouraging her that if she was having significant issues, she must be doing something wrong. She was feeling guilty that her child was not happy with her at times and seemed very demanding. What was she doing wrong?
So what are the terrible twos anyway? For the first two years of a child’s life, Mom hovers around meeting all of the needs without hesitation. This is a requirement due to the very nature of the developing child. At the age of about two, this all has to begin changing. Between the ages of two to three, Mom has to begin detaching from the complete caretaker role and begin the transition to that of a part-time Mom. Remember, they do leave at 18. For this to happen successfully it is important for the child to begin hearing the word … NO. This of course causes significant levels of frustration in the child. In other words, most children at this point are not “happy”. Little Johnny who has had every need and want satisfied for the last two years of life, his only two years of life, now begins to understand that he is no longer the center of the universe and he doesn’t like it. Johnny is upset and often Mom is upset about now having to deal with a surly, whiny two year old ……. this is the terrible twos.
The odds are that this Mom is doing her job. When she began setting boundaries, her son was not happy and let her know it. This is how it should be. The process of a child learning to handle not getting everything they want and that others exist outside of themselves is vital for healthy development. I have noticed over the years that when parents report never having terrible twos, they often end up with terrible teens. When a child has not learned how to handle boundaries and frustration early in life, it will come up again. Often it is during the teen years when the yearning for freedom is at one of its strongest points. The problem at this time in their life is that a time-out won’t work and they are as big as we are. When I have dealt with parents who made a significant effort at setting boundaries with their children during the two to three year transition, the teen years are significantly smoother and enjoyable.
Not only are the “terrible twos” not to be avoided, they actually are to be initiated by Mom. This process of separation, and the ensuing demonstration of authority in a child’s life, sets the tone for the next sixteen years. This clear demonstration of authority begins the process of developing an obedient and respectful child. Yes, some children adapt with less conflict, but most are quite frustrated at this vital time of transition in life. Just remind yourself, this is necessary. Would you rather have an irate two year old, or an irate fourteen year old? If your answer was the former, you probably haven’t gotten to the latter yet.