Thursday, August 16, 2012

The 'Terrible Twos': Perception or Reality?

Sprout has been two for all of six days, but some of the behaviours that people refer to as the 'Terrible Twos' are already in full swing. Rather than getting angry at how he's defying me, I try to keep in mind what I learned in developmental psychology. I think looking at toddlerhood as the 'Terrible Twos' is setting it up as an adversarial situation--a battle. I don't think that's going to help my parenting to grit my teeth in preparation for hell & just hope for the best. I'm not professing to advise any of you on parenting--I know what works for my kid & me may not work for anyone else. But I do think a parent's perception can really colour the relationship, so I'm trying to keep somewhat objective about the sometimes frustrating things that Sprout is doing.

This one goes up to eleven

Noisiness is something that's gradually increased. Sprout's been talking for about ten months now & these days he'll frequently have conversations with imaginary friends on the phone or sing songs. I've been working on the inside/outside voice concept with him & he really seems to understand it. If I whisper inside voice to him, he'll usually quiet down. Occasionally when we're at the park or somewhere that it's appropriate to scream & yell, I'll mention outside voice. He doesn't necessarily yell on command or anything, but it seems to help reinforce where & when it's okay to shriek like a banshee.

Energizer Bunny

Somehow, it seems like Sprout just hit some sort of phase really suddenly in the last week in terms of energy level. I used to describe him as an easygoing kid who liked to sit & read or play with little toys. Now I'm not sure where that kid went. He still likes to do those things, but there is much more throwing & galloping involved now.

To nap, or not to nap: that is the question

Despite the huge amounts of energy that he has, Sprout is staying awake longer & longer, so the naps are getting delayed. A few times this week he's gone down around 6pm, then woken around 9, resulting in a ridiculously late bedtime. I don't think he's really ready to give up the naps entirely, however. He just can't quite go a whole day without sleeping. I see the naps as a continuum. About a year ago, he was transitioning to one nap from two. Now he's transitioning from one to none. In a few months, I expect he probably won't be napping.

Mary, Mary quite contrary

Probably the most common 'Terrible Twos' behaviour I hear people complaining about is saying no all the time. Sprout's increased willfulness comes from increased mobility, strength & cognitive skills. He's asserting his desires that are contrary to mine, saying no (though this in particular doesn't actually happen a lot) in the gradual process of separating himself from me. He understands what no means, but he isn't old enough to understand how his actions affect me. Having an understanding of what another person might be thinking or feeling is years away--toddlers aren't 'doing it on purpose' just to frustrate their parents. They just don't have a theory of mind yet.

As frustrating as it is to have to always factor someone else's needs & desires into nearly everything I do, being authoritarian & just forcing him to do what I want isn't going to produce a healthy relationship between us. This isn't to say that I let him do whatever he wants, but I do try to plan for things he wants to do into our outings in particular. It just works more smoothly that way. I didn't really plan very well Monday when I needed to go buy a new bike helmet. I thought it would just take about an hour, including the bike ride to & from the store. It ended up taking nearly three hours: I forgot to bring a water bottle for either of us, the selection wasn't great so I went to three stores & we both had a horrible time. Sprout kept running out of every store I was in if I wasn't physically restraining him. I came home with a helmet & a very frustrated, tired toddler.

The wanderer

The running away thing is possibly the scariest aspect of his newfound mobility & confidence. He's the kind of kid who will go pretty far across the park before he turns & looks around to see where I am. Last weekend, on his birthday, he took off out of the yard. It was your classic case of everybody thought everybody else was watching him. He went out the front gate & walked east to the end of the block where a passerby realized he was alone. Another person, apparently a corrections officer, stopped & called the police. Three female officers arrived & were talking to everyone who walked by to try to identify Sprout.

Though we didn't realize it at the time, he'd been gone for about ten minutes when I had an odd feeling & asked Oliver where he was. We couldn't find him in the back yard or the house, then his six-year-old cousin casually mentioned that he'd seen Sprout walk around to the front of the house. I took off out the front gate & turned right as Sprout evidently had, then saw him just around the corner within a minute, before I'd had time to panic. I started crying when I got to him & he gave me a big smile. He had no idea that he was lost, or who the three nice ladies were that gave him a little plastic bookmark.

The experience of a child going missing like that is common but it could have been a lot worse. He wasn't hurt & didn't try to cross the somewhat busy street we live on. I wasn't too traumatized because I only knew he was gone for maybe two minutes before I found him. Mostly I felt really embarrassed that we'd left the front gate open & he'd just wandered away quietly without anyone noticing.

Gotta have a plan, Stan

My strategy going into this phase of his development is to try not to freak out about anything minor & non-life-threatening & try to save my yelling for the truly dangerous stuff. I emphasize the try because I have cranky days, just like anybody else, when I lose my temper more easily.  But when he's playing with his breakfast, pouring hot chocolate into his hair, for example, I didn't yell. I just wiped it out afterward & remind him that hot chocolate is for drinking, not conditioning his hair.

I feel that if I see his behaviour as exploration rather than willful defiance & avoid thinking of it as a battle, I will get through the next year with more of my sanity intact.

What's your perspective on the 'Terrible Twos'? What strategies do you use to deal with frustrating behaviour?

1 comment:

  1. My biggest issue was getting him away from somewhere. We'd go to the park, stay for a few hours and then he'd go ballistic when it was time to leave and I couldn't move him. It once took me ONE HOUR to get him home from the school yard three blocks from our house. I started always bringing a small stroller with me but even then he can go rigid and not get in. I actually feel traumatized when it's time to leave places if I'm alone.


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