We have entered the stage that people refer to as the ‘Terrible Two’s.’ And I have So much to say about it so far.
We are only a few weeks into it. Some children don’t start ‘terrible two’ behaviour until 2 and a half. Some children start at 20 months. But there is always a phase where your sweet little babe turns into a little sassafras. They start talking back, getting sassy, saying no, having tantrums, bursting into tears about the strangest things, and generally just pushing back in situations where they never pushed back before.
A few things before I launch this post-
I really don’t like the term ‘terrible two’s.’
A) it automatically implies that your child will morph into some sort of monster at two years of age.
B) the word ‘terrible’ sets you (and them) up for failure.
Yes- this stage can be annoying as all hell. It really throws a wrench into your plans (trying to wrangle your child into the car for a grocery trip can now take 32 minutes instead of 3), and it demands a Superhuman amount of patience and understanding-
It doesn’t Have to be Terrible.
In sticking with alliteration, I prefer the term ‘Transitional Two’s’.
Transition is really at the root of what’s happening here. These little people that we have raised have (until now) mostly been carried around by us. In strollers, wagons, car seats, slings, front carriers, back carriers and arms; we have carried them wherever we needed to take them.
If we wanted to go to the grocery store and they didn’t- they didn’t have a physical choice. They couldn’t run away or hide or fight back if they tried.
Loading a 10-pound human into a car seat is a Hell of a lot easier than a 27-pound one with big feelings!
So- physically- this is a time of great transition for them. They CAN run away from us. They CAN hit us. They CAN tell us if they don’t want to do something.
So they’re trying all of these new skills out, and they’re testing out our reactions while they do it.
Not because they’re little jerks, but because they don’t have natural consequences built into their brains yet like we do.
I know that if a touch a hot stove, I will burn my hand. I know that if I’m rude to my friend, she will not want to be my friend anymore. I know that if I yell at Ryan, he will be mad at me and we won’t have a nice rest of the day together until we solve it. I know that if I slap my sister in the face, she will slap me back. I know that if I screamed ‘NO!’ at my boss when she asked me to do something, I would likely get fired, or at the very least, get written up and have to have an embarrassing chat with HR.
Our little two’s or almost two’s or mid to late two’s don’t know these things yet.
They have a whole new skill set, way more tools at their disposal, and a lot more expectations put upon them than a few short months ago when they were still babies.
Right now, we are about to cut the nipple off of Sadie’s only remaining soother this afternoon (Lord have mercy on our souls.) This summer, we’ll be potty training her. We also have her in dayhome all day long for five days a week, where we expect her to be sweet, kind and nice to her friends at all times.
When we hear that she has been anything short of angelic at dayhome, we’re appalled. When we see ‘bad’ behaviour at home, we’re appalled.
Sadie started this type of ‘bad’ behaviour about 4 months ago.
Which brings me to my second point.
I really don’t like the word ‘tantrums’.
If I was having a high-volume day at work, I hadn’t eaten in over 8 hours, I hadn’t slept well the night before, and I burst into tears at my keyboard over a phone call with an angry client, my coworker wouldn’t look over at me and say ‘Quit That. Stop Crying.’
She would come over, give me a giant hug and ask me what happened. When another coworker came in to our office because she heard me crying, the coworker consoling me wouldn’t say ‘Emily’s having another friggin Tantrum.’ (I mean- maybe she would- but I like to think my coworkers wouldn’t say that ;)-
The point is- when Sadie comes home from dayhome, spills a glass of water on the floor, and bursts into tears when I ask her to wipe it up, she is not ‘having a tantrum.’ Like me in my office situation, I didn’t burst into tears because one person yelled at me- I have much thicker skin than that. I burst into tears because I was hungry, tired, stressed, and at the back of my mind, still very sad that my Mom had just died. The person yelling at me on the phone was just the tipping point.
When Sadie bursts into tears and yells NO at me, I have to remember that she just had an Entire day away from me where I have no clue what happened. Maybe she only ate 10% of her lunch. Maybe she only slept for 20 minutes at nap time, and laid there with her eyes open for the other hour and a half. Maybe the little guy who just joined the dayhome stole her toys all day long. Maybe she keeps hearing me talk about the baby in my belly and that makes her sad.
I have to remember when she pulls ‘bad’ behaviour, like screaming No at me, or bursting into tears or throwing herself on the floor, it is very likely Not just because I asked her to wipe up a spill.
Also- when I had my ‘tantrum’ at work- my coworkers would have
A) come closer to me and been there for me physically
B) asked me what was going on, and given me an opportunity to tell them how I felt
C) offered me empathy, and;
D) because my coworkers are awesome, if I told them I was hungry and working so hard I that I had forgotten to eat- one of them would have then also fetched a snack for me.
Yet- when our littles have a ‘tantrum’, our first reaction is usually none of those things.
It’s to yell. Remind them of the rules. Put our hands on our hips and remind them that we are the boss and that their behaviour is unwanted. Discipline them. Take something they like away from them. Send them to their rooms.
Imagine for a moment that every time you felt emotional, that’s how the people around you responded to your emotions??
All that to say-
Some days, when Sadie is showing big emotions, I show her patience, empathy, listening and kindness. I work with her through the emotions and we get to the desired result, slowly, but lovingly.
And other times, I have no patience. I raise my voice. I yank things out of her hands and tell her she can’t have them anymore.
Yesterday, we had two of those interactions.
One was when she spilled juice all over the table and yelled NO at me from her hiding spot in the cupboard for 2 minutes because she didn’t want to wipe the spill.
The other was when she wanted to feed the dog. I said the dog’s bowl already had enough food in it. She said ‘just a little bit more’ and proceeded to dump a full scoop of dry kibble into the water side of the dog’s bowl while I was trying to scramble some eggs for lunch.
The first situation, I didn’t have anything else pressing that I needed to do, so I sat down on the floor in the kitchen where she couldn’t leave the kitchen without getting past me and the spill.
I got her a cloth to wipe up her spill and calmly told her that I would just be there, waiting for her until she was ready.
I started filming the interaction because I wanted to show a few friends who have asked me if I child is Always an angel that no, she has her moments sometimes. And also because I wanted to have a video example of what it means to ‘hold space’ for your child, if anyone in future asks to see an example of what it looks like.
I reminded her of the rules in a calm voice ‘please don’t touch the pots in that cupboard- we can’t play with other toys until we wipe up the spill.’ When she yelled NO at me, I replied with Yup.
I did that two times, until I remembered that a fire needs air to keep burning.
If my little creature, who’s already feeling fiery, wants to yell NO at me for effect, I’m only feeding the flames by responding with Any answer.
The next time she yelled NO and I didn’t respond, she flung herself backwards into the cupboard.
Her fingers whacked the cupboard pretty hard.
I said ‘ow- that must have hurt. Do you need a kiss?’
She walked over to me, got her kiss, and I handed her the cloth to wipe up the spill.
She said no again, quieter this time, and walked towards a toy box near the spill.
I reminded her of the rules again ‘we don’t get to play with other toys until we clean up our mess’.
She pulled a hairband out of the toy box and said ‘I need this to clean.’
I said sure, she put on her hairband, and she happily cleaned up the whole spill.
Because I filmed it, I know that the whole interaction was 1 minute and 37 seconds.
There was a spill.
I didn’t want to clean it because it wasn’t my mess.
She had a tantrum.
I held space for her.
And less than two minutes later, I got the desired outcome I wanted. Sadie was reminded of our house rules and boundaries, and we both felt great.
Later in the morning, when she asked to feed the dog and I said ‘no, the dog already has enough food’, she wandered over there while my back was turned and filled the dog’s water bowl with a full scoop of dry kibble.
This time, my eggs were about to burn, the kibbles were rapidly expanding in the dog’s bowl, and Sadie was headed back to the dog food bucket, scoop in hand, to continue outright disobeying me.
In this case, I flew over, grabbed the dog’s bowl, lifted it into the sink where I could deal with it later, and swooped back over to Sadie.
I told her that I had already said No to feeding the dog. I yanked the scoop out of her hand and said ‘You Can’t Feed Mika Tomorrow Because you Didn’t Listen to Me.’
She ran into the living room and cried, and I ran back to save my eggs from burning.
Yes- I could have been more patient, but I also don’t want to raise a little asshole. She outright chose not to listen to me, and that pissed me off. I want to raise a child who listens to her elders. And I’m happy with the lesson- you don’t listen to Mom about feeding the dog, you don’t get to feed the dog tomorrow. I was able to demonstrate how a natural consequence works.
Through trial and error, we are Both learning during this process- the Transitional Two’s.
This is my first post about the transitional two’s- we have a whole year ahead of us. If you’ve been there before and have tips/resources that have worked for you, I’m all ears. If this post has been comforting to read, because you are also raising a little turd-nugget right now- take comfort in knowing that we’re all in this boat, or have been at some time. I’m trying my best to remember that my little human is a human too. They get tired and sad and hungry and stressed just like we do. I’m going to try and offer her love first, every time.