Terrible twos might not be so terrible
- By: Maricruz Ferrari LCSW
“Terrible Twos” is a term used to describe a phase in children’s development which is characterized by significant emotional, physical and intellectual changes. Children find themselves trying to gain independence by exploring the world and putting their new skills to the test, all while clinging to their parents for security. Parents on their end often feel overwhelmed with the mere idea of entering this phase regardless of having gone through it before or not.
The famous Terrible Twos have gained a poor reputation based on the recounts from parents in the trenches. Parents have described countless frustrating situations such as: trying to console their children while not fully understanding what’s bothering them, a constant rollercoaster of emotions that goes from bliss to total meltdown, children who go left every time you tell them to go right, children with complete disregard for parents who try to keep a tidy environment, etc. These are just a few behaviors that leave the child and the parent feeling emotionally and physically exhausted. Experiencing these behaviors every day or sometimes every hour, can rock you to the core and leave you crying for help.
What if Terrible Twos were not as bad as we expected? What if a shift in our thought process would make us understand our child’s behavior in a different way? As parents, we have certain expectations of our children’s behavior and therefore, we create specific rules we want our children to follow. When our children don’t conform to specific standards, that may or may not be significant, we end up feeling angry and frustrated with them. We create a box of containment in which we want our children to live. When our children dare to burst out of that box, many of us see it as an act of defiance and consequently, end up falling into a battle of wills with our toddler.
While structure, rules, and limitations are important, so is the flexibility that allows your child to express freely. You see, a two-year-old is already experiencing frustration with the fact that they understand a lot more than you think and are unable to communicate that to you. They struggle emotionally wanting to be freer while feeling the need to stay close to you. They want to express their raw and core being while trying to understand all the limits we try to put on them. Understanding your little one as a beautiful being who is trying to express himself/herself rather than one who we have to tame, can help you shift the way you view and support your child through his/her 2-year-oldness. Structure and limitations will help you provide a safe environment for your child to move freely and prevent a crisis. However, when it comes to your child’s expression of his/her inner being, your flexibility and relinquishment of power will be the key to your success.
I truly wish I would’ve had this understanding when my children were two. I feel we would have experienced each other differently. When my girls were 2, I was often concerned with the mess and felt frustrated about having to pick up after them regularly. I expected them to conform to what I thought was the right thing to do, but never stop to think how I could meet them in the middle and liberate myself from shackles I imposed on them and myself.
As parents, we tend to evaluate and measure our success based on our child’s behavior and compliance with rules. That’s a lot of pressure on that little one! We think, for some forsaken reason, we know best who they should be when sometimes we don’t even know who we want to be. Always remember our children are their own persona and it is a blessing to witness raw expressions of their core being, especially at an early age before societal expectations are imposed on them. Celebrate, respect and support those expressions rather than trying to make them conform to your expectations. Half the battle is won when we take our ego out of the equation and allow our children to safely explore the world and be who they want to be.
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Maricruz Ferrari is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has worked in healthcare for multiple years. Throughout her career, she has provided supportive services to people struggling with numerous psychosocial stressors, including parenting issues. Although nowadays there is more information available on effective parenting techniques, many parents are still hesitant to share their honest feelings, especially the negative ones. Maricruz’s purpose is to help parents in need to enhance their relationship with their children by showing them practical ways to cope with their parenting struggles.