The Not-So-Terrible Twos

Jacque Grillo
April 21, 2016

For anyone who's ever spent much time with a two-year-old, the term "terrible twos" doesn't require a lot of explanation. At some point right around a child's twenty-fourth month a dramatic and often challenging transformation occurs. From a placid, typically compliant, sweet and affectionate little being emerges something almost unrecognizable in its defiance and unrelenting willfulness!

And thus begins a sometimes exhausting year, often characterized by conflict, and seemingly endless disagreements and power struggles. Who could blame the poor, worn-out parent or caregiver for wondering what mistakes they could have made to create such a problem and what super-human skills will be required to rein in the child's persistent limit-challenging obstinence.

Allow me to offer another perspective on this transformative year. It may not make the day-to-day struggles any easier, but perhaps a new perspective can at least lead to a greater understanding of what it is your child is trying to tell you. The typical, normally developing two-year-old has only recently mastered his first words and simple phrases.  So the best way he knows to express what are very powerful and complicated feelings is to say "NO!" And say "NO" he does, seemingly countless times each day. If your two-year-old had the benefit of a more sophisticated vocabulary, what is it she might say to you after the "NO"?

It might go something like this: "For my whole life you've done nothing but cart me around and dress me up as if I were nothing but some pretty package. You've showed me off to your friends and I've endlessly entertained you with my cuteness and sweetness. I've gone along with whatever you wanted, and you've had complete control over my every movement and decision. You determined when I should eat, what I should wear, and everything else about my life down to the tiniest detail. I acknowledge you've largely had my best interests at heart, but now it's time for me to break loose and assert myself! Frankly I'm a little tired of being thought of as simply an extension of you. I need to be me! I'm a separate person with my own needs, interests and preferences, and it's past time you let me go and allowed me to express myself!"

Terrible twos? I think not—more like wonderful twos, transformative twos, freedom-loving twos. Your child is truly coming into her own, declaring that she is her own person, with her own will and intention. It might be that at two her only way of declaring her independence is with a loud "NO," but if you're patient and hang in there, in about ten years (sometime during adolescence) she'll almost certainly present you with a much more sophisticated and persuasive argument for why it is time for her to again venture out and assert her freedom and independence. 

So no doubt the twos are often a challenging and exhausting time for even the most patient and skilled parent. But the days will almost certainly be easier to manage if you keep in mind that this is a critical step in accomplishing the ultimate goal of all your efforts, which is that your child will one day become a fully independent, autonomous and self-supporting adult.

From the Parents

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