The Terrible Twos

“NO!”

 

Sound familiar?

If you are the parent of a two year old, I’ll bet it does! There’s a reason this stage is known as “the terrible twos”. That tiny human being who had been a largely passive participant in their own lives suddenly finds their voice. And one of their favourite things to do with that voice is use it to shout “NO!” at every opportunity.

 

“Wash your hands please”

“NO!”

“Time for a bath”

“NO!”

“Time to get dressed”

“NO!”

 

Speaking from the perspective of a dad who is currently living this period, it can be… challenging. Okay, I’ll be honest, it can be downright infuriating!

I like to think I’m a fairly patient guy. But when Hannah responds to what I believe to be a perfectly simple request with a bold, loud “NO!”, expertly pitched at the exact frequency that can only be described as the make daddy lose his shit tone, I can feel my blood start to boil pretty quickly.

I’m not sure why that particular “NO!” is so powerful, but I’ll bet I’m not the only parent who feels its power. It could be because for the first time it feels like there is a power struggle in the relationship. No longer am I the decider of all the things – someone else wants to have a say, and they say it. Loudly.

 

I understand why the Terrible Twos label exists. Having experienced this stage, a small amount of dread begins to build in my stomach whenever I hear the term Threenager.

I understand why the term exists, but I don’t agree with it. Can two year olds be challenging, infuriating, hard damned work? Yes, absolutely. Is it a terrible time? Absolutely not.

 

The Joy of Two Year Olds

For all the tantrums over cheese and meltdowns over getting undressed, there are a thousand positive moments. Each day with a two year old is filled with precious moments of wonderment, exploration, development and pure joy.

Hannah surprises me daily. She often speaks in full sentences, complex ones even! Most amazingly, she has begun to express ideas that are clearly original thoughts, mashed together from her expanding life experiences.

Hannah’s imagination is a thing of absolute beauty and joy. A piece of cheese can be a triangle, or it can be a car, or it can be a bird (yes, we are cheese-focussed in this house). A couple of pieces of DUPLO can be diligently wrangled for a solid ten minutes while the 2yo utters the words “No, I fix it”, before it becomes doctor’s tool for biping away sore knees and tummies.

We have always loved books, but the older Hannah grows, the more she seems to enjoy them. She is fortunate to have a vast collection of incredible picture books. Even with so many books on her shelves, she can pick out the exact one she wants by its spine. We often sit and read four or five books in a row, and in my opinion there are few better ways to spend an afternoon!

Hannah is full of love and friendship. She adores other people of all sizes. Babies fascinate her, kids her own age delight her, older children seem to immediately take her under their wing. She enjoys interaction with adults and can’t get enough mum and dad time.

 

The Importance of Having a Voice

As frustrating as the “NO”s are, I believe they have an important purpose. Hannah is just beginning to find her voice. She is learning to express her opinions, to state her dislikes and likes, and to be a part of the household conversation. She likes to be listened to, she likes to be included, and she hates to have decisions seemingly arbitrarily imposed on her – a bit like *gasp* a real human!

Hannah’s refusal to get dressed when we have exactly five minutes before we need to be out the door in order to make the doctor’s appointment can be infuriating to me, because I fully comprehend the timeframe and I know the importance of making the appointment.

But for Hannah, she has perfectly valid reasons for not wanting to get dressed. Maybe she feels comfortable in her pyjamas and doesn’t want to get cold. Maybe she likes the owl on her PJs and doesn’t want to wear the cat top. Perhaps she already has enough stickers, so doesn’t need to go to the doctor (because what else could the doctor possibly be for?).

I don’t know what her reasons are as they are not immediately obvious to me. Just like the reasons for my impatience are not obvious to her.

I believe this stage of Hannah’s development is actually extremely important. She is learning to articulate her opinions and to have her voice heard. I see my role in this stage as extremely important – I certainly can’t be a pushover, but I also shouldn’t be trying to squash her newfound voice.

For Hannah to thrive, she needs to be able to both strongly express her opinion and also listen to those of others. She needs to understand and respect boundaries, but she must also be confident in challenging injustice. I strongly believe that those seeds are been sown right now. We parents have a huge job to do at this stage in our child’s development and it sure isn’t easy.

 

The Answers?

I know this is the bit where I’m supposed to impart my magic words of wisdom, so that you may use them with your toddler and experience blissful, conflict-free happy families.

The truth is I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I have barely any. The word “no” flows thick and fast in our house, and the inevitable frustration from both sides follows.

One thing that I can say is that communication has been the key for us in successful outcomes, and it has probably been the thing that has most gone AWOL during the confrontations. That real human constantly surprises me by how capable she is of listening and comprehending, if only I take the time to explain things to her. Too often I am rushing and that explanation isn’t offered. I can imagine how upset I would become if the same thing happened to me.

The final point on communication is that it goes both ways. Hannah is becoming better and better at explaining her needs and wants to Emma and me. If we take the time to listen to her, we can often find out what it is that she most wants to do. We can then try and find a compromise, or negotiate a solution in which we do her activity at a later time. Again, Hannah is surprisingly receptive to this and more than one meltdown has been avoided by taking the time to listen.

 

Parenting a two year old isn’t easy, but there is no situation I would rather be in right now. I love Hannah to bits, through the fun times and the challenges. I feel that even with (or perhaps even because of) the disagreements our relationship continues to strengthen each day. Terrible Twos my arse.  

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