Even though this article is about the age of two, Frank and Catherine Fabiano in their book “Die Herzen unserer Kinder berühren“(Touching the hearts of our children) raise our hope by telling us that if we missed the point with this stage of life, God has given us parents a second chance: The teenager years! Similar principles to those I write about in this article go for that stage of life.
The story about unbecoming stressed with our two-year old
Today, as I am writing this post, my youngest one turns three.
As I described in that article, out of our four kids, he was the one with these typical two-year old manners, called “the terrible twos”.
Fits in the supermarkets, defiant attitude, anger and rebellious behavior – we’ve seen it all.
However, I found this stage extremely fascinating and even beautiful.
In this post, I will try to describe what I discovered and how this experience turned me into a relaxed mom, feeling capable to deal with that stage in a relaxed way.
Do you know the feeling of overwhelmedness or being too tired to deal with that kind of outburst? The feeling of being threatened in your authority? The powerlessness by facing such strong emotions?
Many times, when I told my little boy “no” for whatever reason, he reacted with great anger. From stomping his little feet to hitting me to throwing himself on the floor and screaming – he had many creative ways to express himself fully. Of course like any parent, I don’t like to be hit. Fits in the supermarket (and the reproachful looks) are not my favorite either. A screaming little boy doesn’t really fit into my full schedule.
It isn’t for no reason this age is called the “terrible two!” There are plenty of books out there that tell you how to react to such behavior of your toddlers. We can watch super-Nanny dealing with this kind of behavior super effectively, leaving the feeling that it is all about the “right method” on how to control the behavior during this stage of life of our children.
Our two-year old turned out to be the sweetest, most tender, amazing and fascinating boy one can imagine. You may wonder how the described behavior above and this statement go together.
Well, I think the belief we carry inside of us will greatly influence our reactions toward our toddler behaving like this.
Famous experts tell parents:
“A temper tantrum is an absolute rejection of parental authority. Parents should isolate the child (with a promise of consequences), then follow through with chastisement (spanking) after the child settles down” (Gary Ezzo, Growing Kids God’s way)
Or in the word of another expert:
“… tantrums are a form of challenging behavior that can be eliminated by one or more appropriate spankings. (p.108, J.Dobson, The new Dare to discipline)
“Some strong-willed children absolutely demand to be spanked, and their wishes should be granted… two or three stinging strokes on the legs or buttocks with a switch are usually sufficient to emphasize the point, ´You must obey me.´ (J.Dobson, The new strong willed Child)
When I read such books and see what views such “experts” implant into parents, my heart is crying.
It is more than natural that such a view will trigger our anger and the urge to react “firmly” in situations where we are confronted with the outburst and anger of our toddler – worse if this toddler hits us in his anger!
However, I would never think that way about my child! I would never interpret the reactions and actions of my toddler that way!
Let me tell you what I discovered and how we uncovered a sweet, adorable, tender little boy in midst of his terrible two’s!
Empathy and compassion can do wonders
Time and again I am amazed how my little boy reacts when I meet his anger, frustration and rebellion with empathy and compassion.
I’ve come to learn that a “sovereign” attitude of mine (I am the mother, you can scream however you want, you won’t get it!) can’t compete against times I reach out to him with empathy and compassion. it can’t compete with times I show him that I care, understand… and that I love him no matter what.
As I did some testing in what helps him most, I found that asking him tenderly:
“Oh, you are so upset because you wanted this chocolate? “
Mostly opens a way to his little heart. After discovering the feelings he experiences during these moments, I say:
“Oh, I understand. That’s really frustrating/sad/challenging etc. You want to come into my arms?”
Mostly, he agrees and puts his head on my shoulder, sobbing some more. Sometimes, after a while (and I am always fascinated when this happens) he tells me:
“It’s ok, I am all right now”
and he goes on to play.
Many times, his strong emotions are not a kind of “disobeying” or “challenging my will”, but are due to his maturity and age limited worldview.
While I write this, we are in a ski-vacation in Germany. That’s something we’ve never done before. We were talking about these vacations when we were still at home, talking excitedly about how we would be “going to ski”. That’s when he alarmingly shouted
“No! I don’t want to ski!!!”
Ok, I replied softly, no problem. You rather want to go swimming? (knowing that he knew well the meaning of that word).
He happily exclaimed:
Now, in this vacations, he is the one who is absolutely loving to ski!!! I had only brought along some plastic skis for him, which are not really suitable to do earnest skiing. But after he had slipped away from us, first thing, to ski down the slope at full speed, we decided to rent a pair of real skis for him. He is really enjoying it.
The same goes for riding something he does rarely, like a cable car, for example. As we approach the cable car, he screams:
“NO, not riding that!”
I tenderly speak to him, holding him:
Everything will be all right! Mommy is here! I’ll hold you tight!
In only two-three minutes he settles down and enjoys the ride.
I learned that many times “his will” is totally acceptable.
- “Oh, you want to put on your clothes by yourself? Here you go, let me know if you need help!”
- “You rather want the blue cup than the red one? No problem!”
- “You want to stay on the playground a little more? Ok! Let’s say five times going down the slide, is that all right for you?”
- “Wow, I see you are very tired and upset right now. Would you like to go for a short bike-ride (something he loves and which relaxes him) – or shall we do a puzzle together?
His anger doesn’t make him a “bad, rebellious and naughty” boy.
I remember the time I was working in a restaurant as a waitress. The owner of the restaurant had a very challenging way to treat his employees. Sometimes, after having been treated that way, I was so angry… I dreamed about letting go of that tray full of glasses right in the middle of the restaurant, to express how I felt.
Of course I didn’t do that. I didn’t want to pay off all those glasses.
Did those feelings make of me a “bad girl”?
I’m sure you would not have considered me a bad girl after reading about that experience of mine.
What if I would have let go of that tray full of glasses?
Probably, I would have earned some head-shaking for that. You would recognize the level of anger I carried inside of me. But still, I would not have been a “bad, rebellious girl”.
The point with that story is this: Today, I know how to manage my anger.
Sometimes, I went home and cried my anger into my pillow. Or I went for a run. After a couple of months, I quit the job and found a much better one.
You see, I believe that a toddler can be simply that: A little person with big feelings. With the big difference that they do not know yet how to deal with them. And anger is a natural component of life – already at that of that stage of life.Therefore, it is not our job to punish them for experiencing this anger. How much more is it is our job to teach them how to deal with it. Teach them compassion, tenderness, self-control, love, peace patience…
My personal emotional response to this stage of life of my toddler changed when I understood that my little boy was not trying to reject my parental authority. He was not acting out a “bad behavior” that needs to be eliminated in order to complete my parental duty.
He is simply an angry little boy with creative ways to express his anger – in need of learning how to express it appropriately.
Express the anger appropriately – this is, of course- not done by hitting mommy (or any other living being).
But today, I don’t get scared about my parental authority.
I simply teach him where to hit instead.
The first time, this was almost comical:
He was really angry, screaming, hitting me, looking at me with this look of a defiant nasty child. I told him softly but firmly: Wow, I see you are terribly angry! But you see, being hit hurts! You can hit the floor, the chair or even the table here, but not me, that hurts me! I showed him by screaming and hitting the table, imitating his anger. He looked at me puzzled… shaking his head, starting to cry softly. I took him into my arms, and there I had a little boy in my arms, calming down and hugging me tightly.