The phrase “the terrible twos” holds no purchase for me. For sure some of the things my two year olds have done are really rather challenging, but for the most part I have loved it when my children were two, and our current two year old is such good company. Part of the art of parenting a two year old is respecting where he is in terms of his development and understanding, and being willing to be the adult.
The title of this post came from my eldest child, who already at the age of nine has grasped one of the major secrets to success with two year olds: “you will never win an argument with a two year old.” She uttered this nugget of wisdom to her sister this week, who hasn’t quite figured out that power struggles with a toddler are futile. I have been repeating this choice phrase to myself all week, sometimes ruefully, other times in awe of my daughter’s presence of mind and clarity of observation. It makes me chuckle to think that her experience of her two year old brother is such that she has quickly realised that a tug of war with a two year old rarely produces a victor.
Certainly when I was just starting out as a mother of a toddler, I wasted a lot of energy trying to convince my two year old to agree with me. And if she didn’t agree I found myself in a struggle of wills. For example, I’d want her to put her coat on when we were at the park; she didn’t want to wear it. I’d try to talk her into it. I’d tell her the reasons for wearing the coat. I’d try to put it on her anyway. I’d ask her repeatedly, “Aren’t you cold? Do you want to wear your coat now?” Finally in desperation I’d lay down an ultimatum: “If you don’t put your coat on we will have to leave the park.” Perhaps she might have put it on, but usually she’d refuse (refer to the title of this post) and if I felt like sticking to my guns we’d both be leaving the park in high dudgeon. Neither of us was happy. Inside I’d be blaming her for being so stubborn… not fully cognisant that my own stubbornness also contributed to the deterioration of our outing and its premature ending.
I am rather slow to learn the curriculum of parenting because it has taken me a while to figure out that a) in most cases I can trust my child, a human being with a strong tendency toward survival, to tell me when she is cold, and b) if I am really that worried about her being cold, to dress her in more layers such as an undershirt, a top and a couple of sweatshirts/sweaters.
Notice in this scenario, the power struggle comes because neither of us is willing to change, and it is resolved only when I am. This is what I mean when I say that I have to be willing to be the adult. While some might call this approach permissive, it is actually maturity. As an adult I have more experience of compromise, of creative problem-solving, of going outside myself to understand another person’s point of view, and a strong grasp of what it is to be compassionate. As an adult I can let go of whatever dominions I have built, whatever ideas I am holding onto and I can reach out toward my child in his moment of anger, powerlessness or pain. As an adult I can be the first to say sorry and to see where I have done wrong. As an adult I can let go of my firm grasp on power and move toward connection and cooperation with my child.
In the end, it doesn’t matter whether I have ‘won’ the argument, or whether I was ‘right.’ What matters is the example I have set for my child. By treating my two year old with respect and consideration I am showing him how to live in a world where he will be expected to compromise and work with others toward common goals. He’s not there yet, but that’s reasonable. After all, he’s only two.
© Copyright Lisa Hassan Scott 2012. For reprint permission please contact the copyright holder.
Photo credit: Kyle Flood, Flickr.