The Problem: Terrible Twos and Threes
During the toddler years, a lot of craziness goes on. Your child acts out more than usual. You think you are about to lose your mind. For decades people have labeled these years as the “Terrible Twos and Threes”, but I want to implore you to avoid this. Why? Because even though they are challenging, these years are not truly “terrible.”
What often happens is we parent our children as we were parented. If our parents accepted “terrible twos and threes”, we likely do/will too. Now, if you are in this mindset, I do not mean to make you feel guilty or call you out. I simply hope for us (myself included) to recognize this negative thinking so we are better able to correct it. Some people think I’m crazy for this way of thinking. They say things like, “Just wait, you’ll change your mind.” or “You won’t be saying that when you go through it” not realizing that I already am.
OK, so I understand why this term came about. I have two kids; the oldest did not go through this stage until age 3, after his brother was born, and the youngest is going through this already at 18 months. I have gone through it. I am still going through it–the messes, the tantrums, the sassy attitude. Don’t believe me? Well, the pictures below give you just a taste of all the crazy, fun adventures we are having in our home during these toddler (and even preschooler) years.
This happened today since I created the last picture (enjoying eating and finger painting with ice cream cake and giggling when asked to keep it on the plate):
(Please excuse the photo quality; my cell phone does not like to focus.)
Sure, I don’t love the bad behavior and we deal with it the best we can. I may want to pull out all my hair and go sit in our little cardboard playhouse and cry sometimes (yesterday); but I still don’t think this stage is terrible, just like I won’t think the grade school years or high school years or college years or adult years are terrible.
First, I want to make it clear that their actions may be terrible at times. However, that does not mean we should call these years or our children terrible, because they are not. Our children are human. Just a small human trying to learn right and wrong. He or she will fail at times. We can help him or her learn from those mistakes.
It is challenging, but I encourage you to look at things from a different perspective. If your child is acting terrible, stop to think about how you can turn that moment into a teachable one. Do not excuse his or her actions, discipline in love as needed, but understand that all kids go through this. It is a part of learning and growing.
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
I do not believe this verse is saying that if you do everything right your child will never do any wrong or if you do it all wrong your child will never do anything right. I do believe that it is saying to use the parenting challenges you are faced with in your child’s actions and life in general to set an example and teach your children what is right and what is wrong so it is instilled in your child for adult years.
The Solution: Trainable Twos and Threes
These years are full of curiosity and exploration. These years are important for learning and development and life skills. For this reason, I call this stage the “Trainable Twos and Threes.” You could even interchange “trainable” with “trying” or “teachable.” I believe this is much more accurate because it is the time in their life when they are testing out everything:
Testing out their climbing and throwing skills.
Testing out their speech skills.
Testing out their social skills.
Testing out their self-defense skills.
Testing out your parenting skills (learning the limits.)
They are trying to figure out what they like and dislike, how the world works, and how they fit into the world.
All this testing and trying new things gives the prime opportunity to train them. Train them what not to do, what is unsafe and what is safe. Train them what to do, how to have manners and to be kind. Train them to do things the right way, i.e. backing down stairs slowly or wiping up a mess they made on the floor. Train them to take responsibility for their actions and to make good decisions.
Don’t let “Terrible Twos and Threes” become an excuse for bad behavior. Train them now for later on in life. If they are not quite to the toddler stage, start now! It is easier to train them at a young age than to correct bad habits as they grow older.
The Challenge: Treasure Them
If I start thinking negatively, I remind myself of the many people who would give all their limbs just to be able to go through these years with a child. Maybe they can’t have kids. Maybe they lost a child early on and these years would have meant so much. Maybe their child is ill and will never be able to go through these stages. Maybe their kids are grown and they just want to enjoy these crazy years one more time.
Most of us take these years for granted.
Treasure the years you have with your child(ren.) You will not get these years back and some day you will miss all the jumping and yelling and getting into everything and making messes.
Treasure your children because they are precious gifts.
Treasure your children because they are curious and smart.
Treasure your children because they are learning.
Treasure this important developmental stage.
Adopt a positive attitude about the twos and threes and take advantage of the opportunities to teach countless life skills. Think of it instead as the Trainable Twos and Threes (and fours and fives and sixes and so on.)
Do you know what else? These years can be trainable years for us parents too! Let them train you to be more patient, more understanding, and more loving during the rough times. I struggle with this, I admit. I’m writing this post not just to help others, but for myself as well.
It’s always good to stop and check your attitude. If you always think the situation is terrible, those times will be dark and gloomy. Pause for a moment and take the time to find the bright side. Think of how you can use each experience to train and teach your child as you yourself sharpen your parenting skills.
My hope is that this article will challenge you to determine if your attitude towards the early childhood years is positive or negative and encourage you to make a positive change if needed. This needs to be done not only in your own family, but also to pass it on and make a difference for ours and future generations. Let’s be the generation of Trainable Twos and Threes and not the Terrible Twos and Threes.
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