We are well into the terrible twos around here. I mentioned on my Instagram Saturday that King Max was having a particularly toddlerific day, punctuated with defiance and tantrums. Let me paint a picture of what that looked like.
At around 10 he woke up, his diaper had leaked and his pj’s were wet. That seems like a pretty yucky start to the day, but if that’s not enough, I misunderstood his complaining about his “jimmies” and thought they were just twisted. I rearranged them (somehow failing to touch the wet portions) and he still settled down to read a book with Geekling and I. Once I realized his jammies were wet and stripped them off of him, he had to be subjected to a diaper change before we could read more books. The. Worst.
Finally downstairs, he wants to read more, and more, and more books. After patiently explaining to him that 10 was our limit for the morning because we needed to start getting ready to leave the house. He’s too upset about the books to have any yogurt or a cup of milk. While looking at this tiny person with tears streaming down his face I realize it must be so hard to love books so much, and not be able to read them by yourself.
Finally he’s persuaded to play trains, with the condition that I’ll build him a wooden train track. I’m not very good at train track building, but I eke out a respectable set up and he gets down to business. After a mere 20 minutes playing I let him know we need to get dressed. He says no and continues playing. I run around like a mad person making sure the dogs are where they need to be, gathering library books, and making sure I have things like keys and shoes. Finally we have negative four minutes to spare and I have to insist that he get dressed so we can go. He looks at me, stomps his foot and yells “I say NO. Playing TRAINS.” This is fair on his part. He did tell me no. He did say he didn’t want to go get lunch with Gigi. His plan for the day was to play trains (preferably in his diaper).
Fast forward to lunch. He orders his pizza and chocolate milk like a pro. He sits fairly quietly for a good chunk of time. He inhales a breadstick, a giant meatball, and his cup of chocolate milk and he is DONE. Not even room for pizza and grapes. Unfortunately everyone else is still eating. And eating. And eating. He gets up, and is made to sit down. He yells and is asked to be quiet. Finally he slides under the table in a desperate attempt at freedom and even that is thwarted. It has been a very long hour for him. Finally he’s free to walk out with Gigi and look around outside.
And then, the car. Thankfully he’s a good car kid (now, there was a time I never thought I would say those words about him). We chat, we talk about bridges, we make it to the library just in time for him to doze off. I try to let him sleep but he realizes we’ve stopped and demands to go in, so we do. But first. He has to hold a hand in the parking lot. And then he has to wait while brother and I use the restroom. At last we get to the trucks in the children’s area! Hooray.
A messy diaper means leaving the beloved truck, going all the way back to the restroom, and being put through the indignity of a diaper change. Again. The worst.
Play time at the library is awesome! Until we have to leave. We’re sad, but a book makes it a little better. We walk out to the car, climb in, and King Max asks for some water. Oops, unprepared mommy doesn’t have any, so we wait all the way through traffic to the drive through. He chooses juice, and mommy throws in some ice cream too. Except the ice cream is “ew gross” (it has oreos in it).
So now we’re heading into Costco with just a juice box in our system, at the busiest time of day with a long list. So much patience required for a little one in a store full of snacks that he can’t eat. He makes it through with the help of a sound making book, and is even ok after we put the book away. Being put back in the car however is just TOO MUCH. He loses it. He melts down completely and has to be strong armed into his car seat. So many tears. And pretty predictably, he’s fast asleep before we leave the parking lot.
Obviously none of these situations is out of the ordinary. In fact just a few days earlier I posted about a 20 minute tantrum over not being allowed to play with all 9 of the planes we own by himself. Many of them happen just about every day in one form or another, along with dozens of other less notable frustrations like trucks not working properly, requests being misunderstood, and hearing the dreaded “no” word. Through all this we ask these little people to keep their cool, performing under conditions that would drive most adults to their breaking point. Imagine for a second you had zero say in where you go, what you wear, what you eat, who you see, or just about any other choice over the course of your day. Imagine not even being able to reliably communicate when you’re hungry, tired, or not feeling well. Imagine through all this your brain is growing and developing at lightning speed, taking in every single new experience and trying to catalog and make sense of it. Eventually (quickly probably) you would reach the point of completely overwhelmed, and the only option left to you would be to throw yourself down in desperation and cry.
Tantrums in two-year olds aren’t about manipulation. They’re not about trying to strong-arm their parent into buying new toys or treats. At their core tantrums are the most dramatic symptom of a little person whose communication skills can’t keep up with their ideas, needs, and feelings. Tread gently with them. This is when your little person needs your absolute best parenting skills. Be calm, be in control of your own feelings, so that you can help them deal with theirs. This is not the time to yell, threaten, or resort to physical punishment. It’s not the time to dole out punishments. Remember that in most cases your child has almost zero control over their behavior once they reach this point, so typical discipline methods are at best useless, and at worst may push the child farther into their tantrum. If you need to physically force their compliance (such as putting into a car seat, or removing from a store or other situation) do so with gentle hands, and always, ALWAYS be aware of your own body and how much force you’re using. The terrible twos are so-called for a reason, and brain vs. language development pretty much guarantees they’ll remain terrible as long our human development follows the current pattern. But it helps if we can remember that the terrible twos aren’t only hard on the grown ups, in fact I would make the case that they’re far and away harder on the little one trying to cope with them.