My second daughter (who is now a middle child!) turned two a couple of months ago. While she is extremely different from her older sister, there is one similarity between them that has struck me. Being a two year old is tough work for everyone, but it is emphatically NOT terrible.
Her older sister is a three-and-a-half-year-old dreamer. She’s barely aware of her physical surroundings; easily engrossed in cartoon worlds; always coming up with bizarre, creative ideas; and constantly singing, dancing, or talking about dragons, ghosts, and castles. She always forces me to be the princess and deems herself the king.
My newly established two-year-old is intensely opposite. She loves singing and dancing as well, but she is hyper aware of her physical surroundings and other people’s emotions, she would rather take a nap than watch Gummi Bears with us, and she gets great joy out of putting trash in the garbage or trying to help sweep the dining room floor.
When my older daughter got to be about two, we saw what people often see. An easily satisfied temperment gave way to something newly challenging, which people frequently call “terrible”. Our older daughter would become easily enraged. She had a difficult time learning to engage in communication about any point in contest. Any hint at disrupting her fun, even accidental, would provide kindling for a quick melt-down. In helping her grow, we had to learn to temper our discipline and patience with intentional efforts to create communication and dialogue, both in and out of trouble situations.
My younger daughter is, of course, proving to be a very different person. When she gets in trouble, it’s often drastically different trouble from her older sister’s. She does not respond to interruption or correction by freaking out, but with a cold, hard stare of defiance. She seems to feel that she has been watching the world and adults long enough to understand how things should be done and she will not be easily dissuaded. She often gets bent out of shape when we attempt to help her with simple tasks like putting her shoes on the right feet. She wants to contribute and she wants to do so on her own terms.
Something in a child changes when they get to be about that age, and that something is developing personal desires for ideal outcomes. Children near the two year mark are becoming more fully human in that they are developing intuitions, tastes, preferences, and goals. They are learning to choose their emotions. They are beginning to do what everyone else ahead of them does every day until they die. They are making conscious decisions and gauging consequences.
Is a two year old terrible? No more than any adult. The transition that happens around two years is more drastic even than the transitions of puberty. A child is learning to have preferences, to plan ahead, and to believe in and build into their own identity and identities of others. Along with these stunningly beautiful core elements of being human comes a whole slew of misused emotional responses and improper judgements.
We parents are actually still learning what they have just begun. As a dad, I am still trying to learn to guide my children to make good decisions without making poor, emotionally-driven decisions myself. At nearly 28 years old, I still have a tendency I picked up around two years old, a tendency to get so emotionally overwhelmed by the behaviors I can’t control in others that I act out of anger or exasperation. I try to be louder or prove I’m stronger-willed.
My kids are just starting to come to grips with the hopes, fears, dreams, and discouragements of being a human in this world. My older daughter isn’t even four yet and she’s gaining tons of ground in learning to communicate better, even with so many poor examples on our part. Recognizing these things helps me focus on who I’m led to be and leading others from that identity instead of focusing on forcing the appropriate responses of a two-year-old who is trying to learn not to be terrible at living.
I think that sums it up. Two-year-olds seem like a lot of work because they are becoming more like the rest of us. My two-year-old just woke up from her nap and brought me a couple of misplaced coat hangers that she expects me to put away appropriately, so I’m signing off!