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The Terrible Two's

Updated: Feb 5

Only earn their reputation when we overlook the essential emotional needs that underlie these challenging moments.

The "terrible twos," as it's often called. I've uttered this phrase myself a few times, but with the arrival of my son's third birthday and reflections on the past year, this phrase clashes with what, in my opinion, embodies the essentials of being ”two." Labeling personal needs and boundaries as terrible completely misses the essence. 

Two is the age when toddlers first learn that they can disagree with something. As adults, we understand how crucial (and complicated) boundaries are, emphasizing the importance of our support in the process of our tiny’s. The development children undergo in the first years of their life is incredibly significant, as is our influence. For a two-year-old, whose way of expressing themselves vocally is still limited to a few words or phrases, it's even more complex. Especially with the underlying range of elusive emotions. 

My son walked extremely early (at 10 months) and quickly excelled in all physical activities. He devised inventive gestures for words important to him, making talking less of an immediate interest. The urgency grew along with the strength of his will, and when he couldn't articulate it, frustration naturally ensued. The question soon became, how do I understand his emotional needs with the means we have now? As a mother, I hope to know what my child needs, but even I can't always immediately deduce the need during an outburst. My childcare study didn't prepare me for motherhood at all.

Motherhood is an emotional process that unfolds on multiple personal layers. It depends on how I feel and how consciously I reflect on the choices I make. It's a dance of self-reflection and self-love that makes parenting a conscious act. 

Teal Swan said in an interview: "Children will always set you up to make you feel how they feel." So when a tantrum occurs, it's an unconscious way for children to trigger an emotion in parents/caregivers. A significant revelation for me during this process is how two revolves around authenticity and autonomy. Toddlers are both fully dependent on us and, at the same time, rapidly exploring themselves and the world independently. The sense of self emerges this year, marking a substantial transformation from the still "collective" state. Autonomy is beautiful and important for various reasons.

Imagine having a partner who makes all your decisions throughout the day—choosing your clothes, deciding what you eat, determining your sleep time, and dictating when you can go outside. These choices strip away a sense of freedom, leading to feelings of frustration and powerlessness, often resulting in explosive anger. In parenting, helplessness and frustration are common triggers for losing patience. The key is to resist acting on emotion and instead focus on understanding the underlying needs.

The lessons learned from my son being two are small but impactful. Offering children choices, keeping it simple with two options, provides them with a sense of autonomy. A toddler with this autonomy tends to be happier, capable of making confident decisions, and establishing boundaries. Choices also contribute to a healthy relationship with authority. Of course, there isn't a single solution to tantrums, as it's a complex process.

How do you decipher the emotionally explosive code of a toddler?

This diagram from conscious parent coach Maysaa Fahour @coachmayseq illustrates the needs beneath the emotion. While it might not eliminate tantrums entirely, this tool provides immediate insight into what is expected and desired from a parent. It creates space to reflect on what our two year olds are going through and gives a tools to navigate through heated emotions.

Reflecting on the past year, the conclusion is that two isn't terrible; it's more about expressing needs that are not yet clear us. Two is entirely okay as long as we respond with love and compassion rather than emotion. Two lays the foundation for an authentic and autonomous child navigating the world with a healthy relationship to authority.


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