My kids are five and two, so I don’t have experience yet with parenting and disciplining older children. I do work in a pediatric clinic where I work with parents on these tasks at all ages, and have done a lot of studying on various methods of parenting and disciplining. And I have come to the conclusion that there is no more frustrating task in life than parenting a 2 year old. Every age of childhood comes with its own challenges, and it definitely doesn’t get easier. But I think the absolutely most frustrating thing on earth is to try to reason with a 2 year old. Especially in public.
Here is a quick snapshot of our week:
Saturday and Sunday – Visiting family at the farm. Two year old plays hard without enough sleep. Two year old becomes excessively whiny and refuses to do anything that she is asked to do. Multiple tantrums which involve screaming and throwing herself on the ground, or curling up in a ball and refusing to move when told to. Screams and fights for 10 minutes to avoid getting in the bath, screams and fights for 10 minutes because she doesn’t want to get out of the bath. Screams for 20 minutes because she doesn’t want to go to sleep in her bed. Take her out of her bed to rock (since I am an understanding mom and know it is not her fault that she’s so tired), 5 minutes later she asks to be put back in her bed. Grandparents looking on with a smug smile, probably thinking “you deserve this for what you did to us as a child.”
Monday – Excellent day at daycare. Take her to kids night at Chick-Fil-A since she had no potty accidents all day. Continually stands up in high chair (we are back to the high chair because she won’t stay in the booth/chair). Finally, after much bargaining and screaming, eats 2 chicken nuggets and 2 fries so she can go to the playroom. Hides in corner of playroom and poops in her panties. Throws a screaming fit in the bathroom because I suggest throwing the poopy panties away. I leave the bathroom with poopy panties in my pocket, and a 2 year old who has stiffened her entire body as tight as possible. Carry the boardlike, screaming child to the table, grab my purse, tell my husband to let her sister play and we’ll see them at home. Meanwhile, everyone stares at the exasperated lady with the screaming child.
Tuesday – Dinner at our friends’ house. Everything is going great. Then she poops in the panties again (because the potty is “yucky”). Throws another fit about the panties. They go in the trash anyway. Refuses to leave. Refuses to get in the van.
Wednesday – First ever horrible drop-off at daycare. She loves daycare. Today she just wanted to “GO HOME!” Full out screaming as loud as she could fit. Had to drag her by her arm into the building and then lean on the door to keep her from escaping. Her favorite teachers try to reason with her. Ms. Twila ends up carrying the board-like child into the classroom and reassuring me that she will be fine (which I know she will). All other parents are staring at me.
Here is what I have concluded: Two year olds are just as frustrated as we are. That’s the whole problem. They get upset and don’t know how to handle it. We can try to teach them how to say “I’m angry or I’m frustrated” and how to control their emotions, but they just have to learn how to control it on their own. Don’t we all? A short few minutes in time out in her crib and she’s ready to apologize and is back to her normal self. The problem is all those fits that take place in public. Where you can’t just let them cry it out for a few minutes, because everyone else is trying to eat, or shop, or work. Where you are afraid to really discipline your child, because other people might judge you. You’ll be criticized if you yell. Criticized if you spank. Criticized if you put them in time out. But you’ll probably be criticized if you don’t do anything also. Parents of two year olds can’t win.
So, here is where you find comfort and hope. Not everyone is staring at you. At least a few people around you have a 2 year old or recently raised one. Those people are like me. They feel for you. They know exactly how embarrassed and frustrated you are. I often just smile and say a little prayer for these poor moms and dads cause I know how bad it is. For the rest of you: Don’t stare. If it’s been awhile since you had a two year old, try to remember that your little angel did the same thing at some point. They all do. If you haven’t had kids, you have no idea what living with a two year old is like. Even the best parents out there will have to suffer through at least a few months of these “terrible twos”. So cut them some slack.
The only advice I have is this: Cut yourself some slack. All two year olds are going to do it. Don’t give in to their demands. Leave if you have to leave. If you can’t leave, bribe them if you have to. It’s a lot less embarrassing for your two year old to throw a fit in public than your five year old. So deal with it now. Persevere. Continue teaching and disciplining even though it seems like it isn’t doing any good. Say a little prayer and ask God to provide you with love, and kindness, and patience. Or at least the ability not to cry in public. It’ll be over before you know it. And remember that there are thousands of moms and dads out there going through the same thing, may be even sitting at the table right next to you saying a little prayer for you.
P.S. – I actually kind of hate the term “terrible twos”. Yes, parenting a two year old can be crazy frustrating on a daily basis. But the two year old isn’t terrible. They are wonderful, beautiful, smart, funny, cuddly, terrific little kids who are just trying to find their independance and figure life out. Cut them some slack too.