By: Judy Lyden
The third year can be terrible especially if a parent doesn’t understand how important the battle is. Age two is a key year because it’s the self control year. It’s the year the child separates from the parent and identifies himself as an independent person. In this pernicious third year of life we generally call the terrible twos, a child will learn the first of three life sized independent achievements. He will learn to use the toilet or he should. The primary training time for most children is somewhere between 18 months and 26 months.
And he will do a lot of other important stuff as well. He will develop his first table likes and dislikes. He will accomplish speech with meaning. He might even decide that his great toilet independence means he doesn’t need mommy or anyone else for much of anything. He becomes in his graduated state from diapers to flushing, for no better term, god with a small g. And in his great inflated sense of self, he will gravitate toward some bad habits
He will assume the cheeky little routine of stubborn to the point of nonsense.
He will discover the cheeky little practice of revenge; if the cat scratches, I’ll hit him with a block.
He will don the cheeky little archetype of pride; I don’t have to – not ever.
He will eye the cheeky little habit of avarice with gusto; I want it all every time. I don’t have to share.
He will realize the cheeky little pattern of malice; I don’t want my sister to have any.
He will self indulge the cheeky little prototype of greed; I want everything or I’ll scream!
He will be a terrible mess maker and smile on his little cheeky model of sloth; I won’t clean up or learn how – ever!
He will stuff his cheeks till gluttony knows a new term: “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!”
These are the vices, and a two year old will absorb each one with an alacrity not unlike a dog with a dish full of food.
And on the flip side, if you look carefully, the negative activity has a purpose. He’s learning about good and evil. He’s learning about the world he is hopefully going to live in for the next 85 years. He’s learning how to step down out of mother’s and dad’s arms and be a participant in his own right, and he is able to do that because he has established trust in the first year that has been increased in the second. He is safe to try and to fail, to try again and succeed. He learns by trial and error, repeat that, trial and error, and error and trial, and more trial and more error until the adult wants to pull his hair out.
Yet at the same time, the response of the parent is absolutely crucial. It’s the year when the parent must learn how to say “no” and both have to learn what no means, and on top of that, how to obey no or stick to it depending on the role. Children who fail to learn this, and parents who fail to teach effectively will be emotionally behind for years if not for the rest of their lives. The inability to understand that no is real deludes children into thinking that “it’s all just a game and I don’t really have to” and they remain in a childish state sometimes forever.
When you see a poorly behaved five or six year old, you can blame it on a failed third year. When a child can’t behave at nine, it’s the same thing. Poor behavior really does begin at two and can be traced to a passion called anger. Anger is the only passion without an antithesis. Children who enjoy the passion of anger will also enjoy a cold shoulder towards obedience and towards justice, and that makes it especially hard for parents.
Remember, a parent never has to touch a child who is poorly behaved at two, nor does an adult have to shout or punish. The simple word “No” with follow through and a place for a reluctant child to think about things is all you need. Take things away with the word “No.” You don’t need to explain. He doesn’t care. Explanations are not part of his game plan. Remove him, deter him, out think him, out run him, out, out, out. And then he’s three.