Little Man is 2. Leading up to his second birthday I heard so many horror stories from other parents about the “terrible twos.” Maybe Little Man just hasn’t hit the “terrible” part yet, but so far the adventures of having a two-year-old aren’t terrible. Frustrating, sometimes. Definitely challenging. But not terrible. And honestly, even after the worst day, Little Man still loves to get in his snuggly pajamas, kiss Big Man and Little Lady goodnight, and let me tuck him into bed. He smiles while I sing “Jesus Loves Me” and kisses me goodnight at the end. And those snuggles and smiles and kisses more than make up for all the frustrations and challenges and grumpies.
Now, he does still do normal “I’m asserting my independence” toddler things. He sometimes throws little tantrums if he doesn’t get his way. He tests the boundaries of the rules that Big Man and I set every once in a while to see if we will enforce them. Occasionally, he will defiantly say “no” to something. But I think these things are pretty much normal for a kid his age, so I do my best to pray for peace and wisdom and loads of patience. And I make sure my pantry is stocked with “Mommy-needs-a-minute-to-cool-down” chocolate.
I’ve been discovering a pattern in the last month or so with his behavior and I’ve found some things that seem to help a lot. Little Man tends to throw fits and push boundaries during times when he gets less than usual one-on-one attention. Sometimes Little Lady just has one of those days where she needs a lot of care or Little Man has to miss his weekly grandma play date. Either way, it is those times when he displays the most “toddler” behavior.
I guess it makes sense. Part of his behavior is probably just trying to get attention. But I think another part of pushing the boundaries is him trying to make sure things are still the same. That the rules are still there. That Mommy and Daddy will still react the same way if he says “no.” I think he gets a lot of comfort from the fact that our family life stays pretty much the same despite other circumstances. He can count on Big Man and me to be consistent and I think that makes him feel secure and safe.
So I’ve been trying to use this observation in a positive way. I’ve been attempting to balance discipline with extra grace. If Little Man throws a tantrum, or defiantly says “no” he still gets a time-out. But once the punishment is completed, I invite him to have some individual playtime with me or Big Man. I’ll set Little Lady up in her bouncer or put her down for her nap, and Little Man and I will snuggle together and read books or draw or play a game (he loves “helping” me play Angry Birds). I give Little Man this extra bit of attention and love and it seems to really help. Not only does it calm him down and improve his behavior, it also calms me down, lowers my frustration, and “restarts” my patience-meter.
Some days if I’m really observant I can see he is getting in one of those moods and do a “preemptive strike” of extra individual play time with him. And sometimes I don’t catch it early enough and the extra cuddle time has to wait until time-out is over. But either way, it’s had very good results so far, for both me and Little Man.
And really, if Little Man’s “terrible twos” behavior is going to lead to extra hours with him snuggled on my lap pointing out all the letters in his Dr. Suess book, it can’t really be called “terrible” at all.