Terrible 2’s – The Salvation From Timidity

Ean has always been a timid child. Shy and reserved at first, blossoming and interacting more freely with confidence once he felt safe. It has always been a struggle especially to get him to interact with other kids but things got easier once he started at daycare at the age of 1.5 years.

In June he turned 2 years and since then I’ve been waiting for those terrible two’s and tantrums to set in and a few weeks ago we started to see the tendencies growing from random “no, no, no” protests and stubbornness to more audible scenarios. As I’ve explained in previous articles I’ve taught Ean to deal with strong emotions by focusing on breathing and by doing so, recomposing himself and regaining control and understanding his emotions better. Up until now that has worked flawlessly, in fact the other day he got really upset and was close to start crying and without me having to coach or tell him anything he just took a few steps away from us and we could hear how he started breathing really deep and slow, a few seconds later he was okay, as if nothing had happened.

Anyway, I digress…

With this phase comes good news and bad news. We already covered the bad news, which is obvious… the control you lose over your child. Which, leads me to the good news. He is breaking more and more from his timid behavior in interactions with other kids and where he before used to avoid any confrontation, he now stands up for himself more and takes up “more space”. In short, the terrible two’s has given him more confidence and power to face others head on and not be a pushover. For me, that’s a great relief. Don’t get me wrong, I want to raise a kind and gentle person, but not a pushover.

At home though, saying no to everything and trying to boss us around, does not fly. I lost my temper several times and raised my voice at him. Sure, I got my will through but I quickly realised that rather than teaching him right from wrong and left from right, I was putting fear in his heart. He didn’t follow my directions because I gave them, he did so because my loud, authoritarian voice scared him… and that’s not a proper way to raise a child. Fear is a tool for ignorant people and I’m not raising a fool so I had to rethink my approach and come up with something better.

I decided to replace my loud voice with a set of new tools. First of all, I have to accept that he’s a person with a will of his own. That doesn’t mean I can let him put playdough in the oven and bake it, but it does mean I can play along and pretend we’re cooking it and explain to him calmly, with eye contact, that he can only use the oven when I’m next to him. It’s not just what you say or how you say it, it’s about that eye contact… so he can understand, read my face and pay attention without distraction.

Secondly, pedagogy, communicating on his level and helping him understand intellectually what the consequence of his actions are. If he keeps running away when I’m trying to dress him, we won’t have time to go to the park and we have to stay home.

Pedagogy has to be used for his emotional understanding as well and already in the womb, we learn by listening. Once out in the real world we assess and understand through seeing and studying behavior as well but it takes time to understand the nuances of emotions and how to read people. I simply googled “emotional chart children” and got a few interesting hits that would help me convey and teach him what they mean. Not just what they look like, but to put words to them so that when I tell him I’m happy, sad or tired, he would understand. I showed him on the chart with facial expressions and made the same expression and used the word to describe the emotion and then quizzed him on it. Then we went over them again several times to explain in more detail what they mean. I will continue this and add more expressions as he learns them.

A few hours later we came back from the beach and were going to have a shower. He ran out from the bathroom and into his room. I kept calling his name, to come and shower but he ignored me. Then I said, “Ean, we have to shower and sleep, you’re making daddy sad when you don’t listen”… and he came. You see? He wasn’t just receiving an order to come, it had context, purpose and his actions had a consequence.

The final implementation was that I decided to give him more freedom. Most of the time it doesn’t make any difference if something takes 10 or 30 minutes but taking that extra time can make the difference between having to argue, fight and cry over small and silly things. He’s becoming an independent person and I want to encourage that, to make him feel that his opinion and will matters. If he wants to jump in the bed for 10 minutes before bed I will allow it simply because he wants to and it gives me legitimacy later when I tell him to stop and go to sleep, he got his way and I needed to get mine. If I try to impose my will immediately there’s gonna be a conflict and what could have taken 20 minutes in total could instead take 40 minutes or more and ultimately prevent the rest of the plans for the day because the schedule collapses.

Taking the bed situation as an example I stopped him once and explained he has to sleep soon, he said okay and continued jumping. Next time I stopped him I told him he has to sleep, or we won’t have time to go see mom. The third time I simply stopped him and while he did protest a bit, he was content with getting his will for some time and was asleep within minutes.

For Ean, being allowed the freedom to do what he was intending to do, even just for a bit, makes a world of difference. Imposing my will over his desire and overriding his freedom completely, might be beneficial for keeping my day schedule afloat but it would probably result in a much bigger storm later on when he’s completely fed up of being ordered around. So, I’ve decided to plan more ahead, with more flexible time to let him roam free and be crazy, silly, tired or lazy, to explain and help develop his understanding of emotions verbally and visually and to maintain a high level of tolerance while he balances himself through this phase.

At the end of the day, I want Ean to do what I say because he understands me, not because he fears me. Since I started formulating and implementing these ideas I’ve seen an immediate change with a lot less disruptive behavor and a lot more high fives, hugs and kisses. Yesterday we were 30 minutes late for his nap and ultimately his daycare appointment because he was in a cozy mood and just wanted to cuddle in my arms on the beach, how or why could or would I possibly say no to that? Love wins, always.