Toddlers are realizing that they can be their 'own' person. As a new parent, I often wondered if I would ever sleep or eat a decent meal with other adults again. Parenting during the babyhood stage can be exhausting and lonely. I feel guilty about wishing that phase away. On the other hand, others, even strangers, were quick to remind me that the terrible twos were just around the corner! Erik Erickson calls this the 'autonomy versus shame and doubt' stage, which builds on the earlier stage of 'trust versus mistrust' as well as lays the foundation for future stages to come. Children at this age increasingly fight for independence and strive to gain more control over what they do and how they do it. This makes them very busy as well as keeps their parents on their toes. When parents spur on their need for autonomy, children grow up to feel secure and confident. On the other hand, when parents stifle their toddler's attempts, they develop a sense of inadequacy and self-doubt.
So yes, the twos were challenging and at times nerve-wracking. For me, the twos weren’t terrible, but ‘terrific’. I was in awe and marveled at the constant surprises and rapid learning that took place for both of us during this stage.
As she slipped into one of my high-heeled shoes and tried to walk, she reminded me that she was learning to imitate and that I had the power to influence her.
As she covered her face (and my carpet) with red lipstick, she reminded me that coloring outside the lines is fun.
As she repeatedly jumped into puddles and splashed water, she was discovering that her actions cause a reaction. She was letting me know that she was wired to learn through repetition and fun.
As she learned to say ‘mommy’ and waited for me to respond, she was letting me know that she was learning about trust and hope.
As she demanded to feed herself and made a mess, she was conveying her need to be independent. She was building self-confidence.
As she experienced hurt and had meltdowns, she learned to climb into my arms to be comforted and hugged. She was teaching me that I was important to make her feel safe.
As she insisted on setting the dinner table, I saw a glimpse of a servant’s heart that I intentionally needed to nurture.
As she began to fold her hands, bow her head and say a few ineligible words, she reminded me that she was learning to talk to her Heavenly Father.
The constant busyness and curiosity of a 2-year old can produce unique tension during this age and some might choose to view them as ‘challenges’. I like to see them opportunities to help toddlers become independent confident people. In the middle of all the messiness and exhaustion, it's good to remember that it's just a phase - so let's not wish these precious 52 weeks away.