“Alternately clingy, whiny, negative, fearful, and loud, their unpredictable behavior is epic.” You know these people. Odds are you love some of these people. (In all actuality, you may be one of these people.) You see them everywhere: throwing tantrums in restaurants, crying in office restrooms, slamming bedroom doors. According to Disney Family Parenting, these traits are sure-fire signs of a toddler spiraling through the “terrible twos.” Yet, looking at your sisters, mothers, bosses, and friends, you know that bratty behavior extends far beyond the diaper days. Before you rush to bluntly implore them to “grow up,” “act their age,” or “behave like an adult,” consider this: many psychologists laud the “terrible twos” as the most pivotal part of early-childhood development. Beyond potty-training and basic speech, toddlers learn an astronomical amount about their world and themselves each day. What can these testy tots (and their adult imitators) teach you?
Toddler Truth Number 1: Children are fickle.
"Are we there yet?" Travel more than ten minutes with a child and you’ll realize that small children have extremely short attention spans. They bore easily and are quick to let you know it. Luckily, highs and lows last no longer than the average sugar rush. In Toddler Town, there are no grudges. The moanings of the morning are forgotten by the afternoon nap. They’ll get back into the sandbox tomorrow with the kid that socked them in it yesterday. Even though their young minds can’t fully grasp the concept of forgiveness, they’d rather move on than miss an opportunity for fun.
What old issues are holding you back? Are you stuck in the same old rut? Has boredom made you blue? Combining the patience you've acquired with age with childlike impulsiveness and forgetfulness can keep you moving forward.
Toddler Truth Number 2: Children are temperamental.
Surviving a toddler temper tantrum can feel like weathering a compact tornado: kicking, wailing, up-ending furniture. There is no doubt that an engaged child is passionate. To a little one with no basis of comparison, a squabble with a sibling is the Battle of Waterloo; a crayon scribble is the Mona Lisa. Adults, however, are told, "Contain yourself," "Settle down," and the killer of all youthful zeal, "Act your age". Large accomplishments go by without pride or praise, relationships rift without repair.
When was the last time you fully felt your emotions? Threw a fit? Cried with joy? Temper youthful dramatics with hard-won maturity and really let go. You'll find that it's the Chutes and Ladders of life (and how to react to them) that keep things interesting.
Toddler Truth Number 3: Children are selfish.
Step into a children’s play area and you'll soon hear a discordant chorus of "me, me, me.” All young kids see their individual agendas as law. They want to play with what they want to play with when they want to play with it. The fact that another child has it is irrelevant (just like all that "sharing" talk they've been subjected to). If a very public potty-break needs to happen in the middle of story time, so be it. Toddlers are only interested in their own needs, which, according to child psychologists, is healthy. It teaches them who they are and to be proactive about what they need. And, as avid advocates of their own whims and fancies, they do not hesitate to say “no” whenever necessary.
When was the last time you put yourself first? Stopped to make sure your own needs were met? Just as you wouldn't expect a toddler to function well without a nap, you cannot expect to keep all the balls you juggle in the air without time for rest and relaxation. Allow yourself reflective moments, even if that only means stopping long enough to assess your own needs and accomplishments. Trust that you are compassionate and loving enough to balance self-care with your care of others.
Toddler Truth Number 4: Children need instant gratification.
In today’s pre-schools, children can get a gold star for just about anything. This award (usually a sticker) is doled out for even the simplest of activities. “Congratulations, you fell asleep on time.” “Good job, you didn’t bite your neighbor today.” Children are constantly reassured that their good behaviors are noticed and worthwhile. They take unrecognizable family portraits home to parents who carry on about their “little Picasso.” But somewhere along the way it all ends. Nobody hangs up the results of your good eye test or healthy prostate exam on the refrigerator. You receive no gold stars from the government for obeying traffic laws. Yet, adults are expected to perform at high levels hours on end. It’s no wonder kids don't want to grow up.
Children are praised and rewarded to teach them the value of good work. Surely there is no harm in keeping yourself similarly motivated. What have you done lately that deserves praise? What simple tasks go unnoticed? Treat yourself to some alone or hobby time when you accomplish a goal or finish a particularly unpleasant task. Alert your family when you ace life's tests (even if it's only an improvement in your credit score). And you needn’t race out and buy an expensive outfit or eat an entire cookie cake as a reward. A well-timed compliment or simple pleasure can feel great without the financial strain and caloric guilt.
A final thought before naptime:
Just as every cloud has a silver lining, (almost) every brat has a heart of gold. Even Willy Wonka's Veruca Salt demands "a party with rooms full of laughter" before she hollers for "ten thousand tons of ice cream." Veruca's father looks at her with pride. She is assertive, passionate, determined. And if she'd only stop screaming we'd all say she's probably destined for greatness. Children don't have to think outside the box, because they have not yet been limited to its restraints. Allow yourself an occasional well-timed tantrum. Follow your basic instincts, ask questions, make a few demands, and acknowledge your triumphs. Master these infantile habits with grace, compassion, and patience and you're light-years ahead of most people. You will have risen above the Veruca Salts in the world and as your reward, "You will live in happiness too, like the Oompa Loompa doompadee do," or at least will make all those days you spent in diapers payoff.
© 2009 New Perspectives.
Permission to copy this article is granted provided the author is notified and the following bio information is included:
Annie Passanisi is the daughter of motivational speaker, Kathleen Passanisi. If that does not tell you enough about her, she is also a Chicago-based actor, singer, freelance writer and editor, 1950s pop culture enthusiast, and swing set champion. For more information, please visit www.TheAnniePassanisi.com.
Need a mother/daughter speaker team? Have Kathleen and Annie co-present for you.