I have been the mother of a two-year-old for almost six months now and let me tell you, the stories people tell you? True. All true.
I mean, it’s a bit of a dick move to describe a child as “terrible”, so I won’t, but raising a two-year-old has definitely presented some very unique challenges – and delights! Plenty of delights, don’t you worry! It’s been a while since I did an update post like this, so I figured it was time.
We will dive into the challenges first, because I am fabulous at complaining.
First, getting dressed. If you think I am a social media over-sharer now, let me tell you that it would be ten times worse if I didn’t have to eliminate the majority of photos due to Olive’s complete state of undress. Olive despises clothing, and so basically any time we are at home, she is au naturel. It’s to the point that one of my neighbours popped over a few months back and said, in shock, “Oh! She’s wearing clothes!” Yeah. We are that family. My thinking on the subject is this: being naked is awesome, and there’s a very short period of time that it’s socially acceptable to be nude all the time – why not make the most of it while you can? She is so utterly confident in her own skin, and I love that. She knows that she has to remain clothed in public and at friends houses, so I have just sort of let go of this one. Rock on, nudie baby.
What I am not so OK with is that these clothing struggles also extend to outdoor wear. We live in Edmonton, so there is a lot of outdoor wear. If she is really digging in her heels I try and allow natural consequences to do their thing, and I take her outside without a coat for a few seconds. Nine times out of ten she will say “Oh! It’s cold! I need a coat.” And then I bite my tongue to stop myself from crowing Oh reeeeally?? and instead I say, “What a great idea! I happen to have one right here.” That said, she’s also always the kid with no hat and no mittens, because she just won’t keep them on. You win some, you lose some, I guess.
Logic. Or lack thereof. This is my parenting Achilles heel. This, and anything to do with sleep. When Olive is throwing a tantrum that makes no sense and is asking for things that aren’t actually possible in real life it makes my head feel like it’s going to explode. On a recent trip to Calgary she asked me to roll down her window. It was a fairly warm day, and who doesn’t love fresh air? so I acquiesced and cracked her window. And then she asked for it to be rolled down more, so I rolled it down again. Then she asked it to be rolled down more, but it was already all the way down. I explained this, she asked again. I explained it again in a different way, she started to tantrum. So I am driving 120 km/hr down a highway with my two-year-old shrieking “Please roll my window down again, mummy!” in between sobs, and I am shouting “It is already all the way down! It doesn’t go down any futher! This is as down as it goes!” And then suddenly it was quiet and I glanced into my rear view mirror to find that she had fallen asleep, and I was like, “What the hell just happened?”
I find these sort of tantrums frustrating because there is no way to reason with her. And they don’t make sense! So we both just take deep breaths and I wait for them to pass and then I go swear into my pillow and eat mass quantities of popcorn. Healthy!
Whining. This is a big one for this age. Every demand is immediate, and every thing seems to be whined. We tackled manners a long time ago, but even saying please is like nails on a chalkboard when it is whined. I typically ask her to take a deep breath and use her regular voice, and now I find that she is catching herself, and doing it without being asked. When she does something like that she gets praised like she has just discovered electricity – the amount of effort it requires for a toddler to stop, realize they are whining, and be able to rephrase the request in a more appropriate tone is HUGE, and acknowledging that effort makes it that much more likely that she will continue to do it in future.
Emotional…volatility? I am not sure how to describe this, except comparing it to PMS. You know when you feel like all 54 layers of emotional armor have been stripped off and everything makes you cry? This is sometimes how it seems like Olive is acting. Things that didn’t faze her before, now reduce her to an angry puddle. I am fairly sure this is an age-specific thing, and not related to any of the recent events in our lives because I have talked to a bunch of other moms with kids her age and they are all experiencing the same thing. So, lots of hugs, lots of patience. (Lots of popcorn)
Now, on to the good stuff.
First, she is a person. A real PERSON! I feel like I have said this like eight times over the course of her small life, but it is incredible to see how independent she is becoming, and how thoughtful, and compassionate she can be. Also, smart! Can I be a braggy mom for a second? Forgive me. Olive knows all of her colours and most of her letters, counts up to sixteen, aaaand is basically a pint-sized Picasso. (I never list these accomplishments to random strangers in real life. Please believe me)
Child Labour! I believe really strongly that you should try not to do for a child what they are capable of doing for themselves, and so as Olive got older I started setting up a few systems in our home that help her in this regard.
This is a cupboard I set up for Olive in our kitchen at the advice of my friend Jess, a Montessori teacher. In this cupboard are her dishes and utensils, as well as a stack of rags and a dustpan and whisk. Olive is responsible for setting her own place at the table, as well as clearing dishes at the end of the meal and taking them to the sink.
If she spills something she can (and does) go to her cupboard to get a cloth, or the whisk and dustpan to help clean it up. I try to involve her in the kitchen whenever I can, and she really likes measuring and pouring things, as well as wiping down the table and counter tops after we are done.
She is also responsible for putting her own laundry away. I ordered a set of stickers to put on her dresser that show her what goes where, and although I have had to sacrifice any semblance of folding or organization, it works really well. (Edited to add: stickers bought here)
I bring clean laundry to her room and sometimes help her sort it, and then she takes the clothing and puts it away. This kind of thing takes way longer than if I simply did it myself, but eventually she will get better and better, and I like the idea that this sort of thing will have always been a part of her daily life, rather than trying to all of a sudden spring chores on an unsuspecting nine-year-old who’s all like, “Put my laundry away? Nuh-uh. That’s your job.”
Being on board with this helps stem the tide of “I do it all by mySELF!” that can sometimes swamp you with a two-year-old. Letting her do as much as possible by herself makes it easier for her to deal with the stuff I need to do for her, and also makes her feel autonomous and capable – which is really fabulous, when you think about it. It’s also very gratifying to see such a clear willingness to help others develop – I think that is one of our most wonderful qualities as human beings.
Emotional Intelligence. She has become really sweet with our niece, Ada. Most of her stuffed animals have been re-named Ada at some point, and she carries them around, nurses them, puts them to sleep, and puts them into imaginary car seats. I began naming emotions for her a while ago, and now she can identify when she is feeling frustrated, sad, angry, happy etc. and recognizes the same emotions in others. Nothing makes you feel better than a sticky two-year-old flinging her chubby arms around your neck whenever you’re sad.
Individuation. The source of the most delightful aspect of parenting a two-year-old is also, paradoxically, the same source of much of the frustration, too. Every bit of Olive is screaming out (sometimes literally) for her to become her own person and differentiate herself from me. The way that she expresses this – saying “No”, refusing to get dressed, being uncertain in familiar situations- comes from the realization that she and I are not the same person, and the reaction to that knowledge. It must be such a heady – and sometimes scary – rush of autonomy, control, and independence. And because she talks so much she is sometimes able to express this really succinctly, and the sociologist in me has found this fascinating.
Over Christmas she was knee-deep in a “No” phase. Everything my family said to her was met with an immediate and reflexive “No!”, sometimes before they had even finished asking the question. It was very off-putting, even for someone who knew the psychology behind it, so at one point I took her aside to talk to her. I got down to her level and said “Olive, it’s not kind to shout ‘No’ at everyone all the time. It’s fine if you don’t want to do something, but say it politely. You can say ‘No, thank you’ or ‘Not right now’, but don’t just keep saying ‘No, No No’. OK?”
She nodded, and then looked at me and said “But Mummy, I have to say no.”
It was such a sincere and honest answer, and I sat there for a few moments and realized that I completely, 100% believed her. She honestly does have to say no. It’s a deeply-rooted developmental need at this age, and it was unbelievably cool to hear her acknowledge and express that.
This process of individuation causes some headaches and growing pains in our day-to-day life, but it also creates the most amazing interactions where I realize that I am speaking to a fully-formed human being – albeit a naked one with little impulse control. Her adult-self is in there, it’s still coalescing and taking shape, but all of the elements are already present. She is smart as a whip, incredibly funny, and I see more evidence of her compassion, love and kindness every day. I remember when I was pregnant, spending so many hours wondering who this little person would be. Now I know, and I couldn’t be more proud. It is truly magnificent to think that I had any part in creating this formidable human being, and I feel outrageously lucky to be her mom.
I love this child fiercely, every single wild-haired, tantruming, silly-dancing, funny-voiced, pot-bellied inch of her.
Oh my goodness. Those photos! (And the car window tantrum made me laugh out loud!)
Isn’t she gorgeous? 🙂
Oh but she is so beautiful 🙂
What a coinsidence about your Montissori cupboard. I’m just reading a Montessori book myself and trying to make some changes around my home. Mine is only one and a half but already loves her dustpan and cloth. She loves to help me feed the cat and pour the milk into my (incredibly milky) tea.
I really should get a book from the library, the whole Montessori approach really appeals to me but so far I’ve just picked my friends brain, I would love to read more about it! And I hear you, I have an extra enthusiastic pourer, too! Haha
This is such a wonderful post! I hope you’ll write more about your insights into two-year-old psychology. I’m not a parent yet, but found it heartwarming and fascinating to read about. It also brought back some memories that I seem to have suppressed of my two-year-old self screaming non-stop on a beach while my parents desperately tried to shut me up… :-p
Thank you! I like writing these types of posts because it allows me to reflect on the changes Olive is going through, something which is often hard to do in day to day life when we sometimes seem like we are going from one tantrum to the other! But stepping back and seeing how much she does, and what she has developed is very, very cool.
And I must say, I can not believe my mom did this with six kids. SIX. On bad days I try to imagine Olive plus five older siblings and I can’t even fathom what that looks like. My mom didn’t even drink! Good lord.
This is a really neat post, thank you! My wee girl is exactly the same age and we can totally relate 🙂 I think of tantrums as their necessary outlet of emotions, so it’s a positive thing that they are letting it all out, and that helps. I am now off to reorganise my girl’s clothing drawers – thank you for the reminder to enable autonomy 🙂
It is so necessary, it’s good to remind myself of that! Plus, we all have bad days. And honestly, sometimes I feel like lying down in the middle of the grocery store and crying, too 😉
I love your ideas for helping Olive be more independent. How does she reach the benches, table, drawers etc? Do you have a little stool you move around for her? Asking as the mum of a small 18 month old boy 🙂
Olive is quite tall for her age, and I’m convinced she’ll be an Amazon queen when she grows up (her Dad’s twin sister is 5’10”) so she can reach all the drawers in her dresser, and reach the table and the countertops, but she also has a step still she uses when helping me cook, or washing her hands 🙂
Awesome stories and ideas. Recently my 2 yr old imitated me while eating popcorn- it was eye opening (it is apparently very obvious how much I like it) : )
Oh good lord! I usually save my popcorn binges for after Olive is asleep, otherwise I have to share, lol
Sounds like you’re doing an awesome job. Hope my Olive is as cute in two years xx
Well, she’s off to a great start with that name 😉
Wow you gave some great ideas there! As of next week my son and daughter will be turning four and two respectively and I will introduce the drawer and cupboard ideas for both of them. They certainly do love being independent and capable .. : )
That’s so great! Create a little slave army! Haha
I love this — such good insight! Olive is gorgeous and feisty too. I’m sure that makes for challenging two’s but it will serve her well as a woman. I have a one year old so I’m not dealing with tantrums and impossible demands yet but I just read something that maaayyy prove helpful (again, it’s unsolicited and untested advice so take it with a grain of salt). What I read was that if your child makes a demand that you simply can’t meet like rolling down her window more than it can go, instead of only trying to explain why you can’t do that over and over (which will most likely just piss them off more) play fantasy with them and try to give them what they want in dream world. For example, “The window is rolled down as far as it can go. I wish I could roll it down even more! I wish I could roll down the WHOLE DOOR for you!!!” (be as silly as you can/want). That way they feel not only heard but by pretending they are in a way getting what they want. Anyway, I will tuck this post away and surely refer to it as my daughter gets older. Thanks!
Love this! Great idea with the cupboard for tots to do stuff themselves. I have a wise and independent 22 month old and a lot of what you have described has just started. Challenging.
Those stickers for the clothes are such a good idea! Can I ask where you got them from?
Hi Keely! I got them from this link:
I’ll edit the post to provide this info in case others are wondering as well!
[…] etc., try giving your child real dishes and see what happens. I’ve talked about this before here, but Olive never really had plastic dishes and I think she’s broken maybe two cups in her […]