Q: My baby is only a year old, and she is a joy to my husband and me. But your description of toddlerhood is kind of scary. It's just around the corner. Are the "terrible twos" really so terrible?
A: I think the toddler years are delightful. It is a period of dynamic blossoming and unfolding. New words are being learned daily, and the cute verbal expressions of that age will be remembered for half a century. It is a time of excitement over fairy stories and Santa Claus and furry puppy dogs. And most important, it is a precious time of loving and warmth that will scurry by all too quickly and never return.
Admittedly, the toddler years can also be quite challenging to a busy mother. Not the least of her frustrations is the negativism of that period of development. It has been said that all human beings can be classified into two broad categories: those who would vote "yes" to the various propositions of life, and those who would be inclined to vote "no." I can tell you with confidence that each toddler around the world would definitely cast a negative vote.
If there is one word that characterizes the period between 15 and 24 months of age, it is "No!" No, he doesn't want to eat his cereal. No, he doesn't want to play with his dump truck. No, he doesn't want to take his bath. And you can be sure, no, he doesn't want to get to bed anytime at all. It is easy to see why this period of life has been called "the first adolescence," because of the negatives, conflict and independence of the age.
Perhaps the most irritating aspect of the "terrible twos" is the tendency of kids to spill things, destroy things, eat horrible things, fall off things, flush things, kill things and get into things. They also have a knack for doing embarrassing things, like sneezing on a nearby man at a lunch counter. During these toddler years, any unexplained silence of more than 30 seconds can throw an adult into a sudden state of panic.
What mother has not had the shock of opening the bedroom to find Tony Tornado covered with lipstick from the top of his head to the carpet on which he stands? On the wall is his own artistic creation with a red handprint in the center, and throughout the room is the aroma of Chanel No. 5 with which he has anointed his baby brother. Wouldn't it be interesting to hold a national convention sometime, bringing together all the mothers who have experienced that exact trauma?
Yes, toddlerhood is challenging, but it is also a wonderful time of life. It will last but a brief moment in time. There are millions of older parents today with grown children who would give all they possess to relive those bubbly days with their toddlers. Enjoy these years to the fullest.
Q: How early in life is a child capable of making a willful challenge to parental authority?
A: Depending on the temperament of the individual, defiant behavior can be displayed by very young children. A father once told me of taking his 3-year-old daughter to a basketball game. The child was, of course, interested in everything in the gym except the athletic contest. The father permitted her to roam free and climb on the bleachers, but he set up definite limits regarding how far she could stray. He took her by the hand and walked with her to a stripe painted on the gym floor.
"You can play all around the building, Janie, but don't go past this line," he instructed her.
Dad had no sooner returned to his seat than the toddler scurried in the direction of the forbidden territory. She stopped at the border for a moment, then flashed a grin over her shoulder to her father, and deliberately placed one foot over the line as if to say, "Whatcha gonna do about it?" Virtually every parent the world over has been asked the same question at one time or another. That's the way some kids are made.
James Dobson is chairman of the board for Focus on the Family, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the home.