I have mommy friends whose children are about the same age as my daughter. We were all part of the same childbirth class and we regularly e-mail each other about our kids, our complaints, and our successes. So naturally, when our children were in the terrible two stage, our e-mail threads were filled with rants about how our sweet angels suddenly turned into little monsters.
When our kids were about to turn three, some moms said, “I can’t wait for the terrible twos to be over!” Our terrible twos were marked by tantrums, non-stop use of the word No, and adamant refusals to cooperate. One mom even wrote, “Will they magically become angels when they turn three? I sure hope so!” Well, that wasn’t the case. When our toddlers turned three, the tantrums continued, the refusals escalated and may have even become worse because they were actually able to reason out, and the word No still played a significant role in their vocabularies.
Early life stages
According to Melissa Pizaña-Cruz, certified life coach and head of the parenting cluster of the Center for Family Ministries (CEFAM) of the Ateneo de Manila University, toddlers go through a stage of autonomy that can last for two years or more—explaining why the terrible twos seem to continue well into a child’s third year.
Developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst Erik Erikson listed the different stages human beings experience in life. The first is infancy, which is approximately from ages zero to two. “There are different crises we have to go through,” says Pizaña-Cruz. The first crisis is trust versus mistrust. “The infant will think, ‘If I cry, is my mom going to come and feed me?’ At this stage, the significant relationship is with their mom,” explains Pizaña-Cruz.
“The next stage is from ages two to four. It’s called autonomy,” she says. “They start thinking, ‘I want to choose what I will wear’ or ‘I don’t want to eat this.’ A child that was eating everything before can suddenly decide, ‘I don’t like this taste.’ It drives a lot of parents crazy.”
After getting used to giving in to your newborn’s needs because you want him to learn to trust you and the world around him, you now have to lay down some rules and make sure you don’t indulge your toddler’s tantrums. Don’t worry. According to Pizaña-Cruz, this struggle for toddler autonomy is a good thing.
“From ages zero to two, infants cannot differentiate themselves from their mothers,” she explains. “They’re totally lost when their mom is not there, but the next stage comes in and their will grows. This is already the formation of self and identity, and it’s a big step.”
When toddlers in the autonomy stage realize that they are separate from their mothers, this is when the endless ‘No’s come in. They discover that they are different and this is when they start to assert themselves and what they want. Pizaña-Cruz reminds, “This is a big leap forward. Be happy when they rebel.”
Herald Cruz, Pizaña-Cruz’s husband of 18 years, certified life coach and co-head of the parenting cluster of the Center for Family Ministries (CEFAM) of the Ateneo de Manila University says, “We can hinder or support that stage. If we hinder, we want them to be puppets. When they’re older, they’ll always be dependent on you and will always question their decisions.”
“They just want a choice,” adds Pizaña-Cruz. “If you don’t give them a choice, that’s when you get tantrums because they want to assert their sense of self.”
It’s important for you as a parent to know what your negotiables and non-negotiables are. Together with your spouse, establish these as early as possible and remember to stay firm. If you do not want your child to watch TV during meals, make sure you remain consistent and that everyone in your household (yaya included!) follows through so as not to confuse your child.
“It’s a stage so it’s similar to the teenage years,” reassures Pizaña-Cruz. “But once they get over this hurdle, they will be more cooperative.”
So hang in there, remember the rules you have set for yourself and your child, and stay strong. You will get through this. And if you handle this stage right, you’ll definitely have the next stage to look forward to.
Olivia Yao has been writing ever since she can remember. She has written for health, teen, parenting, and children's magazines. Her latest endeavor is being a mom to her three-year-old daughter—her toughest assignment yet. Swap stories with her at email@example.com.
For counseling and other inquiries, contact: Center for Family Ministries (CeFaM) Spiritual Pastoral Center, Ateneo de Manila University Campus, Loyola Heights, Quezon City. Telefax: 426-4285. Telephone: 426-4289 up to 92. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org