I'm sure most of you have heard of the term "terrible twos". It's as if our angelic child who used to be full of wide-eyed innocence, was suddenly capable of doing terrible things. The child used to comply readily and always stuck close to us, seemingly afraid of the unfamiliar world around him. Yet when the child turns two, he seems to have found a new sense of adventure and courage, along with a strong desire to explore EVERYTHING. The child also gains greater physical strength and mental capacity, but he has one vulnerability -- hearing his parents say "no". This powerful two-letter word is capable of triggering a cascade of emotions leading to a meltdown. The worst part of it all? These terrible twos always seem to choose the most inappropriate time and place to throw a tantrum.
To be honest, I believe that the "terrible twos" is not a default phase that our toddlers go through. I believe that in part when we have a pre-conceived notion that our toddler is going to be terrible when he hits his second birthday, our radar which detects 'terrible things' becomes ultra sensitive. When we expect them to behave terribly, we tend to detect more of up their 'terrible' actions.
Yet there is a scientific explanation as to why our 2- to 3-year-olds experience more meltdowns and exhibit more tantrums than before. This is due to the fact that the different parts of their brain are developing at different rates. Their language and motor skills have significantly improved as compared to their first year of life, but their emotional development isn't as advanced. Many times, our toddler simply wants to try something new, explore, investigate or experiment. They are not good at judging how safe or dangerous their actions are, so in our bid to protect them, very often, we try to stop them from executing their plans.
The toddler's mind is constantly on the move and when we keep putting a stop to his actions, it would inevitably cause him much frustration. We can patiently explain our reasons to him, and he could be hearing and nodding, but not fully comprehending. To him, we could simply be stumbling blocks, hindering his attempts to achieve a very simple goal in their minds. When he is unable to get his way, the feelings of rejection, frustration or sadness that build up within him become too overwhelming for his immature mind to process and control, therefore leading to major meltdowns.
It is rather common for couples to plan for the next child with a two to three-year gap from the one before. Having to deal with the constant firing of neurons in his actively developing brain, while struggling with processing and controlling big emotions, is already very overwhelming for our young child. Imagine having his parents' attention 'stolen' from him by a new baby! It is no wonder why some toddlers seem to regress and throw more tantrums than before. It is as if the toddler's world which is made up largely by his parents, has fallen apart because of an intruder - a cute, cuddly and helpless intruder. The toddler may truly love and adore his younger sibling, but experience conflicting emotions of envy or jealousy from realizing he is no longer the center of his parents' universe. Meltdowns and tantrums could thus increase in frequency because of the child's inability to manage the unfamiliar negative emotions such as envy, jealousy, and neglect; or simply a toddler's way of grabbing his parents' attention.
It is not always easy to see past our toddler's tantrums and empathize with the struggles they experience in the depths of their minds, especially when we are fighting against mental and emotional fatigue from caring for a new baby. But when we make a conscious effort to remind ourselves that our toddlers are really not terrible at all, it will certainly lead us to see them in a better light and make it easier for us to accept them just as they are, even during their meltdowns and tantrums.
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