Monday, 18 September 2017

Why I Do Not Believe in The Terrible Twos (and Threes)

Since learning about Montessori, even from the little I have come to understand about early childhood development, I have become really aware of a term many people use. The terrible twos and threes. As I do not find these labels to be particularly helpful, I wanted to share some of my thoughts about it, as well as what I have come to understand of what Montessori teaches. First of all, Maria Montessori taught the significance of the development of character, especially in the child of zero to six, which necessitates a respect for the development of the child, especially during this phase. This blog has a fantastic description of what this entails:

During the development of character and personality, it is important for parents, carers and teachers to treat the child with respect and cooperation, any deviations to the child’s character could be a result of an adults mis-guiding at each stage of independence, will, and character formation which can lead to behavioural problems and deviations to the child’s personality. By the time the child is 7 years old his/her character is fully formed, so it is important that the experiences and environment the child is exposed to are the best possible to fulfil the child’s true potential which is the birth right of every individual. {Shirley Coleman, of}

Second of all, we need to be careful about labels in general, especially when it comes to young children. I believe in the power of words and affirmation, and labelling my child with the word terrible does not feel respectful nor supportive.

As I understand, two very important realities contribute to toddler behaviour at this stage. An intense need for order and the development of communicative skills which are often behind what the child desires them to be. A child is never being terrible just for the sake of being terrible. In fact, because a child in this phase cannot understand morality (right and wrong) they are incapable of actually choosing wrong, and so it must follow that their misbehaviour is a natural response to something in their environment.

{Jerome, surrounded by quiet work, waiting for me to wake up from a quick nap on the couch}

Like many toddlers in this stage, Jerome inevitably goes through difficult moments. He sometimes screams, he often hits. He has difficulty sharing and does not always listen the first time he is asked to do something. These things could be written off as aspects of his being in the "terrible twos" but I prefer to believe these moments reflect more on the factors which are out of his control, pointing more accurately to how the parent or adult in the situation needs to respond.

With this in mind, I attempt to approach Jerome's behaviour with calmness and from a place of order, myself - which, to be honest, can be difficult when my toddler is screaming in my face. I definitely do not always remain calm, but through a lot of prayer and practice, (and learning the calming power of taking deep breaths) I am finding it easier to not be reactionary. Seriously, just breathe mama, your child is not a monster, they are more like a puzzle.

Blogger confession: we had an incident this morning, and after we had resolved it, I felt glad it had happened, as I knew it was the perfect scenario to illustrate this point I have been contemplating for a while.

Jerome was eating raw potatoes (is that strange? I've always loved raw potatoes and apparently passed an excessive love for them on to my child) which Tharin had chopped for breakfast when I came into the kitchen and noticed he had left the Perfection game on the table allowing Benedict to scatter a few of the pieces. I reminded Jerome of the need to put his work away after using it and asked him to return the game to his shelf. A full on tantrum ensued, which ended in his accidentally kicking my stomach, and I will be honest, I lead him to his room for a not-so-gentle time-out. After he had had a few minutes to express his frustration, I went in and asked him to sit with me and for an explanation of why he was so upset. Eventually, he was able to communicate that he wanted potatoes.

As I know my son, and I am aware of what his response would generally have been to me asking him to return his work to the shelf, I knew there was a misunderstanding of some kind which had resulted in his emotional response. In this situation, he perceived that in taking him away from what he wanted to be doing - eating potatoes, I was telling him he could not have more and that I did not understand what he was doing was important to him. I apologized for being angry with him, and I explained he could have something more to eat after he put the Perfection game away. Before leaving his room, we took a few deep breaths together, he apologized and hugged me, and he quickly returned to clean up his game.

To Tharin's credit, he had saved Jerome a little bowl of raw potato, and all was well in Jerome's world. In fact, we went on to have a very peaceful morning, with Jerome helping to prepare strawberries and put out place settings for himself and his brother.

It can be difficult to step back and assess a tantrum from a place of calmness and understanding, especially if it is a very regular occurrence, but there is always a reason behind a child's frustration, random or unprecedented as it may appear. The more often you try to understand what a child is communicating through their tantrum, the better you get at anticipating and avoiding these situations, and the more healthy your communication with your child will gradually become. Like most things, this is a skill and it takes practice, but I do think it is possible for anyone. However, as I also believe in giving yourself a lot of grace, like any puzzle, toddlers can be frustrating and seem impossible to figure out, and if that is the case, and you feel at a loss, do what you need to, grab a coffee, and try again tomorrow.

In praise of Montessori, I find the prepared environment factor of a Montessori home naturally inclines it to be more peaceful for toddlers, due to their strong need for order. I have found that, overall, Jerome is much more peaceful when we are in our home, as our environment is prepared in a way which is orderly and familiar to him. He is generally happy as he goes about his day, freely choosing work, imaginary play, books, or to play in the yard (as I mentioned here, this environment which is rich in motives is essential), and though we most definitely do not have a structured routine, there is a rhythm to our days and he receives plenty of rest. This order and the prepared environment of our home is one of the ways I know Montessori has most positively benefitted our family and has helped my relationship with my toddler to be more peaceful and positive.

{The newest contribution to our space, a wooden shelf I picked up off the side of the road. Definitely imperfect, but definitely appreciated. Sometimes God provides in the most unlikely of ways.}

In the very simplest terms, I do not believe in the terrible twos, because I believe in attempting to respect our toddlers, in validifying their emotions and responses, and in the difficulty of the development their little minds and bodies are going through. For this reason, I believe toddlers need understanding, support, and cooperation from the adults in their lives so we may help guide them to be healthy, whole, and well-rounded. Toddlers may be difficult, yes, but I do not believe they deserve to be labelled terrible.
As always, thank you so much for reading. If you have any questions about Montessori or our family, please feel free to contact me either through the blog, Instagram, or Bloglovin' (all of which are linked in the About Me tab) and I will do my best to answer your questions, or will point you in the direction of another Montessorian I know will be able to assist you.

God bless,

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