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Terrible Twos
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If it were possible to decode the burst of activity that occurs in the brain of a newborn at the moment he first opens his eyes, it’s likely that the message would read, “Wow! Look what I just did!”

The newborn, lacking any other frame of reference, relates early experiences to himself and himself alone. The world came into being when he opened his eyes; therefore, he must have created it. He reigns over all things, which exist for him and because of him.

And for the first 18 to 24 months of his life, his parents respond to him as if that belief were true. When he’s hungry, he signals to be fed, and they feed him; when his diaper is wet, he cries, and they change it. And on and on it goes. He pulls the strings, and his parents, of necessity, cooperate.

Then, sometime during the child’s second year of life, his parents begin refusing to cater to his every whim. They demand that he begin doing certain things for himself, they limit his freedom, and they make him wait for things he wants. They change the name of the game from “You’re in Charge” to “We’re in Charge,” which effectively yanks the rug of security out from under him and makes him furious.

Most Important Time

The terrible twos, which last from around 18 to 36 months, are perhaps the most important time in the child’s life, and certainly the most important time in the parent-child relationship. For during this crucial period the foundations of parental authority are laid down.

In order to establish that it’s the parents and not the child who run the show, it’s necessary that the child’s egocentricity—the first basis of his security—be slowly but surely dismantled. In its place, the parents must erect a fortress of authority that protects and provides for the child in every way. That fortress becomes the cornerstone of a new sense of security, one based upon the premise that the child’s parents are the most powerful, capable people in the known world. In effect, the parents’ task is to convince the child that he was mistaken—the ring of power belongs, not to him, but to them.

The irony of all this is that in order to establish a sense of security based on the way things really are, the child’s parents must first make him insecure. Now, no child worth his mettle is going to take this lying down. This is revolution! This means war! And war it is, as the child fights to hold on to the only security he’s ever known while his parents slowly pry his fingers from the prize.

If the process turns out the way it should, by around the age of three, the child has all but replaced egocentricity with parent-centricity. He believes in his parents’ omnipotence, their ability to control a world he now realizes he cannot control on his own. It follows that if the young child needs to perceive his parents as powerful, his parents have a responsibility to act powerfully in his life. Their power secures his existence and, in so doing, enables the growth if independence, creativity, and a sense of personal competence.

And that’s why the terrible twos are actually pretty terrific!

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By John Rosemond. Reprinted with persmission from Signs of the Times, June 2008. Copyright © 2009 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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