Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Inside the 'Terrible Twos'

Do you love it when your toddler says “No” to you? When your 2-year-old child who has only recently begun to walk and to speak in words is rejecting your guidance and replying “No” to you over and over again, you understand why it is called the ‘terrible twos.’ It’s terrible for you and it’s so easy to get frustrated and lose your cool, especially when you didn’t get enough sleep and you are trying to do all the many things on your to-do list. 
“No Mommy No!” 
“Daddy, NO!” 
“No, no nooooooo.”
Maybe there is a way to increase your patience and even find a way to rejoice in this stage of your child’s development. Maybe understanding the child’s experience of being two can help you enjoy this phase of development. Maybe you can even discover a way to enjoy the experience.

When a baby is born, the whole world is new for him. The world reveals itself in colors, sounds, shapes, textures, brightness, warmth and more. The baby is awash in a sea of sensory experiences. It is hard for an adult to imagine the infant’s experience because adults live in a world of intellect and ideas. We categorize our sense perceptions and relate them to other sense impressions. We adults connect our perceptions to concepts. We are thinking most of the time and in the center of our thought is our very own self. The sense of self is something that develops over time in each individual. The two-year-old is just beginning to wake up to a sense of self.

For the infant, there is just perception - no concepts, no intellect, and no sense of self yet. It is hard to imagine this state of being since you who are reading this has an intellect and knows your ‘self’ in relation to others and the world around you. A newborn does not have a sense of self. His world IS his sense experiences. Already at birth, his senses are active and ‘transmitting information’ to the brain. The organs for sight, hearing, taste, warmth, touch and smell are functional at birth, and the nerves that carry the information to the brain are present. The sensory information is received but is processed quite differently than an adult.

One way to describe the situation is that an infant is at one with their perceptions. They do not separate what they are perceiving from self (the one who is perceiving). The infant does not have the experience of ‘this is me, and that is not me.’ Looking at the world in terms of self and other is not the infant’s experience. So at this age, the child is truly one with the parents. It is a crucial part of individual development to separate from your parents to become your own individual self. The child must push away from the parents in his own unique style in various ways at different stages of development. 

The sense of self is a significant aspect of the human experience. We rely on it to guide us in social settings. It is our compass for personal space and boundaries. It is the core by which we process all of our experiences. And like many other human capacities and qualities, it only gradually awakens. Developing into ‘the one who is sensing,’ the self that is experiencing, takes a long time to fully develop. Infants are like enlightened beings - they are literally at one with everything. A fully developed sense of self can finally arise in early adulthood, it’s continuous small steps until then.

When the baby starts to sit up, stand and then walk, it indicates significant development on the road to discovery of self. A walking toddler, walking away from mommy and daddy, is trying to find himself. When he switches from speaking in the third person to first person, he is moving along that road. From “Billy want more” to “Me want more” or “I want,” we can see something new coming into being.

When your 2-year-old is saying “No” to you remember that his sense of self is waking up. He may be experiencing something like this: “No to this, no to that, no to all that is not me. Yes to me. No to you. That is not me. Yes to me. Yes. Yes. Yes. No to what is not me...”

An additional feature of the 2-year-old is that he is at a stage of vastly increased self-mobility. He is drawn to explore and discover - and is now mobile. This exploration is natural and an important mechanism to be able to begin to grasp the world. We adults are concerned about safety, and perhaps neatness, so we try and set boundaries for our young children. Our boundaries. And our boundaries meet the newly arising sense of self. That is the conundrum of the 2-year-old. 

So try and rejoice when he is saying “No” to dinner time, “No” to washing hands, “No” to you. He is growing in an important realm - self is waking up. Hooray. It is the beginning of many years of tension between his awakening sense of self and your creating limits that satisfy your needs for safety, cleanliness and efficiency. The ‘terrible twos’ is a practice ground for the next many years. If you start out with the understanding that the developing sense of self must reject what is not itself, then perhaps your understanding can better carry you through the challenge. If you remember while your child is rejecting what you request and demand, that to your child’s awakening sense of self you are becoming other and this is a necessary element in human development.

“No, no, no....” for the two-year-old means “Yes” to himself. Hooray for development. Your child is two now. This stage too WILL pass. And then the challenges will be different, and harder, and easier.

Start now to develop the patience and ability to respond to your child. Your buttons don’t need to be pushed by your child’s “challenging your authority.” It is not about you. It is about the natural processes of developing a sense of self. It is inevitable. Maybe you can find some humor in it. Maybe when he is two you can develop tools for connecting with your child that will serve you for the many years to come. Start now. “Yes. Yes. Yes!”

P.S. I would love to hear about your experiences and challenges with your young children. Please share this with your friends who have young children.
And for some tips on keeping the stress levels down here is an article from Dr. Rick Hanson http://www.rickhanson.net/just-one-thing/lower-stress

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Importance of Saying "No"

Why is it so hard to say ‘No’ to our young children? Here are 5 reasons why it is so hard, and why I think it’s important to be able to say ‘No.’ Let me know what you think.
  1. We want our children to be happy and to do and have what they want. We want them to have everything to their hearts’ content. We see their sadness when they don’t get to do or have want they want. Our saying ‘No’ leads to our child’s unhappiness.
  2. We want our child to like us. If we say ‘No’ to their desires then they won’t like us. If we always give them what they want then they will like us.
  3. We don’t want to be thought of as the ‘mean’ parent. Our child will tell the other children, their grandparents and their teachers that we are mean because we never let them do what they want.
  4. We read a book explaining that a parent should never say ‘No’ to their children because the children will grow up with repressed desires and resentment.
  5. All the other parents are saying ‘Yes’ and you want your child to 'fit in.' And we don’t want our children to have to wait for something we will probably eventually give them or let them do anyway. Why not let it be now?
Young children look to us to guide them into life as a human being. Part of that guidance is the delivery of our values for physical and emotional safety, and healthy life habits as expressed by the boundaries and limits we hold for our children. We don’t have to explain our values. Explaining is not effective with young children anyway. However, we do have to be clear and consistent with our boundaries for the sake of the child’s healthy development, and we can express these boundaries simply and with few words. “No throwing sand. I want everyone to be safe.” Boundaries are a way for the child to experience our care and values, and leads to the child’s feeling of security in the embrace of our care. Even though the child may experience feelings of sadness or anger when they meet our boundaries, the boundaries help to define the child’s world and hence they are free to explore within those boundaries. If your boundaries for the children are clear, their life is less anxious because they are not constantly pushing the limits to find the boundaries.

Children are natural explorers and some children experience ‘No’ way too often in the course of their daily explorations. Their natural impulse to touch and taste and move and drop and experiment is squashed. That surely is not healthy for the child. One approach is to create your young child’s home environment so that your prized possessions are not accessible and you won’t have to say ‘No’ so much. Lock up the hazardous stuff, make it inaccessible. Put away the fragile and ‘special’ things until your child is older and can understand what to touch and what not to. Find ways to create the boundaries without having to use the ‘No’ word so much. Rather than saying what you don’t want, tell your child what you do want. Tell them what they can do. And if you have to say no, offer also what to do instead. “No drawing on the wall. You can draw on paper.”

As your child gets older, it is important that the boundaries loosen gradually. Boundaries are not a static form, they evolve as the child matures and can take more and more self-responsibility. In fact, healthy boundaries for the young child leads to taking self-responsibility as they mature.

Advertisers rely on adults to succumb to whining. They target children with their ads and packaging. If you must bring your child when you go shopping, it is a helpful practice to 
develop the habit of not buying something for them when you shop with them. Then the times you bring something home for them it can be more special and appreciated.

Remember that just because you said ‘No’ once, or many times, doesn’t mean your child won’t ask again, or attempt to do the same behavior you already said ‘No’ to. If we understand that the child is not being malicious and trying to get us upset (they are not!), then perhaps we can be calmer in our saying ‘No’ for the hundreth time. Or thousandth. 

The child is simply trying to do what he wants and uses the strategies he has already found to be successful from his experiences. These strategies were developed through a dynamic interaction with his parents. With us. It is not useful to blame him for not listening, or be angry with him for his purposeful attempt to get us angry. That is not the case. Calmly and patiently we CAN help our children develop new strategies to get what they want, strategies that don’t upset those around them. It takes time and repetition. Lots of it.

So here are 5 reasons why ‘No’ is important in the life of the young child.
  1. No one likes to hear ‘whining.’ Whining is the result of parents not wanting their child to be sad. If at the first sign of sadness a ‘No’ turns into a ‘Yes,’ then our child learns that whining is a very successful strategy to get what they want. Also, it's okay for our child to be sad. Then they will develop the capacity to deal with their own sadness. Sadness is one of the basic feelings that undoubtedly will arise at various times in our child's life. Allow children to have the whole range of feelings.
  2. Our child will love us all the more for the healthy boundaries and limits we create for them. In the moment they may feel the sadness or anger of their desires thwarted, but in the big picture they will feel secure in our care and guidance for them. Did you read my post about ‘How to Handle a Home Wrecker?” 
  3. Saying ‘No’ does not make someone mean. Meanness is trying to make someone feel bad. Creating boundaries for your child is healthy and important. As long as you have reasons for what you are doing to support your child’s development, and calmness in how you are delivering the boundaries then what other adults think about you is their problem. If they ever ask why we said ‘No’ we can explain our reasons and then they can think whatever they choose to think. 
  4. We set limits for our young children so they will feel secure and confident. Without clear boundaries the children might be doing behaviors increasingly outlandish as a way to find the boundaries they unconsciously know they need.
  5. We live in a consumer culture where we are trained to say ‘Yes’ to all sorts of products and services, and get it immediately - instant gratification. I think experiences of delaying gratification are important so the children can develop capacities for waiting. Honestly, I think our culture is dysfunctional and is causing massive social, economic, health and environmental problems. Going the other way from the ‘mainstream’ seems like a really good idea to me.
P.S. Please let me know what you think about this post, and here is another short article that might be helpful about boundaries and learning to say 'No.'  http://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/discipline/tips/discipline-without-saying-no/