The Terrible Twos Arrived Early

March 01, 2011 By: erik Category: Musings, Offspring, Parenting 242 views

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Pissed OffIt was like flipping a switch. My cute loving toddler turned into a hateful monster.

Nora had a cold last week, so I got her some cough medicine at the local farmácia. It cleared up her cough, but also gave her an upset stomach, diarrhea and vomiting, which made for a terribly long weekend, during which she insisted on watching this video of herself about a thousand times, each time tearing up when her onscreen doppelgí¤nger got upset.

Somewhere among the “Oh, poor thing, she’s so sick,” whining, twenty-four days before her second birthday, a special, dreaded, kind of behavior arose: The Tantrum.

My first morning alone with her after her transformation was really difficult. She woke up crying and was unable to say what she wanted. I asked about fifty “Do you want X?” questions, but got negative responses to all of them. After a while, she calmed down enough to choose a Danonino, drinkable yogurt, from the short breakfast menu I offered her.

Later in the morning, she tripped and fell, hitting her faceplant-preventing hands hard on the floor. I immediately picked her up, to hug her, but she pushed me away. When I set her down, she ran to the farthest corner of the house from me, the kitchen, and continued screaming. I approached her, but she lashed out at me with an angry swipe of the arm. “Do you want me to be here?” I asked, “No!” she responded. To verify her understanding, I reversed the question, “Do you want me to leave?”, and she said, “Sí­!”

I left the room, proverbial tail between my legs.

A few minutes later, I entered the kitchen and asked if she wanted a hug. “NO!”, she screamed.

This was my first experience of what felt like hatred from my offspring, and it hurt. A lot. I’ve found that the best way to measure how much you love someone is by how much it hurts when they are mean to you.

After fifteen or twenty minutes of crying, she came and found me and gave me a hug, and then she was fine, though I remained shaken.

From what I’ve read and heard, this is incredibly typical behavior and it’s important not to take any of it personally, because the child is just learning about emotions and how to handle them. But the first time surprised me like a punch to the gut.

Apparently toddlers’ emotional states change like the weather in Scotland, where they say, “If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes.” (Google tells me they say this everywhere, but I first heard it in Scotland.) And it’s true. I’ve seen Nora go from an all out bawl to giggling with delight in about two seconds. And vice versa. That kind of emotional agility is very foreign to me as an adult.

Today she pulled a similar stunt, but I took a deep breath and kept my cool. Sure enough, it was over pretty quickly and she was her adorable self again.

By the time she turns three, I should be a Zen master of tantrums.

  • If you’re going to be so sensitive to your daughter’s feelings about you, you should probably be aware that all anecdotal evidence I have collected (and Louise Bates Ames) says that the “terrible twos” is just a wind-up for the following year’s orgy of tantrums, mood swings and anti-social behavior.

    Four, on the other hand, is fucking awesome.

    • erik

      Thanks for the heads up. And for suggesting there’s a light at the end of the toddler tunnel.

  • Tantrums suck. Eva’s been having tantrums of one flavor or another since she was about a year old, so I’m actually quite amazed and impressed that you’ve gone this long without one.

    Lately when E gets into a tantrum, just to twist the knife around in our hearts even more, if I go to comfort her she’ll say “no, I want my Daddy!” or vice versa if he’s the one to comfort her. She’s also been known to say “don’t touch me!” or “don’t look at me!” Ouch.

    • erik

      Wow. They are little coronary knife twisters, aren’t they?

      Nora will often run to The Other Parent when she is denied something, and will cry for The Other Parent if said other is not around.

  • Yes, I have also heard that the terrible twos are a myth and it’s actually 3-year-olds who are holy terrors.

    • Andrea, I came here to say that. Twos were fine. Threes? Holy Hell.

  • Just a word, it gets worse before it gets better, but eventually those tantrum throwing little monsters turn into more or less reasonable human beings. 😉
    I know it’s hard, but the less attention you pay her when she’s acting like that, the sooner it’s over. But they can really get to you….and even when they’re older, they still sometimes do it, only then it’s worse because they know they’re hurting you. And about Nora going to the other parent when denied something, just wait until she starts coming to you asking for something and she tells you that her mother said she could have or do whatever it is she’s asking for. Ours try to pull that all the time…but luckily, we’ve caught on to that trick.

  • I’m pretty sure that the “Terrible Twos” are in fact the Terrible Two Decades.
    One of ours, when vexed, shouts at us that she wants a different family.

    • That’s pretty funny. My 4-yr-old has been saying since she was 2 (but only when she’s really mad) “I want to go home!” She only ever really says this when we are, in fact, at home.

      • erik

        Perhaps she’s referring to her home planet?

        • Maybe. If she keeps it up into her late teens, I’ll tell her to go ahead and then have her tailed.