Are the “terrible twos” a Declaration of Independence? What parents can learn about their toddlers this Fourth of July

Beau and I enjoying his first fireworks! (Way past bedtime…)

This Fourth of July morning while getting Beau dressed in his festive red, white, and blue, I started to explain to him what the holiday was all about — in a two-year-old kind of way. “We are celebrating the birthday of our country,” I said. “Just like when we celebrated your birthday the other day. Today, the United States is 241 years old.”

I pondered the meaning of the day a little more deeply as I finished dressing him. Independence Day: the day the colonists declared independence from Britain for being over controlling and not allowing the colonists any say in their own governance. It would only be a matter of minutes before I would have to learn something this Independence Day about parenting my two-year-old.

Beau and I moseyed into the bathroom to brush his teeth. Toothbrushing is usually something Beau enjoys, so I was totally caught off guard when he started refusing. I pushed, trying to hold him still while I attempted to safely enter the toothbrush into his mouth. But Beau pushed back, with tears, shouts, and lashing arms.

In the wake of my son’s second birthday, I am reading a lot about the “Terrible Twos” and how to survive them. One resource says the “terrible twos” are cause by an internal conflict between wanting to break away from overwhelming parental control and yet still wanting to remain close. This is a transitionary period when the child is feeling out his independence, trying to be and act older, and attempting to establish his identity in the world. He needs the freedom to explore and try — and fail — without the heavy hand of a parent controlling his every move.

The terrible two-year-old’s tantrums are in a sense a Declaration of Independence! In writing the Declaration of Independence, the colonists listed the many grievances they suffered under King George’s heavy hand. They claimed that a government gains its power from the “consent of the governed,” and since he did not take into account their needs, they had the right to abolish his rule over them. They had addressed their frustrations with him over and over and finally, enough was enough. The colonists were outta here!

Without the eloquence of language to express their demands, toddlers act out the only way they know how, emotionally and physically. Beau was expressing a grievance, and to avoid a Revolution, I needed to start listening.

Better to start listening now. I know full well how kids go through a second transitional period in their teenage years which can end in full out rebellion. This is a time in Beau’s future that I seriously dread, especially after how I behaved when lashing out against what I saw to be overbearing control by my parents. Kids need to learn how to be adults, how to take chances — and how to fail — and to become who they are going to become, just as they did when they were two. However, unlike at two, a teenager may really say, “I am outta here” if you don’t listen and those consequences are devastatingly frightening. Working out a way to share control with Beau is something I would like to perfect early.

If King George had heeded the warnings of our Founding Fathers, we may still be a part of England today. Instead, we declared independence fought a terribly long war to finally break free. I never want to fight that war with my child. I will listen to his grievances and support him in any way I can as he transitions into independence.

So how did I handle the toothbrushing tantrum? Through goofy silliness, I managed to get Beau to stop protesting long enough to hand him the toothbrush. Usually I brush them for him so this time, I asked him to do it. He brushed the bottom row pretty well and then gave the brush back to me. I urged him to brush the top and I could see the tantrum resurfacing. Abort! Abort! I thought. “OK, Beau. Nice job on the bottom row. We’ll get the top later.” In giving him some control, we had a half-brushed mouth until bedtime, but the Revolution was averted. This particular battle was not worth spoiling all of the day’s fireworks! When brushing before bed, Beau said, “Mommy do it?” I smiled and hugged him. See, he still needs me (sigh).

Happy Independence Day!

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