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I Can Do It Myself! Surviving the Not-So-Terrible Twos

Some experts refer to toddlerhood as the first adolescence. I agree with this apt observation. Adolescence is a time of growth, pushing boundaries and moving to a new stage of life.

MyselfInstead of teenager to adult, your toddler is evolving from a baby into a child. It is a monumental time. The inherent dynamics of the learning process also make it frustrating. A fine line exists between your toddler’s do-it-myself attitude and your need to control chaos. Words like stubborn, obstinate and terrible-twos come to mind; but remember, this stubborn streak may keep your toddler from listening, but it also gives them the gumption to get back up every time they fall down.

Set limits, be flexible and pick your battles. Some children will readily accept boundaries while others will not take no for an answer. Therefore, above all else, have patience. One day, your child will be grateful that you not only let them try, but also fail.
Albert Einstein said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” Since toddlerhood is a time of trying new things, be prepared for the struggles that come along with that.

You may not have given your toddler headstrong for a middle name, yet that’s what it seems to be. Remember, though, a headstrong child can grow up to be a strong-willed teenager who has the backbone to resist peer pressure and a strong adult who gets going even when the going gets tough. Good stuff, right?

Children let us know when they want new challenges – some at an early age while others are more laidback, content with the status quo. Most children fall happily somewhere in between.

The underlying hitch with toddlers, in general, and specifically the mission-impossible type, is the desire often precedes the ability. Expect discipline issues as they take two steps forward and one backward. The following are a few common hurdles and ways to get over them.

I Can Dress Myself

The streaker: In a hurry, your toddler complains when you try getting him ready to go out. After a struggle, you triumph. All for the greater good, you tell yourself. He stands at the door wearing his coat, shoes, a pout and tear-stained cheeks, you turn around to get yourself ready, turn back and he has removed all of his clothes.

The shape-shifter: Your otherwise sweet little princess has decided to learn to dress herself – not just in the morning or at bedtime, mind you, more like several times a day and never the adorable matching set you chose. She wants lots of practice.

The fix for both types is just that, lots of practice. All you need is time, patience and the ability to relinquish control. It doesn’t matter if her outfits are, well, unique. She will wear them with pride, because she did it herself. After a couple of weeks, when she has mastered her new skill, she will be content with fewer costume changes and be quicker at it so that even when you are in a hurry, it’s not a problem.

I Can Get It Myself

The smooth criminal: You hear the kitchen cupboard open and close, followed by your little man bringing you a box of Cheerios, announcing proudly, “Cereal.” My own terrific two-year-old is quite adept at this one, making it my personal favorite. It was cute at first, so I poured him some in a little bowl, sat him in his highchair and enjoyed the half-hour of peace and quiet it afforded me. However, before long, I had a toddler who majored in independence and minored in break and enter. I have valiantly attempted to keep him out of the cupboards and fridge to no avail. In fact, as I write this editorial, he has been in the fridge no less than ten times, has gotten himself two hard-boiled eggs, a yogurt and there are currently five sippy cups lined up on the table in front of me. So I know a little about relinquishing control to a two-and-half-year-old.

He is a happy little boy and I love him tremendously. While I have recently identified with his independent streak, there are times when I need him to wait a minute or I do not want him eating another yogurt. He is decisive. He knows what he wants and he is not afraid to go after it. These are good qualities to foster in a young person, even though they are not always convenient for a parent.

What can you do? Give your toddler their own cupboard/drawer in the kitchen. Keep their plastic bowls, plates, cups and cutlery here, as well some snacks they can get for themself, such as small, easy-to-pour containers of cereal and dried fruit. You can also give them a bin in the fridge where you keep things they can get for themself like yogurt, pre-cut cheese snacks and fruit cups.

I Can Do It Myself

The juice-bartender: Your little girl wants to pour her own juice but lacks the understanding to know when to stop. Rather than struggle, set her over the kitchen sink with a cup and a plastic jug and let her practice with water. After she’s had a chance to try it herself, maybe she’ll allow your hand to ‘shadow’ hers as she pours the real thing. Compromise is a gracious part of parenting.

The terrible-twos need not be so terrible. If you embrace and celebrate the journey rather than resist your child’s attempts at breaking down boundaries, you might actually enjoy this time. Approach it with the right attitude and you will see your child’s wonderfully unique personality unfold before your very eyes.

Our time with our children is like holding a butterfly: a beautiful yet fleeting experience. Like that same butterfly’s metamorphosis, our child must change and evolve, and eventually fly away, and we can look on in awe and splendor knowing that they know how to do it… themselves.

Lisa is a Calgary-based freelance writer, aspiring novelist and mother to three boys aged 31 months, 18 years and 22 years. Find out more at or on Facebook at


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