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A while back I nannied a little girl. She was a cutie. Brown ringlets spiraled over her large dark eyes. Her cheeks dimpled adorably whenever she smiled. Every Monday she would arrive bright and early and leave around dinner. Sadly, I rarely saw her smile, at least not for the first part of each week. She screamed if she couldn’t go outside exactly when she wanted to. She howled when she couldn’t eat cookies for breakfast. She would cry and fuss, kick and hit and carry on for pretty much everything all day long. This only happened on Monday. By Wednesday her tempers had died down a little. By Thursday she was happy much of the day and Friday evening I would send her back a sweet, little angel for her parents to enjoy over the weekend. The next Monday we would begin the pattern again. Her parents were convinced she was just going through the terrible twos.

This little girl’s mind matured and she began to understand the rules. She could effectively throw tempers at her parents’ home, but not at mine. She began throwing non-stop tempers with her parents all week long, while playing cheerfully all week at my house. Her parents began noticing the discrepancy. I had been waiting for them to do this, to wonder about it out loud. When they did, I gently suggested what I had been thinking all along.

There’s no such thing as the terrible twos! The whole “reverse bonding” fiasco is non-sense. Children do develop quickly during their toddler years and this does present challenges, but it is not just some stage they must grow through. They now have a great attention span. This is a challenge. A mother can’t just distract them with a shiny toy like she used to. They have seen the world and they know their options. Who wants green beans when cookies exist? They are ready to be brought to a greater maturity. If the mother does not do the work necessary, the child will continue to have the maturity of a baby while having the cognitive and physical abilities of a small child. This is what we call the “terrible twos”. It doesn’t have to be that way. Two year olds can be so much fun! They just need gentle, but firm boundaries, and much higher expectations.

So, I will be blogging over the next several weeks about some basic principles and methods I used, not only with that little two year old girl, but also with my own five. I’m starting with a principal that may not seem to be pragmatically the most important, and it isn’t if you’re looking for a quick fix.  But if you really want to nurture a long lasting relationship, I believe this first principal is foundational.

Grace Based Foundation

Every home has an atmosphere.  I remember, as a child, visiting a classmate’s house for a full week.  I was so excited! Two days in I changed my mind and desperately wanted to go home.  The house was thick with arguing. I was always on the defense and my energy felt drained.  That same summer I visited another friend’s home. The atmosphere there was peaceful and cheerful. It was a home where I felt energized to say kind things and help anyone who needed it.  Teaching obedience without unconditional love creates a terrible atmosphere. It breeds insecurity, which in turn creates contrariness, tempers and sibling conflict.

There are two ways to avoid raising an insecure child, and all the problems that grow out of it. First, as you train your two year old, make sure you don’t set up an antagonistic relationship! If they feel it’s you against them, they will need to win to keep their dignity. Hence, the contrariness. Think of how you would like your husband or friend to rebuke you, and use the same careful and empathetic gentleness with your toddler.  Come along side them, not against them. This produces an atmosphere of peace.

Say the above little girl had a temper because she wanted a forbidden item. First I would pick her up, hug her and empathize. “You want that don’t you? I know.” And sadly, “I can’t give it to you. I’m so sad, but you are having a temper and now you must go on time out.” I would give her a kiss on her head and gently put her on time out. If she was screaming too loudly for me to talk to her, I would just give her a hug and a kiss and set her in a baby gated area till she calmed down. Once she was done crying, I would talk to her and give her a time out. If she decided to scream in the room for more than a couple of minutes before calming down, I’d go in once in awhile and give her a quick hug to make sure she knew my love was still there. Then I’d walk away.

Love and authority go together. I was setting up a relationship with her where I was her authority, but I also loved her very much no matter what.  She always knew I was sad for. She knew I was disciplining out of love because I was on her side.  Sometimes she would attempt to rewrite the story about what was going on.  She might say, “You mean!” But I would just smile and hug her, “How silly! We know that’s not true. I love you!”

I know some might think, “I could do that with my kid all day and she wouldn’t even notice. I would just be talking to a screaming child.” But parenting is like a tapestry. Unconditional love and empathy are only one thread. If that’s all you have, then yes, you will just be talking to a screaming child all day. There are many more threads, but I do think unconditional love is the most important.

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