Sunday, December 22, 2013

Learning something new about the terrible twos

After meeting with an attachment expert clinician twice, despite the fact that she was helpful, my husband and I decided to meet with a Developmental Psychologist who came recommended.  Some of what the attachment clinician said seemed to be as a result of tunnel vision.  I don't buy into the idea that it is all attachment related all the time.  For example, we went through a recent phase in which my daughter would rage at me when I arrived at daycare to pick her up.  I believed it was due to my interrupting her play.  She loves being social.  Dress-up play is among her favorite things to do in the world and it is often at just that time that I arrive at school.

Attachment therapist believed that I was wrong (mind you, she never met my daughter).  She was absolutely positive that my daughter feels abandoned at the beginning of the day so she is angry when I pick her up because of her insecure attachment.

This interpretation did not feel true to me, my husband or even my teenage son.

I fixed the problem myself.  I started telling CD that if she is not done playing that she can finish what she is doing.  I told her that just because I walk into her classroom does not mean that she has to stop doing what she is doing the second I get there.

Problem solved. It took a few days.

Developmental psychologist is a keeper though.  She gave us an interesting hypothesis to consider which I wanted to share with readers as I am finding this way of thinking potentially very helpful.

Developmental psychologist separated out obvious trauma related behaviors.  Then she addressed CD's anger outbursts, over the top at times willfulness and the hurtful words she uses as potentially not pathological at all.

She asked about our experiences with all of our children with the terrible twos.  When she heard our child rearing experiences she said that we were among 2% of the population to have never have had the terrible twos develop in not just one but two children.  When I described some of the behaviors that my boys had she cut me off and made it very clear that this is not what she is talking about.  She said that my boys never had the "terrible twos."

So this is what she meant.  Babies have a general sense of need.  They know that they are hungry, cold, tired etc.  Parents can pretty much give them anything to eat and a baby will eat it. At worst they will spit out something that tastes bad.  Parents can put on any outfit and babies won't care as long as they are not experiencing distress.

As babies turn into toddlers they develop more specific senses of what it is they need and want.  They wake up in the morning and demand that they wear only superhero tee-shirts and nothing but super-hero tee-shirts or they will have meltdowns, kick, scream and throw things at you.  You can be in Costco and say no to that treat that your child wants and she will get the jelly legs, fall to the floor and make you feel like you can never walk into that store again.

The Developmental Psychologist explained that though it is is typically referred to as the "terrible twos" it is not something that necessarily happens at two.  It often happen at three.  And it usually dissipates somewhere between four and five in most children when they learn to better regulate their emotions.  That part I knew.

Developmental Psychologist hypothesized that it is possible that some of CD's behaviors is her simply going through her terrible twos a little late.  It makes sense to me that this is possible.  CD didn't have many of her general needs met until she was in her second year of life.  Perhaps she figured out what it is that she really wanted a little bit later.  Perhaps it took her a while to start making more specific demands.  CD has always been challenging but before about 5 months ago it was because of her intense dependency needs, not because of anger outbursts and power struggles.  Developmental Psychologist explained that there are children with whom she has worked that go through this willful stage at 6 and some of them have no trauma background. It happens sometimes even for unknown reasons.  I know this at work but I was not able to see it as a possibility for my daughter.

I find one lesson that I have learned in life is that the more I learn the more I realize how much more there is to learn.  I am grateful to have the opportunity. 


  1. Hmmmmm.....this is really interesting. Definitely makes me think about my own kids and the terrible twos vs attachment.

  2. Ok, so this really is helpful and I am not even a foster parent.

  3. We learned this in our foster parent training. It's called parenting to the emotional age instead of physical age. We were given charts with columns of different phyisical and emotional guidelines to determine how to parent. Sometimes you may be looking at a physically 8 yr old, but emotionally parenting that child as a 3 yr old bc that's where their emotional development is. Funny example is teenagers...sometimes you are parenting a 16 yr old and sometimes a 3 yr old. All depends which side of the bed they woke up on :)

  4. You may have a real name in your 4th paragraph?

    So glad you found an "expert" that is helpful!

  5. Anon, SOmehow I know this at work but having it explained to me the way this psychologist did really helped me see it through developmental eyes rather than my normal "abnormal psychology" eyes. I am glad you got this in training. All we heard about was Jesus.

    G, thanks for the note - I think that is the first time I did that. Changed now.

  6. Have either of these therapists been able to give you more than insight, like a parenting tool that would actually change something? I understand that insight is useful but I am thinking, what would I do with that information?

  7. This is very interesting. My 12 yr old son never had the "terrible twos" either. He never threw a real tantrum, especially in public. He was always and still is very easy going. My 18 month old son's tantrums are cliché! I am a completely different parent with him at this year than I was with my oldest.


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