"But from the very start, there is that small streak of steel within each child. That thing that says 'I am,' and forms the core of personality. In the second year, the bone hardens and the child stands upright, skull wide and solid, a helmet protecting the softness within. And 'I am' grows, too. Looking at them, you can almost see it, sturdy as heartwood, glowing through the translucent flesh." — Diana Gabaldon, Dragonfly in Amber
My daughter — my sweet 2-year-old daughter — has turned into a determined, set-in-her-ways almost 3 year old. Her perceptions of the world are still blurry. In fact, she has only fleeting memories of even the past morning's activities. Yet she thinks she knows everything about her world.
In the morning, I drop my daughter off to play at the YMCA, where she attends for childcare two hours a day. Lately she started calling her friends "boys and girls." When I ask her "what is a boy? what is a girl?," she has no answer. Frankly she doesn't know. She also doesn't know why her daddy goes to work, or why she can't hit her brother and take his toys. She doesn't know much, but she certainly thinks she does.
Her day is mostly spent refusing whatever suggestions I make. She finds the holes in my commands for action and carefully toes the line between independence and trouble. She wants a drink — wait, no — she wants some ice. She wants Mac 'n Cheese — wait, no, she doesn't. Wait, no, she does.
That independent spirit, that sense of exploration, is common to most 2 year olds. I am particularly glad that she feels safe to explore. Safe to be wild in her assertions and in her sense of self. It's my job to set up the boundaries and corral my wild pony into the safe zones. It's her job to investigate, detect, and discover. That's what this age is about. This is her season for independence. This is her season to pretend that she knows everything.
I happen to have some training in early childhood education and I taught first grade before becoming pregnant. Here are some thoughts on nurturing the wild twos and threes for all of you young mamas:
1. Everybody needs quiet space
Even though my daughter is young, I've learned that she needs time to herself — just as I need time for myself. She often sees her "friends" in the morning at the YMCA and plays her little heart out (if not with them, then certainly beside them). My daughter needs quiet time in her room after the frenetic activities of the morning, and that's okay. Sometimes she naps and sometimes she just toodles around her child-proofed room. All of us need a little space, some more than others.
2. Cultivate creativity
Early childhood is a great time to stock up on craft supplies. Don't expect long periods of coloring or painting. A successful "craft" time might only last three minutes. Encourage your child to use her fingers or come up with new ways of "crafting." Let your own inner child loose for a moment. Consider it a privilege to watch an artist at work in a tiny body. Little children learn through inventing and through being given the space to "fail," or to do something differently than you would. Let them color outside the lines a little. Let them stick their fingers in the paint to see what happens.
3. Learn to make a mess
Many days I will have my daughter sit with me as I put on my makeup at the sink. She sticks her toes in the bathroom sink and I turn the faucet on her feet as she laughs and splashes in the water. She "helps" me put on my makeup. I let her feel my makeup brushes while she splashes in the water. Sometimes we have a spray bottle that she uses to douse the mirror. By the end of it, everybody is a little wet, my makeup is probably smudged, and she has bronzer on her face. I've learned to let all of this go in light of how messy early childhood is. Just embrace the mess.
4. Find a routine
On the opposing side of the mess, there is the importance of forming a routine. Stretch yourself as a mother. If you are the type of mother who always follows the rules to a T, then try to have room for spontaneity. If you are the type of mother who is sporadic and haphazard, try to work toward creating a routine that fits your child. Many children crave routine. Remember this is because they want to feel safe. They like to understand what will happen next, and to have some sense of control. Say, "in five minutes we will be leaving your friend's to go eat lunch." Even if they don't grasp time yet, they will understand that something new is going to happen soon, and this will help them handle the new situation better.
This is the season where I am beginning to ask my daughter, "Who are you?" I want to find those seeds of personality within her and water them. I don't want to drown her in my attempt at sustenance, but I also don't want her to run wild on her two-ness, bashing into the world and coming back bruised and broken. And so I find myself asking: How do we nurture these little ones? These 2- and 3-year-old toddlers who are in discovery mode all day?
But this is the beauty of the toddler season.
Read more from Briana at Briana Meade.