I’ve come to the conclusion that the terrible twos are just going to happen, regardless of how I respond. There’s nothing I can do to modify my child’s behavior. I was under the foolish misconception that the entire purpose of “time out” is to get your child to stop throwing, hitting, kicking, back-talking, screaming, and all the other key examples of this lovely phase of his development. But I am realizing that no matter how many time-outs he sits in, the hitting, kicking, back-talking, and screaming will continue, despite all my best efforts to correct it.
As parents, we understand when our children are infants that they are not responsible for their behavior. They sleep, they eat, and they cry when they need something. That is how they communicate. No good parent gets angry with an infant for crying. But when they become toddlers, they do such a fantastic job of impersonating little rational beings with the capacity for reason that it is difficult to keep in mind that for the most part, they still really don’t know what they’re doing.
Sure, they intentionally do things that they know will upset us, but half the time they don’t even understand our reactions. We get mad, they laugh. They are just beginning to learn that they can modify our behavior, and seeing as they seem to be so much better at it than us, why wouldn’t they keep doing it? Beyond the thrill of repeatedly exercising this new and powerful skill they have discovered, for the most part, they are still operating on pure impulse, without the prefrontal regions of their brain developed enough to act as referee, in spite of the fact that they appear to be rational beings.
So what is a parent of a two year old to do? Keep putting him in time out. Yes, I know someone, somewhere once said the definition of madness is continuing to do the same thing while expecting different results, but I believe the terrible twos are the exception to the rule. I am thoroughly convinced that my child will continue to express whatever random emotion he has the second he has it with the full force of every expression he has available to him until his little frontal lobe grows a little more and he develops that part of his brain that will allow him to do otherwise. What he does when this day comes, however, will be heavily influenced by how I spend the next year responding to his outbursts.
I am deeply hoping and praying that if I execute the time-out with a miraculous degree of patience, somewhere between years three and four, he will develop some self-control and find more gentle ways to express himself. The most important thing I can do, I have concluded, is remain calm and detached. I have decided that the consequence of his actions must simply be the consequence, without a great deal of emotional frustration and exacerbation expressed on my end. If I put him in time-out expecting to modify his behavior, I will only continue to be disappointed and frustrated. But if I recognize that the purpose of the time-out is to send a consistent message about cause and effect, consequences, and acceptable behavior, and if I accept that it will take about a year for this lesson to sink in, I just may make it through this phase of development without completely loosing my mind.
- Chimpanzees like humans are born with immature forebrains (news.bioscholar.com)
- Neuro self-help? (neurosphere.wordpress.com)
- When is the Brain Fully Mature? (psychologytoday.com)
- Fertile Minds (time.com)
- Chimp and human brains are even more alike than we thought [Monkey News] (io9.com)