The Road to Independence
While some toddlers never go through the “terrible twos” stage of headstrong negativity, most pass through a period during which they become determined about handling their personal affairs themselves and making their own decisions. As independence struggles intensify, it may become readily apparent that a toddler doesn't care what she does as long as it is the opposite of what her parent wants!
What seems to be mindless toddler negativity is actually the innate impetus to become independent working within them. Without a strong inner force to propel toddlers to pit their will against their environment, why would they tackle the challenges of walking and feeding and bathing and dressing themselves? Certainly it's much easier to sit back and let older, more experienced people carry them around and do everything for them.
“Me Do It”
The inner force that compels toddlers to do things for themselves is often a hardship for parents. The drive for independence can create a crisis when parents are in a rush to be out the door while their youngster is doggedly engaged in the laborious project of eating his corn flakes one flake at a time as he learns to manage his silverware by himself. The hectic schedules of modern life certainly weren't designed with toddlers in mind!
If coping with the “me do it” drive is hard for parents, remember that it's even harder for toddlers. Mother Nature can be capricious. She pushes youngsters to be independent even when they lack the skills needed to do things by themselves. The same child who is determined to put a puzzle together by himself may lack the fine motor coordination needed to do it. One minute he is raging at the parent who dares to try to help; the next minute he recognizes his inadequacy and rages at the parent for
Allow more time for getting ready in the morning and before going out in case your toddler suddenly decides she must handle some of the preparations herself, but don't allow your child to become a little dictator. Seize control when your child's attempts to be independent are inappropriate.
Children in the throes of an independence struggle put their parents in no-win situations because toddlers are caught in a series of no-win situations themselves. Their emotions vacillate wildly and their behavior becomes erratic as they insist on being independent one minute and regress to helpless dependency the next.
Toddlers in this stage may revert to the familiar comforts of thumb sucking and demand their long-discarded baby bottles back, but then treat parents' attempts to help them cut their meat as a major affront to their dignity. Long-resolved issues such as the need to wear a seat belt and hold Mommy's hand while crossing the street may become battlegrounds once again. At such moments, toddlers are too immersed in their own turmoil to consider others' feelings. If youngsters at this stage demand everything and give nothing, it's because they are in such emotional turmoil they have nothing to give. When deciding how to handle independence struggles, remember that just as toddlers must be allowed to try to do more for themselves, having too much power frightens them. They are not ready to be independent, and they know it.
The Pot of Gold
Independence struggles can be expected to resolve themselves in a matter of months. At that point, youngsters will be comfortable practicing independence when they can and accepting help when they need it. Then the clouds that cast such deep shadows over the household will part and the sunshine will return once again.
If parents feel as though they have survived a hurricane when the toddler years draw to a close, it's because they have! However, if they look to the distant horizon, they will see that the end result of this stormy period holds promise. It is so far off that parents may have to squint to see the glow. Still, the rainbow is there.
The beauty of the rainbow, the promise, will become apparent during adolescence when children's hard-won victory of balancing autonomy and dependence during the toddler years finally yields its pot of gold. As teenagers, they will be able to be close to others without sacrificing personal independence. They'll be capable of forming intimate relationships without relinquishing control of their own life. That's when parents will know the struggles during the tumultuous toddler years were worth every tear.