We’re all familiar with that phase in many toddlers’ lives called the “Terrible Twos.” It’s when their lifelong struggle for independence begins. The word “No” becomes their personal creed and the most frequent word used by parent and child alike! This once so loving, laughing and playful child seemingly overnight becomes very selfish and self-centered. Although we call it the “terrible twos,” it can last into year three and four for some children.
During these years parent learn the true meaning of words like patience, perseverance and prayer! The one bright hope for parents during this time is knowing that this is only a phase and it will end… at least that’s what you thought.
Actually your child will go through a similar phase again a few years later—but this time it’s the “Terrible Toos”! Let me illustrate:
Your 12-year-old daughter gets ready for school then comes down to breakfast. Upon seeing her fashion choice for the day, your first response might sound something like this; “That skirt is TOO tight to be wearing to school!” Or, “You take TOO long in the bathroom. Other people have to get ready in the morning TOO!”
As the pre-teen and teen years roll on, these statements become more frequent. Some of the most common may sound familiar at your house;
- “No that costs TOO much money!”
- “That’s TOO loud, turn down the music.”
- “Those pants are TOO loose on you, pull them up!”
- “You spend TOO much time on the phone!”
- “Don’t you think that’s TOO much makeup?”
- “No, that’s TOO late to stay up on a school night!”
- “TOO bad, that’s the rules, no TV before your homework is finished!”
- “Is it TOO difficult for you to put your dirty clothes in the hamper?”
- “Is it TOO much to ask you to clean your own room once a week!”
- “No you can’t have any more candy, you’ve already had TOO much for today!”
Welcome to the “Terrible Toos”! Just when you thought you were past that phase, along comes this one. Only this doesn’t last for a year or two, it can start as early as age 10 and can go on until age 22, especially if they live at home while attending college!
The “Terrible Toos” are a necessary but often challenging part helping our children learn self-discipline and self-control. Every parent goes through it, and as far as I know every parent and child has survived it. However, we can become so focused during this time on what our children do, that we can lose sight of who they are.
For example, two of my daughters landed on polar opposites of the fashion world during their middle-school years. One dressed in what I entitled the “Laura Ashley” look, while the other became fully entrenched in the “Goth” fashion world. So on one side we had paisley and bows, while on the other had jump boots and anything black! It made for interesting comparisons to say the least.
Now my first reaction was to “fix” the problem, by insisting everyone dress according to my standard of what I thought to be appropriate. But I learned a long time ago that never worked for me a kid, and it wouldn’t work now. I still remember my mom’s reaction when I chose to wear bib-overalls without a shirt to work. (This was in the early 70s when bib-overalls were in style and yes I am that old.)
So instead of focusing on what they wore, I focused on speaking to the heart of the young women inside the clothes.
The key was to remember that the character and virtues we had taught and nurtured in them during their childhood were still inside these young ladies. Despite the ever-changing outward fashions, the heart of a young lady is the stuff that enables her to become a great woman. If I failed to remember that, I could have broken my daughters’ spirits and do more damage by constantly judging them by their choice in clothes. So what I had to learn to do was to speak to the heart and character of the young women I knew and loved.
For example, when my “Goth” daughter asked me what I thought of her fashion choice, I said; “It’s not something I’d wear, but you’re smart, and I trust your judgment in things like this. Just don’t take it too far! Besides, it makes it easy to buy gifts for you!”
I used words like “smart” and “trust” because she was very intelligent and she had earned my trust. I spoke to the character and virtues inside my daughter. I knew—I prayed—that her character and virtues were going to stay with her long after this fashion phase was over.
So when your children are going through the “terrible toos,” take a moment and reflect on their heart and their character. Then speak to those things. Use words of encouragement statements like; “I am really proud of the way you showed patience with your noisy cousin last night.” Or, “You have showed a lot of dedication to your team despite not having a great season.”
Use words of character and virtue. Words like “patience,” “dedication,” “self-control,” “generosity,” “kindness” and “caring.” You saw it developing when they were little; remember that same character is still very much alive in them. But if you don’t recognize and reinforce it, they won’t realize how great a young man or woman they really are.
Our children are going to experiment with their choice in fashion, friends, hobbies, interests, sports and careers. That’s a normal part of life. The “Terrible Toos” are also a part of life. However, don’t lose sight of the depth of character and virtue within your children. That is who they are and it will guide them into who they become.
As fathers, we spend a lifetime preparing our children to leave us. It’s sad but true. However, if we remember to focus on who they are instead of what they do, they will often grow up to make you very proud.
By the way, remember my “Laura Ashley” and “Goth” daughters? Well, today “Laura Ashley” is a blue-jean wearing very talented youth and music minister, and the “Goth” daughter speaks three languages and is a very fashionable teacher of English as a Second Language at a university in Africa. (I told you she was smart.)
Maybe I brag a little too much, but so will you one day!
Randell Turner, Ph.D., is a Child & Family Therapist who specializes in working with children and adults with ADD/ADHD, and in working with men and fathers. He continues to work with men and fathers through by writing, developing resources, and facilitating training and workshops. He is father and stepfather to seven children.