We have all heard of the terrible two’s and have laughed and/or cried at the telling of tales - our own and those of others - of children who have gone through this stage with creativity and great energy. I experienced what I thought was the worse that the terrible two’s (or in this case, terrible three’s) had to offer one summer weekend.
I had gone to the mall with a friend and had my daughter, who was three at the time, in tow. We were driving my car, which was a 1972 VW bug. Needless to say, with a car seat properly installed, we were rather cramped.
We had been walking through the mall for about an hour, looking in several shops and letting my daughter explore. She was having a great time and looking forward to the ice cream that she had been promised “if she was good” at the conclusion of our trip. We made the mistake of waiting until the end of our excursion to browse the most interesting for us, but boring for her shop in the mall. It was a curio shop called The Briar Patch.
We had only been in the shop five minutes when my darling daughter was pulling on the tail of my shirt wanting to “go home”. I repeatedly told her that we would leave “in a minute” and that it “wouldn’t be much longer”. Well, my minute and her minute are not the same. In frustration, my daughter walked over to a display of crystal vases and picked up the most expensive one. Before I could exclaim, “Put that down!”, she had - right on the floor in a million shattered pieces. I was mortified!
I knelt beside my daughter in forced calm and began picking up the pieces. I said nothing to her, which is worse than a scolding in her eyes. I felt the storm raging inside me, but was unaware as to how violent it was until the store clerk approached me. I asked her to write up a sales slip for the vase so that I cold pay for my daughter’s “accident”. She refused and turned to my daughter and said, “Don’t worry, honey, it wasn’t your fault.” The storm descended upon us all like a hurricane from hell.
My head snapped up and the look in my eyes as I glared at the store clerk must have suggested that I was possessed. She instantly drew up and appeared taken aback. The words choked from my throat in a most hateful tone, “Do NOT tell her it’s not her fault! She did it on purpose!” The store clerk backed quietly away and I couldn’t help but notice that she never turned her back on me. She brought me a trash can for all the broken pieces that I was still scooping from the floor. Still my daughter stood quietly.
Now, up to this point, I can honestly say that a huge portion of the responsibility for this situation lay squarely on my shoulders. While my daughter did indeed need to know that her behavior was unacceptable, I should have also known her limits and prepared for them beforehand. I was negligent in that area.
Once I managed to clean up the mess and beg the clerk to write up a sales slip, which she continued to deny, I was ready to leave. [My friend had continued to browse the store as if she didn’t know us. A brilliant tactic on her part.]
I took my daughter by the hand and, having calmed much during my clean-up task, resolved not to discuss the matter with her until we got home. That was, until she asked if we were going to get her ice cream now. I knelt before her and gently explained that since she had broken the vase in the store, I did not feel that she was entitled to ice cream since the deal had been “ice cream if you are good”. “But the lady said it was okay,” she whined. “And that lady isn’t your mother,” I replied.
I stood, still holding her hand, and as I started to move, she allowed her body to go limp and collapsed on the floor. “I don’t want to go home!” she screamed. I spent almost five minutes begging her to stand up, which did not work. I spent another minute trying to drag her along, which got me some rather dirty looks from other mall patrons. Finally I bent down, scooped her up and tossed her over my shoulder.
With her tiny fists beating on my back and her little sneaker-clad toes drumming on my front and her pint-sized voice suddenly as loud as a bullhorn, we left the mall. My neighbor was about 100 feet behind us the entire way to the car and I don’t really blame her for that. But getting to the car was not the end of the ordeal.
Getting her into the back seat and into her car seat was a challenge all on its own! Her tiny body bucked and pushed against the straps and she shoved the roll bar that comes down over the shoulders and buckles in the front back over her head before I could snap the lock. We went through this several times before I successfully strapped her into the seat. But even then she was not ready to admit defeat. She began to drum her feet on the back of my seat with enough force to move the seat even when I was sitting in it.
This drumming, along with her chant of “I want ice cream”, continued the entire ride home. My neighbor was very glad to arrive safely at her house where she could leave the close confines of my car and the screaming child that was inside.
Once in my own home, I carried my daughter to her bedroom and placed her on the bed. I ordered her to take a nap, but she defiantly sat in the middle of the bed screaming, “I hate you! You promised me ice cream!” I knew there was no talking to her at this point, so I left the room and allowed her to scream herself to sleep.
It was the next day before we were able to discuss the situation without either of us getting so upset that conversation was futile. We talked about the incident as much as is possible with the three year old. My major point in the conversation was, “Did you get what you wanted?” On all counts, my daughter had to admit that “throwing a fit” had not once gotten her the results that she expected. Yes, she had wanted to go home, but she didn’t get to go when she wanted because she had to wait for me to clean up her mess. And she didn’t get her prize before going home, either. And throwing a fit in the car didn’t get me to stop and get ice cream just to get her to quiet down. Continuing to scream in her bedroom did not get her out of her nap; in fact, it only made her more tired so that the nap was inevitable. I felt better after we had talked because it was clear that her tactics were futile. But if I thought that it was the end of fits and scenes, I was sadly mistaken.
For ideas on how to handle the “terrible ‘insert appropriate age here’” and how to keep your sanity while living through them, see my article entitled, “Tips for Dealing with the Terrible Two’s”.