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What I Want People to Stop Calling My Toddler

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When I tell people my son is 2, they often ask if he's "terrible."

Um, no, he's not terrible.

I tell them he's independent, he's strong willed, he is a problem-solver. He is fearless in his pursuit of the things he wants. My son never ceases to express his needs, even if they are inconvenient for the plans we had devised.

Those same qualities that make him a defiant toddler could one day be qualities others admire in him. While nothing can prepare you for life with a newborn, there's even less that can prepare you for life with a toddler. The cuddly, helpless infant that couldn't lift its head is suddenly ready to challenge you in every way.

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For example, you tell him it's time for a bath and he runs around the house in a fit of giggles.

You say it's time to leave, he just wants to play.

You tell him iPhones aren't for babies, so he screams and cries for a few minutes. Not soft cries, oh, no no no. These are more wails of despair.

Yeah, all this in the span of a few hours.

Tantrums flare up precisely at the time we place firm boundaries on him.

Being a the hyper-emotional creature that I am, I often find myself sympathizing with my toddler. I am an adult, yet I sometimes cannot keep a grip on my emotions. I experience complex feelings that seem to serve no purpose.

The world is wide open for my toddler. He doesn't yet know there are things to fear. While I want to prepare him for the big scary world, I also want to honor this phase of his life. Soon enough we will discuss stranger danger and other scary topics. My fears shouldn't be projected on to him. At least not yet.

He knows what he wants and when he wants it. He doesn't know that having a set bedtime is good for his health and development. We enforce those boundaries, anyway. I mean, I would like for him to go to bed because it's good for him, and also so I can have some time to myself.

I know that children also need to respect the order of things. Tantrums flare up precisely at the time we place firm boundaries on him. I always treat him with autonomy. I remind him that it's my job to keep him safe and that bedtimes are necessary for his brain development. He might not fully understand what I am saying, but I want to establish this type of rapport with him. It's hard. Often his feelings are in direct opposition to mine. I want to take a nap. He wants me chase him around the house.

[I]f you tell yourself your children are crazy, irrational (terrible!) beings, not only will you start to believe it, your children might start to believe it, too.

Everyone says you will appreciate your parents more once you have your own. This is true. His father and I both have a rebellious, anti-authority streak (which made me an activist and him an artist). Even as a child, I would respectfully question everything I was told. My father had little patience for it. I would ask why I had to do something. He would say, "Because I said so," which (surprise!) never convinced me. My mother would say, "I'm not raising an obedient child, I'm raising a leader."

While I am not running an empire like my mother hoped, I have consistently challenged the status quo. I do have strong convictions that I'm often not afraid to express. I would be proud to see those same qualities in my son—I don't want to squelch that in him now, just because it's less convenient for me.

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Not to say I am never frustrated about his behavior. I'm human. Toddlers are frustrating. But rejecting the notion that my child is "terrible" and "irrational," and putting myself in his little shoes, makes it much easier for me to relate to him.

Your mind is powerful: if you tell yourself your children are crazy, irrational (terrible!) beings, not only will you start to believe it, your children might start to believe it, too.

And for the rest of their lives, they will behave accordingly.

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