Help! I don’t know what has happened to my wonderful child. My husband and I, even our babysitter, have followed your advice and RIE’s philosophy since our son Bryan was born. He has always responded just as you predicted. That is, until he turned nineteen months old.
That was two months ago, and since that time he has become almost a different person. Gone is the peaceful, consistent, predictable baby. In his place we have a willful, difficult, unpredictable toddler. Needless to say, we are confused and unhappy, but what really bothers us is that Bryan doesn’t seem very happy any more.
Please tell us, where did we go wrong? Is this a stage, or are we stuck with this different Bryan for the rest of our lives?
As you have discovered, toddlerhood is a time of constant struggle. For the child, it is a period of strong ambivalence. He is filled with turmoil and overwhelming opposite feelings. No suggestion you give Bryan will be right, because a toddler has opposing inner needs. He needs to feel dependent and independent, big and little, strong and weak. At various times, the toddler feels omnipotent and helpless.
You ask why this is such a difficult time. Because you have observed Bryan during his infancy and treated him with respect as RIE advises, you are aware of the sense of security he achieved during his first year or so of life. His baby-world was completely safe. But now, as he becomes upright and starts to toddle, as he begins to understand language, his cocoon of security is shattered. He is able to sense more and more about the human condition, about reality. His need for magic is jeopardized by feeling helpless in crucial situations.
As Bryan begins to acquire language, he becomes able to communicate his needs. No longer is he the dependent, cuddly baby who elicits compassion, love and caring. Instead he is an explorer. He must find out who he is and how much power he has.
Once you understand the importance and the magnitude of Bryan’s struggle, your attitude can begin to support his rapid physical and emotional growth. It is difficult to live with a toddler with focus and empathy.
The toddler is a terrible, terrific, tiresome, true, torn human being. Try to imagine a see-saw with the toddler in the middle swaying from one side, one extreme to the other. There are times when Bryan feels that all the world is his oyster. At other times, he believes all the world to be his enemy.
You need enormous amounts of energy, patience, and compassion. You must learn to keep the optimal distance from Bryan while he is exploring. You can learn to function as an island of security in the sea of confusion and anxiety. You may be able to communicate a feeling of security to Bryan if you yourself can inwardly believe that this crucial period is really very short, although it seems to last forever.
And most of all, you need humor.
To live with a toddler can, in a funny way, be therapeutic. All the human anxieties of feeling good and bad, loved and abandoned, peak. It’s like a ritual of passage. If this passage from babyhood to pre-school-ness was difficult for you as a child, it will be difficult for you to go through again. Eventually we have to explore the scary things we would rather avoid.
Best wishes and good luck with your journey as a family!
Dear Magda / Dear Parent – Toddler Defiance
Educaring® Vol. VII, Number 3, Summer 1986