There are few things that rival the casual destruction of a toddler. As you can see, way back in 2008 we had to put our Christmas tree behind bars just to keep out the destruction which was wrought daily in our house with two eleven month olds. The next year (just before they turned two) we rtook away the bars, but the Christmas tree was bare other than lights and a pitiful few soft unbreakable ornaments. They still had a merry olde time unscrewing the lights when we weren’t looking. You don’t really see the ability to wreak havoc so casually in adults. Granted, there are the occasional folks that just want to see the world burn (apologies for the drama, but that’s my favorite movie quote/internet meme) but they have to actually put in a little effort. For a toddler it just comes naturally.
This talent appears out of thin air right about the time a baby learns to move around. It starts fairly slow. After the twins learned to sit up we would sit them down at one end of the room and try to start a chore at the other end. I used to swear that they must have some leperchaun blood because as soon as I focused on some non baby related task (as if there were such a thing) I would realize they were under my feet trying to tie my shoelaces together. No one ever saw how they got there. It certainly didn’t happen while we were watching, they just suddenly teleported there as soon as no one was looking.
The appetite for destruction only accelerates once they learn to crawl and once the walking starts it only broadens the opportunities. The destruction goes from floor level to anything within three feet of the ground. At our house it was so bad I was worried the zone of destruction was just going to get taller and taller for the next 20 years.
Never fear, new parents. It does get better. Around 24-30 months the abilities all start to come together and your little tornados of destruction morph into actual little people. I think of it as the Age of Reason. It’s a perfect storm convergence of confidence in their physical abilities, being able to talk with a decent vocabulary, some ability to remember things, and a rudimentary understanding of cause and effect. You can actually discuss things with them to an extent and it’s the age where they start to understand the carrot and stick method of discipline. (My daughter doesn’t misbehave because she wants to hear about how good she is being, but my son cuts down on the naughty because he doesn’t want to waste perfectly good play time in time out.)
They tend to become snitches around this age if they have siblings. Not only do they narc on each other, but if one twin is getting into trouble the other interrupts the disciplinary process to say ‘Daddy I’m not painting the dog like he is. I’m being GOOD.’
Now, here’s my holiday hook…..
This is also the age where the concept of special occasions sinks in and they start really understanding gifts. I actually came to this ephiphay when we went to a birthday party for some twin friends of ours who were turning two. There were quite a few young children at the party, but mine were the oldest at two and a half. I was surprised when I noticed all the other kids were wandering around the playroom while my twins were sitting next to the mother of the birthday twins as she opened gifts. Each gift was met by a casual glance from across the room by the guests of honor, and grand exclamations of joy and coolness from my twins. By Christmas that same year (when they turned two and a half) those same birthday twins were a lot more interested in opening their presents and seeing other people open their own.
My wife is a professional photographer, and she generally considers early toddlerhood to be the hardest age to photograph well. It’s possible to steer them somewhat, but mostly you just have to follow them and be ready for whatever opportunity for good pictures presents its self. Then around two and a half years old the pictures get a lot better because the child understands the concept of ‘hold still and you can have this toy in a minute’.
Obviously the age of reason is going to vary from child to child. Developmentally delayed children will get there a little later than average children and personality plays a large role in when it happens and to what extent it happens. I’m also going to court some controversy because applying this to boys is a lot more slippery than it is with most girls. Watching a boy and a girl grow up together from birth has made me a believer in the ‘sugar and spice’ and ‘snakes and snails’ stereotypes that have been around for so long.
Please feel free to share your own thoughts on the age of reason. Or just a good tale of toddler destruction….