Two-year-old Sabrina is exploring the exam room with gusto. Doors are opening and closing, magazines stacked and unstacked. The exam room's rolling stool spins around as Sabrina explores the boundaries of time, space, and relationships. Just as she is about to dump the basket of toys, she glances up to make sure her mom hasn't missed a thing. Mom's scowl is just the fuel the child needs to launch a full-scale delivery of all items to the floor. When Mom ask Sabrina to help pick up the toys, the child throws herself to the floor with shrieks of "No, me do it!"
"I don't get it," Mom sighs heavily. "Sabrina wants to be in charge of everything these days. On the other hand, she ask me to carry her down the stairs like a baby and to hold her cup of milk as she drinks. Does she want to be a baby or not?"
Sabrina's behavior says it all. She is moving from the dependent days of the first two years of life toward the independence of the toddler years. Many professionals believe the conflict a child feels as she balances the security of those early months with this internal drive for independence creates the tension some call the "terrible twos." How marvelous (and necessary) is this stretching of personality! While she wants to demonstrate the newfound power of "me," Sabrina also feels insecure about independence, and that insecurity causes her to regress to younger behavior. If Mom pushes her to "be a big girl" all at once, Sabrina will probably feel less secure and her tantrums may increase.
Mom delights in making a connection between these two sets of behavior. I suggest that Mom play "baby time" with Sabrina. In a playful way Mom puts the child on her lap and cuddles and kisses her while giggling, "You are my little baby girl." For a week or so Sabrina revels in this attention. Then, she suddenly seems bored with the game. Sabrina jumps down from Mom's lap, and is off to conquer the world again. She walks herself down the stairs and shouts "ME do it!" when Mom hands Sabrina her cup of juice. Mom feels a tug in her heart as she realizes that her daughter is not a "little baby girl" anymore!