“Terrible Twos”/Sensitive Period for Order

I haven’t been posting so diligently this week because we have recently taken in a second foster child, 26 months old, which has turned out to be a huge challenge for our family. It’s difficult to say how much of his behavior is previously learned, and how much can be attributed to the confusion and changes in routine he has experienced in the past week alone. Regardless, helping the child to adapt to his new environment, while attempting to eliminate further obstacles in his development while he is in our care, no matter how temporary, is our main concern for him.

Montessori teaches that during a child’s second year of life, the child typically begins experiencing a “sensitive period” for order that could last throughout the second year and begin to fade going into the third year. During this time, caregivers must pay attention to routine and try to be as consistent as possible. Tantrums or outbursts, that happen so often at this age and have led to the idea of “terrible two’s” could be attributed to even the slightest of change in the child’s daily routines and experiences. A foster child of this age who is being moved around and placed into a strange home and expected to learn new rules, immediately faces a huge developmental obstacle.

Whether a child is your biological child, a step-child, a foster child, an adopted child, or a child in your daycare classroom, the caregiver’s role is to understand the child’s developmental needs and respond in a caring, consistent, and loving way. This is not always easy. It seems like the child may be constantly testing you and misbehaving on purpose just to make your life miserable!

Although I don’t typically advocate use of “time out”, sometimes, some version of this is necessary for foster children and daycare students who come into a new routines in their early years. It depends on what the child is used to and has already learned to respond to. Life at home may be vastly different from life at school or in another home. In the case of our foster child, it became clear to us that even at only two years old, he has become used to loud angry voices in order to comply with requests for appropriate behavior. Every child needs consistency of routine, and tests boundaries in order to find out where the limits are. It’s important to set boundaries reasonably and firmly, but without being angry at the child or losing control of your emotions along the way, no matter how frustrating the child’s behavior is. Remember, he is particularly sensitive to change during the second year of life, and needs the security of limits and boundaries, as well as calm and understanding caregivers and a pair of loving arms.

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