It’s Not Patience, It’s Perspective: A Different Way to Look at the “Terrible Two’s”
Whenever someone asks me what I do, I tell them I work in early childhood education as a preschool teacher. The response I hear most often is this, “Oh, you must be so patient!”
I’m not patient. I hate loading screens on the computer. I call in orders to restaurants even when I live less than a mile away. I don’t check in bags at airports even if bags fly free. I don’t like waiting around.
I can see why people value patience as a characteristic for teachers. Children can sometimes seem uncompromising, unreasonable, and unforgiving. I once heard a statistic that 7 out of 10 times, a two-year-old child will respond to an adult’s request with an automatic No. When someone is confronted with defiance, it takes patience to stay cool without unleashing the rage from the inner depths of the underworld on them.
But it’s not patience that I have. It’s perspective. I am constantly trying to take the perspective of the child into account. A two year old who is saying no to you isn’t doing it because they have preemptively planned a strategy to tick you off. The two year old is exploring their own power and status in the world. They are trying to make sense of things in their own way. They are going through a stage of exploring autonomy.
When I take that perspective, I can get a sense for what this child is feeling. I can ask the right question: Why is this child so frustrated? What can I do to help this child calm down? What opportunities do I have to teach the child how to deal with this in the future?
The right questions guide you to the right answers, because I am not asking these questions instead: Why does this kid hate me!? Why today!? When do I go on my break!?
The perspective of the child is interesting. Think about a baby brought into this world learning to express their wants and needs with a coo or cry. Their entire state is regulated by the parent. When the parent smiles, the child smiles. When the parent is anxious, the child is agitated.
Then they learn to walk and talk and ask questions and tear things and throw things and run and paint and destroy and build.
Their newfound abilities are like new gadgets. It’s like one Christmas you get a new iPad, MacBook Pro, HD TV, Blu-Ray Player, surround sound, satellite TV, and a Snuggie. All at once. What are you going to do? Aren’t you going to explore all of your new toys? Aren’t you going to discover what new capabilities you have with these new toys?
It’s very similar for children at two years of age (actually this stage may begin as early as one and a half years of age and end as late as three years of age). The real difference is that the children have no perspective other than their own. It’s not patience that tells you a child is frustrated because they can’t explain to another child that they were using that truck and they weren’t finished with it. They have to learn how to do that. It’s the perspective an early childhood teacher has when working with young children.
Maybe I’ll rephrase what I do when someone asks me what I do. I’ll tell them I am a Mind Reading Jedi Sensei. Then I’ll walk away because I’m too impatient to explain the rest.