Internalizing Expectations: The Terrible Twos: The “terrible twos” aren’t really so bad when you understand their developmental purpose. Using the newfound ability to locomote, the toddler ramrods into life. Unfortunately, the equipment is a little out of balance. As Anna Freud put it, the manifestations are expressed directly through destructiveness, messiness, and motor restlessness; and reactively through clinging, inability to separate, whining, and chaotic affective states, including temper tantrums. For all of its severity and pathological appearance, such behavior is short lived. It remains in force while there are no other than motor outlets for the child’s energies and disappears or decreases in intensity as soon as new pathways for expression appear, especially the acquisition of speech.
Thus, for a brief interval there is a natural imbalance between the powerful, maturing body, exploding with new potential, and the limited ability of the mind to contain and channel newly emergent feelings and functions. Once that untamed energy is harnessed by the appearance of language, which replaces action with words, the imbalance is redressed. This will not be the last time we will encounter such unevenness. Ahead lies adolescence. Then the body of the child vanishes overnight, trapping the innocent mind of the child in the awkward, hairy Frankenstein body of adolescence. This imbalance takes longer to redress; the mind doesn’t catch up for several years.
From Wetting and Soiling to Bowel and bladder Control: A Giant Step toward Maturity: The immediate goal of the toilet training process is the consistent deposit of urine and feces in the toilet. However, the long-term effect is to put in place flexible, adaptive mental attitudes about the body and its products that last a lifetime. Spanning the first four developmental phases, the developmental line from wetting and soiling to bowel and bladder control results in nothing less than personality growth and transformation.
The complete freedom to wet and soil lasts until the parents decide it’s time to do otherwise. Usually around age two, the child is ready physically and psychologically for the next step, the toilet training process itself. Often tested by stubborn resistance and refusal, parents attempt to contain their frustration and mediate sympathetically between the environmental demands for cleanliness and the child’s desire to wet or soil without restraint. When parents are clear, consistent, and kind about their expectations—sometimes after weeks or months of wet beds, soiled pants and crossed legs—as soon as parent and child are out of range of a toilet, a significant change begins to occur.
Gradually the child accepts and takes over the environment’s attitudes toward cleanliness and through identification makes them an integral part of the personality. What was outside now is inside. Pleasure in or indifference to being dirty is replaced by a desire to be clean. The child’s mind is stronger, more capable of complying with the standards of cleanliness and behavior demanded as the price for entering society.
But the story doesn’t end here. That occurs sometime during the elementary school years when bowel and bladder control lapses no longer occur, even in times of stress, and the use of the toilet is completely disconnected from parental knowledge, dictates, or support. In the physically and psychologically healthy individual, this state continues throughout adulthood, becoming one facet of the comfortable competence in regard to the control of body and mind that characterizes maturity.