How much autonomy does a two-year-old get?

I have always operated under the notion that The Who is his own person and as such, we generally give him freedom of choice. He eats when he is hungry and stops when he is full. He eats what he craves when he craves it (which is just as often chicken and fruit as it is cookies), and he plays what he wants to play when he wants to. (I feel like it’s important to add here that this freedom does not override things that we believe are in his best interests. He naps when we notice his body is tired, whether he feels like it or not. He gets a bath when he is dirty, etc.)

Recently, though, I commented to a friend: “I wonder if The Who will go to the pool when he wakes up.”  Often, despite having a great time when he’s there, The Who opts not to go to the pool. And he’s pretty clear about it, too. “No,” he says matter-of-factly. “I don’t want to put on my swimming suit and go to the swimming pool.” Sometimes I can talk about how much fun the pool is and remind him about the last time we were there and I see him get lost in a reverie for a moment and then decide to go, but I never really know whether he’s going to suit up agreeably or thwart my plans. When I said this to my friend, she seemed genuinely surprised that this would even be an issue. “You’re the adult making the decision,” she told me. “He’s two.” She seemed to be saying, “who cares if he doesn’t want to go? You’re the mama. Go if you want to go. Plus, he’ll have fun once he’s there and you know it.”

He is two. Sure. And I can easily insist on slathering him in sunscreen and popping him in the car. And chances are, as we approach, he will say (as he often does), “I can’t wait to get to the pool!” And then all’s well that ends well. On the other hand, shouldn’t I respect what he says he does and doesn’t want to do? I mean, especially when it’s a fun, leisure activity? It’s not like he’s telling me he doesn’t want to go to the doctor’s or to day care. It’s the pool. Shouldn’t he get to choose what he does for fun most of the time?

One thought on “Autonomy.

  1. Boy, are you dredging up memories for me – I remember having a similar discussion with my mom when Mel was two. Her comment – Most often, at that age, a “no” is a “yes” in disguise…

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