What To Expect With "Terrible Twos"

The terrible twos: this age bracket can strike fear into the hearts of 1 ½ year olds.  Will their sweet, loving babies suddenly turn into temper-tantrum-throwing monsters?  Will you have to stop going to the grocery store or restaurants because your child makes even these low-key outings miserable for the whole family?  What if the “Terrible Twos” begin early or end late?  Are you going to have to deal with the Terrible Ones, Twos, and Threes?  Are you going to need Nanny Jo's number on speed dial?  First, calm down.  If you know what to expect – as well as some coping techniques – this “terrible” time could be terrific.

Even though it may seem otherwise, your child is not possessed, nor is he developing an oppositional-defiant personality.  He is testing boundaries and asserting his independence.  Up until this point, your child has been dependent upon you for everything, from feeding and changing to playing.  Now, as he's becoming much more mobile and aware of the world around him, he is starting to assert himself as an individual.  Sounds wonderful.  And it is – when your child is safely past this stage!

Typical behaviors include:

  • No! No! No!” To everything.  Time for lunch. NO!  Pick up your toys, please. NO! The sky is blue.  NO!  Toddlers are beginning to realize that this word has real power.  He's becoming more confident, and this is one way he asserts this.
  • Tantrums. The dreaded Terrible Two tantrums can involve screaming, crying, kicking, hitting, throwing, and thoroughly embarrassing mom or dad.  You may notice that tantrums tend to take place in public.  There are a few reasons for this: you tend to be more stressed when in a grocery store with a toddler than you would be at home and you and your child may be tired. Another reason is that your child senses your vulnerability.
  • Whining. Your child does not have the language skills yet to express himself. So when he's tired or frustrated, he can't say, “Hey Mom, I'm stressed out and I need you not to push me to eat all of my broccoli tonight.”  Instead, he will whine – and probably throw the broccoli.

This is where good discipline comes in.  And we don't mean disciplining your child, we mean disciplining yourself.  Your reactions will either help or exacerbate situations.  Sometimes, parents pour fuel on the fire instead of putting it out.

Here are some ways to cope:

  • Take it easy. You may feel mortally embarrassed, but every child has tantrums.  If you get glares in the grocery store or restaurant, they're likely from those without children.
  • Redirect and distract. If you think a tantrum is coming on, distract your child.   “Wow, look at that cool (fill in the blank)!”  It works.
  • Ignore.  Children thrive on attention, even if it is negative.  Ignoring a tantrum is hard, but it deprives your child of the audience he wants.  But make sure to “ignore” safely and make sure your child cannot harm himself.  By the same token, yelling doesn't work because it, too, provides negative attention. Don't forget to recognize when he is well-behaved as well! A small kids gift or treat to reward good behavior can be a good idea too.
  • Take him away from the situation.  Leave your cart full of groceries right in the aisle and take your child out to the car.  Strap him in, and then pretend you can't hear him as you drive.
  • Let him make decisions when reasonable.  Toddlers want independence, so give them some, within reason.  Do you want peas today or carrots?  Would you rather go to the park or to the library?  When choosing baby clothes, ask "Do you want to wear this shirt or that one?"
  • Give a punishment. When appropriate, take away a privilege or issue a timeout. Be consistent with this.
  • While it is definitely advisable to compromise sometimes, do not give into your child's demands when he is in the midst of a full-blown tantrum.  That is the single best way to ensure that it happens again, and again, and again.
  • Pick your battles.  You don't have to win all the time.  Let your child have his victories, when appropriate.  If you struggle over each “NO!” and each resistant behavior, this is going to be a very long stage!

Tantrums, whining, crying, and wanting to everything by himself are perfectly normal toddler behaviors. It can be frustrating and stressful for us, but it will pass relatively soon.  Toddlers tend to reward us, though, with snuggles and hugs so it is not a completely unbearable age!

Related Articles:

How to Keep a Toddler Busy

How to Teach Children Good Manners