How To Thrive Through The Terrible Twos

terrible twos

A two-year-old is kind of like having a blender, but you don’t have a top for it. ~ Jerry Seinfeld (Tweet this)

The terrible twos is an infamous phase in the development of children. Parents fear it and hope their child will skip it all together. Nobody wants to see their little bundle of joy turn into a tiny tyrant. But in reality, the “Terrible Twos” are a developmental milestone that should be understood and celebrated.

Well, maybe while your little one is in the middle of a meltdown it’s kind of a stretch to think of celebrating anything! But at least if you understand more about it, you can begin to appreciate it, and a change of perspective can do wonders to make the navigation of this challenging time easier on both of you.

Terrible twos do not start right at 24 months. Depending on your child, you can start noticing little power struggles from 18 months of age. And, at the other end, they can even go all the way beyond three years of age.

During this time, parents experience defiance from the little ones. Temper tantrums and meltdowns are more common and most of the time these emotional quakes seem to come out of nowhere and make little sense. Your toddler can be in the best of moods, you ask if they want some juice and ten seconds later they are laying on the floor crying because they want to drink from the straw while keeping it attached to the outside of the juice box.

At the moment, I can tell you a lot about it from personal experience. Our 19-month-old boy is in the middle of his share of the Terrible Twos! For a developed adult, their behavior might seem random but it does make sense to them at least.

Why do the “Terrible Twos” happen?

In a nutshell, your toddler is learning how to make appropriate choices. At the moment of the terrible twos, the urge for individuality is kicking in and mobility and cognitive abilities are giving him or her the capacity for an overwhelming quantity of options to choose from. On top of that, your toddler has an internal battle between seeking his individuality and pleasing you.

Now imagine yourself in their place. They are frustrated at a time when their communication skills are very limited and feelings such as anger and frustration are completely new to them. No wonder they have meltdowns! Their tantrums are an external expression of the turmoil they are feeling inside. Fortunately, there are things we can do to help them through these challenges.

What can you do to make the terrible twos less terrifying?

  • Be patient. Use what you have learned about your child’s development to build empathy for their struggle. Think about the fact that this phase is there to help develop your child’s confidence and leadership skills.
  • Give them the right amount of choices when possible. If you give them too many they can get overwhelmed, but not giving them any at all will cause frustration. Picking two to three options (inside of what works for you) gives a good balance and the chance to fulfill their need for independence.
  • Provide a safe space for their creativity and games. Instead of having to tell them no and control their movements in order to keep them safe, make sure you put them often in spaces and situations where they can express themselves and explore the world in a safe manner. Look online for ideas. Search Google for “Montessori space” for amazing ways of making a toddler-friendly space at home.

The threenager is that age when your 3-year-old continually acts like they are going on 13. ~  Kristen Hewitt (Tweet this)

  • Give them responsibilities. Cognitively your toddler is, in a small degree, like a tiny teenager searching for his identity as an individual. Giving them some responsibility will make them feel important and capable, boosting their confidence. Even at this age they can do things like take a napkin to the trash, or hand daddy his socks. My son loves walking with me to the laundry room while “helping” me carry the laundry basket by placing his little hand in a corner of it. It keeps them happy and busy while you get things done around the house.
  • Ensure they get enough sleep. During the “Terrible Twos” a toddler should be getting approximately 10 to 12 hours of sleep at night and a nap of 1 to 3 hours during the day. It’s no surprise that tired babies get cranky, so why add to the already delicate situation? You don’t want more mood swings than needed. If it is a particularly hard day, do yourself a favor and take a nap with him; you deserve it!
  • Choose your battles. Yes, you are trying to teach them manners (and many other important things), but sometimes it is best to not force an issue. Do not fall into a power struggle with your two-year-old. If there is no real harm, let him get away with a small thing here and there. You can go back to teaching him not to put his elbows on the table tomorrow.
  • Redirect and Praise. This goes hand-in-hand with choosing your battles. During the terrible twos you will get more rebellious moments from your child. Their favorite word usually ends up being “No” and though it’s nothing personal, it can be very frustrating for a parent. It is not a good idea to get angry and reprimand a child that is in the midst of exercising their willpower. He is developing skills for the future. He might end up being an amazing leader one day! So for now instead of prohibiting certain behaviors try to redirect them into doing something else and praise them anytime they engage in positive behavior. This is positive reinforcement and is more effective and way more fun than punishment for all parties involved.

The terrible twos phase is not really a bad thing. When you understand what is happening inside the mind of your little one—the growth, the evolution—you can see the true beauty of their defiance. So take a deep breath, hold their hand and be there for them through these challenging changes.

You can guide the process and make it easier.

Stay present and remember that when they are misbehaving, it is usually when they need you to love them the most. Why? Because they are not giving you a hard time. They are having a hard time.

A child can teach an adult three things: to be happy for no reason, to always be busy with something, and to know how to demand with all his might that which he desires. ~ Paulo Coelho (Tweet this)

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About the Author

Yaiza is a published author with a background in psychology and behavior. She has been an ecological educator for Zoos and aquariums, and has been and continues to be involved in several charitable projects and organizations. Her goal is to be active on building a better life for the present and a better world for generations to come.

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