The infamous ‘terrible twos’. You never think it will happen to you. You look at your beautiful baby, quietly playing with her toys and think about how lucky you are that you got parenting right the first time and avoided the terrible twos.
Then, in the blink of an eye, your doe-eyed cherub is screaming at you to go away, sobbing over the color of her plate and refusing to do just about everything. Oh, hello, terrible twos.
What did you do wrong?
Nothing. The terrible twos stage is a completely normal stage of child development and your friend who keeps smugly exclaiming that her daughter hasn’t had a single tantrum simply hasn’t reached this joyous stage yet. But she most likely will. Most children go through the terrible twos at age two, though it can happen slightly earlier or later.
What are the terrible twos?
When people refer to the terrible twos, they usually mean the problematic parts of raising a two-year-old. Young children experience big emotions and they often express them in a big way. Tantrums, refusal to do things when asked, loud yelling, screaming and testing boundaries … all of this comes under the term ‘terrible twos’.
Two-year-olds are not easy to negotiate with and they aren’t great at explaining how they feel. This makes them notoriously difficult to parent. Parenting a toddler can be draining, especially when your child throws an epic tantrum.
What causes the terrible twos?
The terrible twos are a perfectly normal developmental phase. They are not proof of your inept parenting or a clue that the devil has spawned your child. The terrible twos are typical and most children experience them.
At two years old, your child undergoes significant intellectual, social, emotional and physical development. A two-year-old is not a baby anymore and can understand much more than she can express with words; this is where the frustration and tantrums come in. Your child knows precisely what she wants (and doesn’t want) but can’t communicate it to you effectively.
Two-year-olds still rely on their parents, yet they want some independence. They hear more ‘no’, as they push boundaries and attempt new things; this leads to frustration and tantrums.
Your child is figuring out she can make her own decisions and have different ideas from yours. She’s also recently learned the word ‘no’, so you’ll hear plenty of that.
Remember when your gorgeous baby would get frustrated reaching for a toy just out of her grasp? The terrible twos are the toddler version of that. Two-year-olds want freedom but don’t quite have it. They know what they want but don’t have the verbal skills to communicate it.
Young children are trying to understand what they can do with their newfound autonomy, and the best way to do this is to push limits and see what happens. Toddler tantrums are a great way of releasing big emotions they haven’t yet figured out how to process.
How to deal with terrible twos
If you spend your days bickering with a young child, you’re probably desperate to know how to deal with the terrible twos. Is it possible to live in harmony with a strong-minded toddler? What can you add to your parenting toolbox to help you through these tricky toddler years?
Routine is your friend
Toddlers like routines. Sticking to a routine means they know what to expect. Toddlers repeatedly request the same books, movies and songs, because predictability helps them feel safe. It’s impossible to keep every day identical (and life would be boring if you did) but aim for meals and sleep times to be uniform, wherever possible.
Look out for triggers
Hunger, tiredness, overstimulation and thirst can all be triggers for toddlers. For this reason, it’s essential always to carry snacks and try to be mindful of your toddler’s sleep pattern. For example, if you take your child to the supermarket when she should be napping, it’s more likely there’ll be tantrums. It’s that simple.
Plan your days around your child’s routine, and you might have an easier time.
Give your toddler plenty of options
Your child is growing up and wants to make decisions for herself. Offering choices can help toddlers feel they’re calling the shots while still keeping you happy. For example, asking them which coat they would like to wear might distract them from refusing to wear a coat altogether. Likewise, letting them choose what they have for lunch (from among options you are happy with) might mean they eat more of it.
You get to call the shots in your child’s life, and two-year-olds are starting to figure this out. Offering them options helps to redress this balance.
Try to avoid rushing
Nobody likes being rushed, least of all toddlers. You can avoid stress with a little bit of planning. First, make sure you are ready in advance so you can devote time to your child before you need to leave the house. That way, the desire to fasten her own coat won’t seem like such a big deal.
Carve out plenty of time each day to go at your toddler’s pace. You won’t always be able to walk at toddler-pace, but if you can sometimes create opportunities to do just that, your very young child will appreciate it.
Pick your battles
You don’t need to say no to everything. It’s ok to give in now and again. Think about each request and whether it’s worth getting upset by. Sometimes, parents’ reactions can be just as OTT as their toddlers’.
Model the behavior you want to see
Don’t want your child to yell and scream and hit? Easy, don’t do those things yourself. Behave how you want your children to behave, even when you’re feeling big emotions. Show them that feelings are not scary and there’s no reason to lose control.
Terrible twos tantrums
Although you can take the steps above to reduce the frequency of temper tantrums, you are still likely to encounter some. Remember, tantrums are a completely normal part of your child’s development. A toddler having a tantrum is a child losing control when she has big emotions. How you handle it, however, can make all the difference.
Here are some tips to help you handle temper tantrums like a pro:
Want to show your kid that big emotions are no big deal? Great, prove it. Remain calm all through the temper tantrum. If being sad or mad isn’t scary, model that for your child. Accept the big emotions.
Talk about the emotions after your child has calmed down: ‘You were mad because you wanted the blue cup, and it’s in the dishwasher. You didn’t want the red cup. You were sad. You cried. Mama was with you’.
Narrating it after the event can help toddlers process their emotions and, most importantly, give them the tools to name their feelings in the future.
Ignore the eyes on you
There’s nothing worse than your toddler throwing a tantrum in public. All of a sudden, the public’s eyes are on you, judging your response and thinking you’ve done things all wrong. No matter what you do, there will be someone in the vicinity who thinks you reacted incorrectly. You were too harsh, too gentle or too … whatever. Ignore them.
Pretend nobody else is there. React as you would at home. Parent authentically; do not feel you have to respond differently just because you’re in public.
Your kids might be doing their worst, but they still want you nearby. They might not let you near them, but they’ll feel worse if you leave. Stay close to your toddlers and wait for them to be ready to reconnect with you. When they reach out for reconnection, offer it straight away.
Redirect or distract
You might have to wait until your child has calmed down a bit for this one, but when it’s appropriate, try a distraction. Have a toy in your pocket or a game you can play to redirect your child’s attention. If you don’t have anything to hand, point things out or have the child do this.
Restate your boundaries
If your children hit you during tantrums, remind them not to, because ‘hitting hurts’. You don’t need to lecture or punish them; a simple reminder will do. Reconnect with them, and as they grow, they’ll learn to control their emotions without lashing out.
What’s the purpose of the terrible twos?
On a daily basis, the terrible twos can feel like hard work. You might feel like you spend half your day battling with your toddler and the other half of the day listening to the word No!’
This period though, terrible as it might seem, is a very exciting one. Your children are discovering their sense of identity and working hard for independence. Your little ones are moving on to the next stage of life and, although it might be a difficult transition, you will soon reach the other side. The terrible twos won’t last forever.
It’s not all bad
People tend to focus on the negatives when discussing two-year-olds, but it’s not all bad. Two-year-olds are fantastic company. They are curious, brave, caring, silly and sweet. They’ll have you in stitches with some of the things they come out with. And they’ll always make you feel better at the end of a tough day when they tell you they love you.
For more, look at BellyBelly’s article 10 Of The Best Things About Two Year Olds (Just In Case You Need Reminding).
When do the terrible twos end?
The so-called terrible twos can start at any time between the ages of one and three, and they will end when your child is developmentally ready to move past that phase. Once your child has learned to communicate big feelings, control emotions and stay calm, tantrums should (mostly) be a thing of the past. However, there’s no set time for how long this will take.
To help your children move past the terrible twos, you should stay calm during disagreements and show them big emotions are nothing to fear. Model emotional maturity and teach toddlers to name their emotions. Eventually, they will have the skills to avoid tantrums altogether.
What comes after terrible twos?
Have you heard of ‘threenagers’? That’s the next phase of life, according to legend. Threenagers are funny, cheeky, intelligent, creative and strong-minded. You should encounter fewer tantrums at this stage, but that doesn’t mean your three year old children will do everything you tell them. It simply means they’ll be better equipped to argue with you. Good luck!