The terrible twos is a totally normal stage of development, however trying it may be for the parents and any other individuals who spend time with the toddler in question. Your child is beginning to struggle between their desire for independence and their reliance on adults, and this can be very confusing for all involved. One second your child will be running and playing as happily as can be, and the next they’ll be clinging to your leg.
What Does It Mean?
The first thing we need to note is that the term “terrible twos” might not always be accurate. The difficulties might not set in until a child is 3 years old, or they may begin just after their first birthday. Your child doesn’t need to be two years old for the characteristic “terrible twos” behaviours to set in, causing your child to act unexpectedly defiant with hitting, nipping, ignoring rules, kicking and saying “no”.
The phrase “terrible twos” has stuck for a good reason, though. Behaviours and concepts which children won’t normally understand as infants – things like walking, using two- or three-word sentences, climbing and exploring ideas like “no”, “bad” and “mine” – generally begin to develop around the age of two. The challenge of the desire of a child and the authoritative will of the caregiver is the root of the troubling behaviour that ensues. It’s common for a child to deal with this information by asserting their independence, and testing the boundaries of those around them.
While all of this new understanding is rushing in, your toddler is also coming to realise that they aren’t able to clearly communicate their needs, manage their emotions or move as swiftly as they might like. These issues can lead to further misbehaviour, temper tantrums and general misery.
Around the age of two, a toddler is expected to accept the fact that every now and then, they’ll be left under the watchful eye of an unrelated adult for a stretch of time. There are places you need to go, such as work, and things you need to do over the course of the week where you simply cannot have your child attached to you, and childcare will need to be considered. Every child is different, and in this situation many children will struggle even while their peers appear to have no issues being left to their own devices. It can be really hard to accept that it’s totally normal for a toddler not to want to be left alone in a room full of toys when so many other toddlers clearly thrive in that situation. This is where parents begin to worry that their child is missing out on some great developmental milestone.
At the end of the day, social situations are just something toddlers meet with varying degrees of confidence. Things will probably be easier if your child is someone who can just dive into this sort of interaction. All the same, there’s nothing wrong with a child preferring to know the people they’re spending time around.
How to Avoid Losing Patience
During the terrible twos, it’s very common for a child and parent to get frustrated with one another. Staying calm can be difficult, but it’s important that you try your best. Be sure to praise your child for appropriate behaviour, and try to avoid situations that are likely to end in tears – such as shopping for groceries right before naptime. Try to redirect your child’s attention when they get worked up, and ignore them if you aren’t able to distract them.
Try taking your child aside without fuss or arguments and giving them time to calm down – before carrying on with your activity – if a tantrum happens in public.
How Can I Cope?
As harsh as it may feel, many parents find that introducing consequences is a helpful way of dealing with some of the more trying behaviours of the terrible twos. This is because limit-testing plays such a major role in this stage of development. Your child needs to learn that life is a system of expectations and results, and that if they aren’t able to meet certain expectations (in this case regarding behaviour) then there will be consequences.
Of course, the consequences you choose to use are entirely up to you. If your child hits you it isn’t a good idea to simply hit them back, but you can give them a time out, limit their TV time or take away their favourite treats.
You can help your child to make it through this difficult stage with confidence if you accept and support the changes they’re going through and show them plenty of love and tolerance.
Respect the Nap
Your child is less likely to feel irritable just after nap time, so it’s a good idea to try to plan your errands and trips around this time.
Your toddler is likely to feel powerless if they’re constantly being told what to do. Offering choices is a great way to help your toddler feel as though they have some control over their actions. This is something for which the average two-year-old is desperate for.
Safe choices between two equally positive options – “Would you like jam or butter on your bread?” or “Are we wearing the red shirt or the green shirt today?” – give your toddler just enough control to feel grown up, without allowing them to destroy your day and their own.
For more information about the terrible twos, check out Need2Know Book’s Essential Guide to The Terrible Twos, which is written to help you understand the terrible twos and why they happen. Whether your child is approaching toddlerhood, deep in the midst of the terrible twos or you’re just curious, we have all the information you need!