A lot has been said and done about terrible twos. In fact, Terrible twos has become synonymous with parenting nightmare. Over the years, we have seen how seemingly innocent toddlers suddenly turn into angry-yelling tantrum throwing rug rats when they near their second birthday.
But, are terrible twos real or just another parenting myth? Well! Not really! The term ‘Terrible twos’ exists for a reason. Most parents will vouch for that.
What are terrible twos?
Terrible twos is nothing but a development milestone, nearing the second birthday. It is characterized with increased curiosity, independence and lack of control. It is around 24months of age when tots go through significant motor, emotional, social and cerebral changes.
With these marked up abilities, toddlers become more curious of their surrounding. They gain a heightened, false sense of independence. They are no longer dependent on you, or so they think.
It is a battle between what tots can do at this age and what they cannot, with zero understanding of the latter.
Tell-tale Signs of Terrible Twos
While toddlers at this age are much dexterous than their younger selves, yet there is a lot they need to learn and understand. With no prior learning experience, they frequently fall into trouble. It could be from trying to open a jar to as simple as conveying their message.
Too young for emotion control, 2year olds easily get frustrated and angry. Thus giving rise to difficult behavior like yelling, defiance and tantrums. That’s how this phase earns the title ‘terrible twos’.
Imagine this. You have plans for a movie when your boss asks you to put in extra hours. Now, as an adult you can reason and make a decision. You choose to work and cancel the plan. This would certainly irk you but you know how to keep your composure.
Now, imagine the similar scenario with your 2year old. She wanted to go to the park but now you have some work. So the park trip is cancelled. Here, the toddler does not have the decision making power irrespective of what she believes. That’s one source of frustration. Add to this, the pleasure of giving up going to the park.
So if you have a toddler who yells, cries, throws itself on the floor refuses to understand, and always has a tantrum up its sleeve, you know that the terrible twos have arrived.
Why are Terrible Twos so difficult?
Terrible twos arise because of augmented skill set combined with complete lack of emotional control. While as adults we can control our annoyance, a typical 2year old cannot.
Another factor that make them difficult is their inability to express themselves. Children as young as 18months to 30months do not have well developed vocabulary and language skills. This makes it frustrating for them to convey their emotions and get things done.
What makes this stage difficult for parents is the inability to understand and respond to their growing child’s needs and wants. There are three areas of conflict here:
Physical Mobility: Two year olds are quite capable of running around. However, they still lack stability and balance. Parents face the challenge of keeping their tots safe while maintain their independence. This gives rise to discipline issues and is a source of anxiety for both parents and the child.
Self-awareness: Children of this age group become increasingly self-aware. They begin to understand that they are a different entity from their parents. That is why most of them start talking like “Aanya will drink water” at this stage.
Having gained a little sense of identity, they start expressing their ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’. That’s when they turn from obedient, gullible tots to stubborn tots.
Language: For infants and younger children, you rely on facial clues and body language to understand their emotions and needs. Like for a two year old who has not started talking yet, you would look for signs of fatigue when she acts up.
But the expectations are not the same for a verbal 2year old. When she acts up, you might question her for reason behind the behavior instead of looking for bodily signs of exhaustion. Also, your verbal tot might totally refuse to accept your suggestion of taking a nap.
All the above factors lead to discipline and behavior issues. Thus, making this stage difficult.
How long do Terrible Twos last?
There is no clear answer to this question. Treat this stage as a developmental milestone and work on the areas that cause most trouble. Sooner or later, your child is going to snap out of it. The only thing you can do is help ease your loved one’s transition.
Survival Guide – Tips to deal with terrible twos
Since terrible twos is a conflict between growing autonomy and limited abilities, a good way to deal with them is to bridge the gap between the two. Here are a few tips that can help:
1. Baby Proof your House – You certainly don’t want to confine your toddler to limited space. And even if you wish to, it will only lead to power struggles. This is the time when children are extremely curious and are bit by the exploration bug.
So, it only makes sense to baby proof your house, if you have not done it already. With plenty of options available in the market, it won’t take you much time and will give you lot of peace.
At the same time, it will allow your child to explore freely without getting hurt. A total win-win for both sides.
2. Offer Choices: This is going to make a great difference since most of the temper tantrums start from not getting heard. Like mentioned earlier, children at this age are more self-aware and want to be heard. Offering limited choice give them control while avoiding confusion.
So instead of telling them what to do, offer choice like “ Would you like to nap or play in your room?” Similarly asking for food preference like “Would you like to eat a Banana or a Kiwi?” can ease power struggles at meal times.
3. Stay attuned to your Child’s emotions: Staying in accord with your child’s emotions can give you big head’s up in taming tantrums. Just like you watched for your infant’s body clue’s, keep an eye on your tot as well.
Realizing that he/she is about to get frustrated and redirecting him/her before the emotion sets in, can help diffuse the situation.
Consider this. Your child has skipped his snack and is busy playing with his favorite animals. Just when you think he is having a good time, he starts throwing his toys. Though, this might be part of his game and usual, this could be a clue to the agitation stemming out of his hungry tummy. At such times, it would be good to offer some finger snacks, which can be eaten without disturbing the play.
Acting before the tantrums starts would douse the fire before it even had chance to catch flame. Being watchful and staying attentive to your child’s emotions can substantially reduce tantrums and bad behavior.
4. Observe the Nap: A Nap is fundamental for toddlers. A tired toddler is an invitation to trouble. Avoid making plans around the nap time of your child. You certainly do not want to deal with an agitated, sleep deprived exhausted toddler. Making sure that the sanity of the nap time is preserved can really help in taming terrible twos tantrums.
Exhausted toddlers are difficult to please and negotiate with. We cannot really blame them. We too get moody and grumpy when we are tired. A nap is a must to re-energize any toddler. Observe that your toddler naps at the same time everyday.
In case you toddler has quit napping, try to put him/her to bed at a decent time. You certainly do not want them enervated.
5. Maintain Schedule: Children thrive on schedule. This is no different for toddlers. When they know what is expected from them, they stay-in charge of the situation and engage in fewer power struggles.
Following a consistent meal schedule and play schedule can do wonders for your tot. Also it will be less demanding for you.
6. Redirect: As young children explore, they are often faced with new situations. Caregivers must stay alert and re-direct toddlers, when necessary, rather than saying ‘NO’. This will help keep peace in the family.
Imagine your child is playing in the play pen with a buddy. After a few minutes, her buddy comes near your child and picks a toy lying close by. Following the toddler’s rule of possession, anything remotely near them is theirs and is definitely more attractive in someone’s else’s hands.
Now, this situation can go two ways. The natural course would be conflict for the object of desire – the toy. Both tots would end up crying, screaming and refusing to share.
However, if you redirect your child to another toy by simply exclaiming “Wow! Aanya did you look at this lovely bear”, the situation would end far for differently.
Redirecting your child is an extremely useful tactic and one that warrants success most of the times.
7. Discipline Gently: Too young to understand the gravity of their actions, toddlers must be disciplined gently. Stay firm and talk in an affirmative tone with your toddler.
For example let us say your tot is in a bad mood and starts hitting you. Instead of angrily responding to her, you can calmly hold her hands and say “Hands are not for hitting, darling.” Follow it with a gentle kiss on her palms to help her snap out of her grumpiness. Address the underlying emotion and offer to help her.
This will be far more powerful than scolding your child. The latter often leads to more yelling and screaming. Gentle discipline sends the right message to children of respecting each other and being in control of our emotions.
Later when your child is calm, you can discuss with her ways to handle her emotions. It is never too early to discuss them.
8. Praise the Good Behavior: Remember to praise the good behavior. Children crave our attention. Whether we give it for positive reasons or negative ones, they are going to find ways to seek our attention.
So it is only prudent that we give them what they seek for positive, good behavior.
Whenever you find your child doing something praise worthy, appreciate her. Like when she shares her toys, compliment her. Say it aloud “Wow! I am so glad you are sharing. You are acting like a real grown up girl.”
9. Ignore the bad, sometimes: Expecting your child to be good and well-behaved all the time would be too much. It is not even normal! I would rather be worried if my child acted sweet and nice all the time. Healthy manifestation of emotions is must.
So, it is OK when your child acts up or refuses to budge, as long as it is not becoming a habit. Embrace the imperfections of your child with the same love as you do for his achievements. Ignore him when he refuses to eat with spoon or spills food. He will eventually learn from his mistakes and correct them.
Sometimes, it is also essential to ignore false cries and poor behavior. These are cries for attention and giving in to it every time would do no good. Stay firm at such times. Lets say if your child starts crying at a toy store for a toy which you have said no, ignore her. These are the tantrums you don’t want to nurture.
10. Stay Patient: Patience is a virtue, especially when you are dealing with moody 2year olds. Easier said than done, it is hard to stay in control when you are annoyed. But, remember you are the modeling the behavior to your child.
If you loose patience easily and resort to raising your voice, it is only natural for your children to do the same. So stay in control of your emotions. It is OK to tell your child that you need to be quiet for sometime to gather yourself.
This besides deescalating the situation, also sets the rule for proper manifestation of emotions. Like I often take deep breaths when my son nags me. Over time, he has come to realize that that’s the indication for him to be quiet and get his behavior in line.
Nothing wrong with that, right?
11. Use Consequences Not Time-outs: Use the power of positive discipline to teach your child right way of behaving. Giving children time-out when misbehave, does not really teach anything but the power of authority and dominance.
Hence, instead of using time-outs for disciplining, try positive logical consequences. Like if your toddler refuses to tidy up his toys, he does not get to play with them again.
But before you do that, make him understand that tidying up helps us in finding toys to play with again. And that is why it is necessary. Young children do not understand the logic behind instructions. Making them see the sense behind these chores, thus, is essential and can win half the battle.
In the same way, a toddler who hits will loose his play pal. Even if that is you. Tell him that since he choose to hit, you will not play with him today.
12. Read stories together: Stories certainly have their way to children’s tender hearts. There are lots of titles available that are based around challenging behavior. Read these short fables with your child to influence them to behave better.
I particularly like the Pepper and Bruno series. They use simple, easy to understand language and manage to impart important behavior lessons like sharing, respecting elders, taking turns, brushing teeth etc.
13. Connect with Fellow Moms: Being a mother is not easy. #BeingMom is supreme happiness and, at the same time, frustrating job. To give your best every day to your child, it is essential for you to fill your cup first. Connecting with fellow moms can be extremely comforting. Knowing that there are others going through the same challenges, help ease the burden. It is also good for your children. You can plan play dates, park trips and picnics that also give your child an early start in socializing and making friends.
Using these tips will help you get better out of terrible twos. Some of these tips will work for you while others may not. But do keep trying. A tactic that might not have worked in the past, may work in the future. See what works for you and your child.
Just give yourself and your child time to improve and adapt to this new chapter of your life. And remember, this phase too shall pass.