How to Handle Your “Terrible Twos”

While the “terrible twos” might be challenging, we spoke with several professionals to learn how to handle your “terrible twos” and navigate this stage with patience, compassion, and grace.

If you are a parent of a small child, you are concerned about your child entering the toddler years, namely the “terrible twos” phase. The term “terrible twos” characterizes the challenges of parenting a 2-year-old child.

Yet although the name of this stage makes it sound bad, not every moment of parenting a 2-year-old is terrible. In actuality, 2-year-olds are inquisitive, creative, and lovely beings. In addition, if you have the correct attitude and a few tricks up your sleeve, the difficult parts will be much easier to negotiate.

We spoke with professionals in the industry to gain a deeper understanding of the terrible twos and for advice on navigating this stage with grace, knowledge, and a healthy perspective.

What Are Terrible Twos?

“The ‘terrible twos’ refers to the sometimes troublesome behaviors of children around the age of 2,” says Ali Alhassani, MD, pediatrician, and clinical director at Summer Health. Dr. Alhassani said that the term “terrible twos” has been in use since around the 1950s. He says it typically depicts a young child who says “no” frequently, challenges authority, and has frequent mood swings.

Also, remember temper tantrums. Dr. Alhassani notes that toddlers in their terrible twos have a tendency to throw tantrums “on a whim.” Regardless of how boisterous and distracting a 2-year-behavior old’s can be at times, he reminds parents that this is a normal growth stage.

Dr. Alhassani adds that this behavior is normal for a youngster whose brain is developing rapidly: “Parents may be annoyed to hear this, but it is natural and healthy for a child.” “Kids are beginning to articulate their desires but still lack the capacity for emotional management and patience.” Also, he observes a broad range of normalcy when it comes to the terrible twos. While some toddlers can be fairly tough at this age, others are more cooperative and placid.

When Do Terrible Twos Begins?

The terrible twos often peak around the age of 2; however, there are no hard and fast laws regarding this phenomenon. Some youngsters mature early, while others enter their fussy, stubborn phase a bit later. Jennifer Weber, Psy.D., director of PM Behavioral Health for PM Pediatric Care, states, “While some children may exhibit terrible two behaviors prior to 2 years (18 months+), the majority of children begin to exhibit increased emotional outbursts, instability, and oppositionality between 2 and 3.”

Notably, according to Dr. Weber, it is also usual for children to exhibit terrible twos behavior after turning three. This can be a rude awakening for parents who believed they were through with this phase! “When it develops a bit later, it is typically owing to the demands of toileting, preschool/daycare, and social restraints,” notes Dr. Weber.

What are the Characteristics of the Terrible Twos?

How can you tell if your child has reached the feared terrible twos? According to Dr. Alhassani, a classic symptom is that your kid frequently refuses to do what you ask. “Your toddler will regularly say ‘no’ to activities such as getting dressed, eating, and sleeping (commonly referred to as a sleep regression),” he explains.

According to Dr. Alhassani, your youngster will also begin to throw tantrums over ostensibly little annoyances. Dr. Weber notes that you may also observe your child actively deviating from his or her typical routine and engaging in disturbing behaviors such as biting, throwing things, and destroying toys.

How Can You Manage Your Toddler’s Terrible Twos?

Being anxious about your toddlers’ new and occasionally explosive actions is normal, yet there is cause for optimism. Here are some expert ideas for navigating this difficult phase.

Modify your expectations.

Having realistic ideas of what 2-year-olds are like and what behavior you should expect from them can go a long way. According to Dr. Alhassani, just because your child can already walk, talk, and feed does not mean they are ready for advanced teaching. So give your child (and yourself) a break.

Plan your behavior.

Dr. Weber recommends having a clear plan for rewarding positive behavior as well as a plan for addressing any off-task behavior. This may entail removing your child from risky or disruptive settings and/or instituting time-outs. Rewarding positive conduct may involve frequently praising your child when they act nicely. This will teach your youngster what acceptable and unacceptable behaviors are. This provides plenty of opportunities for your child to practice emotional regulation.

Build up consistent procedures.

According to Brianna Leonhard, creator of Third Row Adventures, a trained teacher, and board-certified behavior analyst, anticipating any undesirable behaviors can be incredibly beneficial (BCBA). “Parents may manage the terrible twos by establishing routines before the tantrums begin,” she explains. Again, this may need persistent responses to undesirable behaviors and consistent confirmations of good behavior. According to Leonhard, establishing predictable, consistent routines for everyday activities and naps/sleep helps lessen anxiety and temper outbursts.

Provide your child two options.

Leonhard is a proponent of giving children options whenever possible. “Parents can give toddlers two options to give them a sense of autonomy while retaining parental control,” she explains. For instance, you can offer your youngster a banana or an apple as a healthy snack option. “The toddler is given a choice and can take responsibility for their snack, but both options are acceptable to the parent,” she explains.

Assist your youngster in finding their “quiet body.”

Even 2-year-olds, according to Dr. Weber, may acquire calming ways to deal with “large” emotions. Help children acquire skills like deep breathing and finding their “quiet body” early on, as Dr. Weber explains. When your child is not in tantrum mode, you can teach them these techniques so that when they are, they will be able to apply them.

For instance, if your child is beginning to become dysregulated, you may be able to tell him or her that their body is not peaceful, which should prompt them to apply previously learned calming tactics. According to Weber, the following phrases are acceptable: “Your body is not tranquil, honey. You are crying so intensely. Before we continue playing, I will wait for you to have a peaceful body in the other room.” Applaud your child’s efforts to calm themselves. They will improve with time at doing so.

When to Seek Outside Assistance

While the majority of “terrible twos” behavior is typical and something your child will outgrow, a few habits require some outside assistance. Dr. Weber advises parents to contact their kid’s pediatrician if they observe potentially dangerous behaviors in their child, such as headbanging, sibling abuse, or property destruction.

Your doctor can assist you in determining whether or not a referral to a child therapist, neurologist, developmental pediatrician, or other behavior expert is necessary. Regardless of the situation, realize that you are not alone. Parenting 2-year-olds is difficult. Yet, as with every other aspect of parenting, this too shall pass.

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