It’s quasi-impossible to discuss the terrible twos without first letting out a huge sigh. Two-year-olds are a whole other kettle of fish from their previously baby and one-year-old ages. They are suddenly much more aware of everything and especially themselves. While this assertion for independence makes them want to do everything themselves, it also comes at the tremendous cost of driving their parents up the wall.
“A two-year-old is kind of like having a blender, but you don't have a top for it.– Jerry Seinfeld.
Two-year-olds are funny, wacky, irritating, outstanding, and everything in-between. There’s nothing that can prepare any mom – whether a new one or a veteran one—for this crazy stage. It’s certainly twice the challenge since two-year-olds are basically the equivalent of little Tasmanian devils. There’s no controlling them, no stopping them and most of all, no disciplining them… or is there?
In fact, there are a number of strategies to dealing with the challenges thrown by two-year-olds and none of them involve giving in to the tantrum, raising your voice, or any other strategy that escalates the situation.
But if you thought the terrible twos were challenging, wait until you get to the three-nager stage.
Speaking of sleeping, that’s another major problem. As much as the two-year-old might decide to stand up in the crib instead of sleeping, they might decide to drop nap altogether! Day after day of trying to put the toddler for a nap might result in the tired mama giving up completely.
While it’s common for some parents to drop the nap, it’s not ideal at this age yet.
“Major cognitive changes occurring around age 18 to 24 months, and again at 36 to 42 months, can prompt some children to fight napping [...] It’s not necessarily because their physical bodies have decided they don’t need it, it’s their cognitive capacity to want more autonomy and power in the relationship, to fight for stuff when they aren’t allowed to fight for almost anything,” explains Today’s Parent.
Speaking of crying, there is another major difficulty that comes with having to deal with a two-year-old: the constant shrieking. While it’s often labeled as a scream, it does go beyond that, especially on the annoyance scale.
“Shrieking gives toddlers a way of communicating until a more sophisticated system kicks in,” explained Elaine Weitzman, a speech-language pathologist, to Today’s Parent.
Dealing with a shrieking kid is no easy task, especially if you happen to be in a semi-crowded place where all eyes just automatically turn to you in consternation. While you might be tempted to throw in a time-out or leave altogether, Today’s Parent suggests telling a happy shrieker to quiet down, to pat the attention-seeking shrieker on the back to show he’s not being ignored and to distract the angry shrieker with a book or toy.
If dealing with the terrible twos wasn’t hard enough with all the temper tantrums, there’s also the trouble that everything suddenly becomes theirs. Your hair clip? Nope, theirs. Your toothbrush? Wrong, again. Your lunch? Definitely not.
As a famous list on the internet has outlined, a toddler’s rules of possession include but aren’t limited to:
“If I like it, it’s mine. If it’s in my hand, it’s mine. If I can take it from you, it’s mine. If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine. If I saw it first, it’s mine.”
And finally, “If it’s broken, it’s yours.”
Some two-year-olds are just not nice, plain and simple. While many experts consider this phase of development “normal," it can be very hard to deal with.
It can be especially hard to deal with if your little one goes to daycare and you keep hearing about everything they have done in the day to someone else’s little kid. That’s a truly tough one to swallow, especially if you found yourself being frustrated when your first child was on the receiving end of another kid's bullying ways, only to have your second one be the instigator.
“This kind of aggressive behavior towards other children (or adults or objects) is totally normal — it’s a toddler’s way of exploring, and these kids don’t yet fully understand that actions such as hitting are offensive or hurtful,” explains Lucie’s List.
Yelling “no” often leads to a giggle on their part. Instead, the best approach often lies in redirecting the bad behavior and taking the side of the kid on the receiving end of the unfriendliness (e.g. the sibling). Try saying, “Oh nooo poor you, did Malcolm hurt you?”
Mom: “I love you!”
Whereas before they would have happily gone along with any plan, now your not-so-sweet two-year-old just screams “no” at everything in open defiance.
This trait doesn’t just extend to eating vegetables or going to bed when they don’t want to yet either.
They might scream “NO!” when asked to go to the park, whether they want a cookie or anything else that they should seemingly say “yes” to. They don’t necessarily actually not want whatever it is you’re asking as it all boils down to a power struggle and an assertiveness of their own independence.
With “no” being their favorite word, two-year-olds also take full advantage of their mood swings. However, it’s not always as manipulative and intentional as it sounds. They might go from being super happy to eat, only to erupt in a fit of tears upon seeing their seemingly favorite food presented in front of them.
Two-year-olds are temperamental, moody, and some might even argue, worse than teenagers.
The funniest (and most frustrating) part of it all is they don’t always know what they are actually crying about. If you manage to distract them with something else (not an easy feat in itself) they might just eat the food they were just crying about or decide they do indeed want to get dressed and leave the house.
Needless to say, with saying “no” to everything and constant mood swings without always knowing what they’re actually crying about also comes one of the biggest difficulties of all: the complete and utter ability to reason with a two-year-old.
When they decide to start crying over something that makes absolutely no sense to us as parents, then out goes any way of reassuring them. We might instinctively reach out to hug them, only to be met with yet another resounding “NO!” and followed by a cute little push.
Make no mistake, as cute as the whole thing might seem to us, it’s not cute to a two-year-old and it won’t help their mood if you chuckle.
As frustrating as all of the above points are, especially the inability to reason with a two-year-old, parenting is made even more difficult with the fact that you can’t always give in.
"Bribery teaches children to expect rewards for basic behaviors," tells David Gruder, a family therapist, to Parents.com.
Everywhere you turn, the consensus is clear: don’t resort to bribes, no matter how effective they may in the beginning. But when you’re faced with a mega temper tantrum as you’re already running late to get to a doctor’s appoint, it can be hard not to give in.
Even when you do finally give in (much to your own inner apprehension,) there’s a good chance your two-year-old will throw the cookie or whatever it is back in your face anyway.
At a certain point, nearly every parent will consider introducing time-outs. With a two-year-old especially, it can be hard not to, especially as you try to maneuver around giving into what they want while balancing trying to discipline.
However getting them to sit still for an undefined (to them) set of time can result in even more frustrations. Instead, BabyCenter advises:
“Most 2-year-olds just aren't ready for solitary time-outs, so introduce the idea of time-out by taking a "positive" one together.
When your 2-year-old gets revved up and borders on losing control, try saying, "Let's take a time-out to read a book until we feel better." Any quiet activity, such as listening to music, lying down, or putting together a simple puzzle will work.”
As difficult as two-year-olds, and toddlers in general are, there’s a major milestone that needs to get accomplished amidst all the tantrum and assertions for independence: potty training. Lots of guides can be found online on how to potty train a toddler in a week, in three days, etc. Yet, when it comes down to it, it’s not actually as easy as letting them run amok without a diaper for a set number of days, peeing everywhere and not to mention, slipping on their own pee (that's not often talked about but it happens)!
Potty training is a true challenge of the second year and not one to be underestimated.
The inability to always give in also goes hand in hand with food. Whereas your little one may have wanted to eat and everything you offering him or her before, now suddenly, they might turn their nose up at everything, even foods they devoured with eagerness just one week ago. It’s not necessarily that they don’t like that particular food anymore or are picky eaters just yet but it really does boil down to wanting to assert their own independence.
Everyone wants to feel like they have freedom and although they might not understand it yet, so do toddlers.
“Give choices as much as possible—two options you can live with. Maybe it’s carrots or peaches with lunch, or offering the training pants with either Grover or Big Bird,” advises Jillian Roberts, a psychologist specializing in kids and teens, who spoke to Today’s Parent.
With the food boycott also comes the unpleasant habit of throwing food on the floor.
Technically, that’s one bad habit they should have already mastered before the age of two but others only intensify their throwing skills when they turn two. The moment they don’t like or decide they don’t want a particular food, they might get into the habit of throwing it on the floor or pushing it away from them, causing the plate to slide across the table and onto the floor.
Redirection is a great way to stop the habit (e.g. "Here honey, throw the food in your bowl") but sometimes, you might just have to end the meal altogether and deal with a tantrum instead.
Refusing food isn’t the only difficulty when it comes to trying to care for a toddler in the midst of his terrible twos. After spending all day dealing with the temper tantrums and the assertiveness for independence, you might find yourself obsessively checking your phone – you might even have a countdown going until the much-anticipated nap time!
That’s all fine and dandy except that two-year-olds are unpredictable.
They might nap three hours one day only to spend the rest of the next afternoon standing up, banging their cute little hands on the side of the crib and singing (or most commonly, crying.)
In the midst of all the difficulties that could be happening as a result of the rambunctious toddler wanting more autonomy in a heavily controlled environment, there’s another factor that can complicate the second year.
According to Parents.com, “Having another baby opens up a whole new reservoir of reasons to feel culpable. Feeling a stronger draw to one baby over the other, especially if one child was colicky and the other easy, isn't uncommon, but it can make you feel like the worst mom in the world.”
If you thought those feelings were tough to deal with when the child in question was a baby, then they get even tougher at two years old. Two-year-olds require constant monitoring as they are always getting into some kind of mess or just simply looking cute learning a new thing, which can leave other siblings feeling left out.
So make sure to spend lots of one-on-one time with the other siblings too, if you have them!
If having to deal with the mommy guilt wasn’t enough, you might find yourself also experiencing a lack of affection. Some two-year-olds remain cuddle bugs all throughout but others will choose to express their independence at the mention of any hug or kiss by resoundingly screaming “NO!”
As BabyCenter explains, “Two-year-olds' moods can change as quickly, and with as little warning, as the weather. There are about a million reasons why your child might be pushing you away (or suddenly seem desperate for a snuggle).”
It’s a tough time if the two-year-old (or any child for that matter) rejects affection but the key is to just remain patient. It won’t last forever.
If refusing to hug or kiss wasn’t enough, the budding two-year-old might just learn to say some pretty upsetting words. If as you try to hug your little one, they yell out, “go away!” then don’t despair. The chances are they picked it up either from a TV show (think about cutting out the one it could have been) or most commonly, either from daycare or a sibling.
While it can be hard to hear, it’s important to realize that they don’t fully understand what they are actually saying. However, if you react strongly to the words, then they will simply keep saying them over and over again each time.
With pushing away hugs and kisses, two-year-olds might also take up another increasingly annoying little habit: taking their clothes off.
This usually begins with socks, which they might learn to jam into the couch, followed by pants and then, you guessed it, the dreaded diaper. Every toddler goes through it one time or another and you just have to pray it doesn’t happen in the crib when they are supposed to be napping, as you are trying to catch some much-needed shuteye as well and aren’t watching the baby monitor.
As any veteran mom already knows the answer to this one, you might just walk into a poopy mess smeared everywhere.
Needless to say, tantrums at the store or any other public space will be a thing of the present. While you may have already been dealing with such temper tantrum starting at a year old (sometimes before!) there’s a stark difference between a one-year-old temper tantrum and a second-year-old one.
At two years of age, they are bigger, louder and have generally learned how to throw themselves on the floor in such a way that it’s a major challenge to pick them up.
While most tantrums are caused by overstimulation, according to Today’s Parent, it’s still considerably more difficult to just pack up and leave with a two-year-old in tow.
With tantrums at the store also comes the inability to actually bring them anywhere. While a trip to the doctor’s office might sound like a simple task, it actually turns into a major power struggle, starting from the moment that the two-year-old needs to get dressed.
You might plan to start getting ready an hour before actually having to leave, only to find them screaming and crying at the thought of getting dressed. The same goes for once you’re actually finally where you need to be: your budding toddler might just decide that he doesn’t want to stay seated in the stroller, chair, or anywhere else, rendering the whole process exhausting and unpleasant.
Last but not least, the two-year stage is particularly challenging because they just won’t sit or stand still. They have to run around everywhere, especially when you tell them not to.
As every parent already knows, telling a kid not to do something just has for effect to make them do it even more. But the running around habit can be particularly challenging in a store or restaurant. As moms, we’re all paranoid about strangers, so having your little two-year-old disappear around the corner of the alley at the store can literally make your heart skip a beat.
In any case, take comfort in knowing that the two-year stage is actually easier than the three-nager phase.