The Terrible Two’s

Every year of a child’s life has its up and downs, but two year olds get a bad rap, being called the terrible two’s. What is up with that? Well actually there is some developmental research behind why it can be so terrible. As a play therapist we often say that being two is only terrible for the parent, it is freedom for the child. A few months before a child turns two they start to develop self awareness, which can sometimes cause them to be clingy. But around two they feel comfortable in their new found self-awareness and are ready to show it. From them comes the five behaviors that drive you crazy, that are actually developmentally appropriate. Keep in mind that these are mostly related but tend to show themselves in different ways.


1. Rigid or inflexible in behavior

Your child is probably starting to show pretty specific food preferences, they have more opinions about clothes they like or don’t like, they might even prefer a certain television show or movie. It can be hard for your little one to try new things, they may get upset from not having things done their own way. Some see this manifest in a lack of patience. To help relieve some of this, talk to your child before a situation might arise. This is called ‘pre teaching.’ You can explain what you expect and and why. Your child might not understand completely but it should relieve some of the frustrations. You can let your child know that you are only staying at the park for five more minutes, instead of ‘we have to leave now.’ This can help them deal with the frustration before it becomes an issue

2. Takes ownership or defense of objects

Ever heard the phrase ‘mine.’ Probably more than you can count, right? Remember how a two year old has a new found self awareness? Well that means he is starting to see the difference between people and things also. And he is wanting those things. Honestly this one is hard to overcome, but let them know that some things are theirs and some things aren’t.  Let them know which toys are theirs and which ones aren’t, especially if they have siblings.

3. Frequent Temper Tantrums

I hope that this comes as some sort of relief, knowing that your child should be tantruming frequently, but it still doesn’t make it easy to deal with. A lot of times these tantrums come from feeling frustrated, either from not being able to communicate their wants and needs, often times this shows itself through hitting. Or from wanting to do something that physically or cognitively they aren’t able to do yet. Think wanting to cook dinner, or wanting to jump off of the counter by themselves.  Empathetic phrases can always be helpful to relieve some of the stress that causes temper tantrums. Letting them know that you understand how hard it is to sit through church, but give him a solution, such as would you like to color or would you like to look through a book while we are there?

4. Boundary testing

I feel like this one can really push you to the limit. They are starting to realize that there are boundaries to their behavior and they will push you until you set that boundary. Essentially your two year old is testing you and what you will or will not put up with. There are so many instances of this, but a common one is at the store wanting something, they will see how much crying will actually get them what they want. The key to winning this battle is CONSISTENCY!! No matter how horrible it is, it will get better if you are consistent. Every time your child cries and then gets what they want (for example; attention, treat, out of their carseat…) you are telling them that your limit is crying, when they cry you give in. I don’t know about you, but that sounds terrible, to have a child that cries for everything. This is where you need to decide beforehand (as much as you can) what you want as a boundary or limit, i.e. how much crying will get them what they want, what is expected at home, the store, or with extended family.

5. Asserting independence

The last one is actually very similar to the first one, but tends to show itself a little different. You can see this independence a lot by how your little one wants to do things on his own; he doesn’t seek out help as often, especially when he needs it. He gets frustrated easily when you try to do things for him, such as feeding him or holding his hand. This is the stage that a lot of children hate riding in the shopping cart, and would prefer to walk or run around. The best tip I can give you for helping with this one is choices. Offering them two choices that they can do will help them feel independent because they made the choice. For example if they aren’t wanting to go outside, you can give them the option of either putting on their own shoes, or putting on their coat. This way they feel more like it is their choice to go outside.

I hope some of these tips helped, and take heart, it just gets worse when you get a three year old going on thirteen 😉 But sometimes knowing that this difficult stage of parenting is normal can take the steam off. Don’t be afraid to laugh about the hilarity of the tantrums and find some sanity for yourself.



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