The Terrible Twos stage of child development gets talked about, prepared for, and even dreaded, especially by first-time parents. But what is the “terrible twos” stage? Is it all a myth, or does it really strike at the age of two? What causes it?
This stage is characterized by mood swings, temper tantrums, and the dominant (almost automatic!) use of the word “NOOOOO.”
The Terrible Twos occur out of the child’s frustration when they struggle between limited capabilities and their desire for independence. Selfishness rules small children’s life. They want their demands to be met unless parents intervene.
It isn’t just at age 2 that the child goes through this ‘phenomenon. ‘Kids start to undergo significant changes in motor, intellectual, social and emotional abilities at age 2 and continue to develop until age 4.
Their eagerness to learn more and do more is what frustrates them when they can’t do it. it gets worse when they are not able to communicate properly with their parents and caregivers. Their inability to control their emotions often results in outbursts and misbehaviour.
How much a parent understands the child’s changes could help deal with and support the child at this challenging and exciting stage.
While this phase won’t last forever, it sometimes can feel endless. In the meantime, it’s good to have strategies for handling your toddler’s behaviour.
Tips for Coping with Terrible Twos:
- Make sure your toddler is well-rested. Try to plan errands around their naptime.
- Make sure you always have snacks for your toddler to nibble on if needed.
- Don’t cave in. Caving in to your toddler’s tantrums can make it even harder the next time.
- Create fun activities to cure your child’s boredom.
- Be calm. Let your child work through their tantrums at home. Respond calmly to them and don’t give in to demands.
- Redirect your child’s focus on something else, rather than giving them a lengthy explanation on why something is wrong, which they may not understand.
What are the Child Development Indicators of a Two-year-old?
- Posture is more erect; abdomen still large and protruding, back swayed, because abdominal muscles are not yet fully developed.
- Respirations are slow and regular
- Body temperature continues to fluctuate with activity, emotional state, and environment.
- Brain reaches about 80 percent of its adult size.
- 16 baby teeth almost finished growing out
- Can walk around obstacles and walk more erectly.
- Squats for long periods while playing.
- Climbs stairs unassisted (but not with alternating feet).
- Balances on one foot (for a few moments), jumps up and down, but may fall.
- Often achieves toilet training during this year (depending on child’s physical and neurological development) although accidents should still be expected; the child will indicate readiness for toilet training.
- Throws large ball underhand without losing balance.
- Holds small cup or tumbler in one hand.
- Unbuttons large buttons; unzips large zippers.
- Opens doors by turning doorknobs.
- Grasps large crayon with fist; scribbles.
- Climbs up on chair, turns, and sits down.
- Stacks four to six objects on top of one another.
- Uses feet to propel wheeled riding toys.
- Eye–hand movements better coordinated; can put objects together, take them apart; fit large pegs into pegboard.
- Begins to use objects for purposes other than intended (may push a block around as a boat).
- Does simple classification tasks based on single dimension (separates toy dinosaurs from toy cars).
- Seems fascinated by, or engrossed in, figuring out situations: where the tennis ball rolled, where the dog went, what caused a particular noise.
- Attends to self-selected activities for longer periods of time. Discovering cause and effect: squeezing the cat makes them scratch.
- Knows where familiar persons should be; notes their absence; finds a hidden object by looking in last hiding place first. (This is what Piaget termed object permanence, which usually occurs during the sensorimotor stage of Piaget’s childhood theory of cognitive development)
- Names familiar objects.
- Recognizes, expresses, and locates pain.
- Expected to use “magical thinking”.
- Tells about objects and events not immediately present (this is both a cognitive and linguistic advance).
- Expresses more curiosity about the world.
Communication and Language
- Enjoys participating while being read to.
- Realizes language is effective for getting desired responses.
- Uses fifty to three-hundred words; vocabulary continuously increasing.
- Has broken the linguistic code; in other words, much of a two-year-old’s talk has meaning to them.
- Receptive language is more developed than expressive language; most two-year olds understand significantly more than they can talk about.
- Utters three- and four-word statements; uses conventional word order to form more complete sentences.
- Refers to self as “me” or sometimes “I” rather than by name: “Me go bye-bye”; has no trouble verbalizing “mine.”
- Expresses negative statements by tacking on a negative word such as “no” or “not”: “Not more milk.”
- Uses some plurals.
- Some stammering and other dysfluencies are common.
- Speech is as much as 65 to 70 percent intelligible.
- Is able to verbalize needs.
- Asks a lot of questions.
Social and Emotional
- Shows signs of empathy and caring: comforts another child if hurt or frightened; appears to sometimes be overly affectionate in offering hugs and kisses to children
- Continues to use physical aggression if frustrated or angry (for some children, this is more exaggerated than for others); Physical aggression usually lessens as verbal skills improve.
- Temper tantrums likely to peak during this year; extremely difficult to reason with during a tantrum.
- Impatient; finds it difficult to wait or take turns.
- Enjoys “helping” with household chores; imitates everyday activities: may try to toilet train a stuffed animal, feed a doll.
- “Bossy” with parents and caregivers; orders them around, makes demands, expects immediate compliance from adults.
- Watches and imitates the play of other children, but seldom interacts directly; plays near others, often choosing similar toys and activities (parallel play); solitary play is often simple and repetitive.
- Offers toys to other children, but is usually possessive of playthings; still tends to hoard toys.
- Making choices is difficult; wants it both ways.
- Often defiant; shouting “no” becomes automatic.
- Ritualistic; wants everything “just so”; routines carried out exactly as before; belongings placed “where they belong.”
Terrible Twos Moments: Any tips on how you handled it?
Our little toddler is a complete daddy’s boy. But with daddy in training a long drive away he isn’t always the greatest to me. A couple months back he was set on eating a dead junebug, after the neighbours called the military police because of his screeching noise, the military police couldn’t help but laugh at why he was having his fit. One of them then proceeded to video call Kaedan’s dad to talk him down and let him play in the car.
– Robyn M. | Petawawa
When he took a fit when we were in walmart , over a spiderman blanket . i picked him up out of the cart and walked to my car and went home.
– Sarah A. | Thunderbay, ON
My son was by no means an angel, but he was pretty well behaved. We did have a few incidents with car seats, if he wasn’t ready to go when we needed to go, he would fully refuse his car seat. The one time he rufused to go in his seat (I think we had a doctor’s appointment or something), and I was so rushed to get going and not be late as it was, the last thing I needed was to fight with him. I remember telling him, ok, I will sit in your car seat. (He was also in the no, mine phase at this time). Well that just sent him into a frenzy, no it’s my car seat, you can’t sit in it. So I put him in the back, as I climbed into the back, to get in his seat, he pushed me away. “No, mine” and sat right down in his seat, ready to go. I chalk that up to a parenting win.
– Dawne R.
Throwing a tantrum because I couldn’t take my new, but muddy, boots into bed with me for a nap. Mommy compromised by letting them sit on the floor beside my bed!
– Britanny S. | Bladworth, SK
We had decided to go to the demolition derby, in my hometown, and watch the cars smash and bash each other. Completely forgetting how long this event was, my daughter took to climbing up the dirt, sloped walk way. I was carrying my 5 month old, and saw she was getting in the way, so I asked her to come back, she kept climbing, so I went to get her. She proceeded to scream, kick and throw herself into the dirt. With at least 300 people there, us in the center. I scooped her up, 5 month old in hand, while she screamed bloody freaking murder! I couldn’t help but laugh. I got to be THAT parent, the parent you see, before you’re a parent with their screaming toddler. I had finally got that moment, and couldn’t help but smile. My overtired, over stimulated, tiny terror, gave me another first. As terrible as her blood curdling screams were, and no matter how much dirt was flying, I still had to have a little laugh.
– Laina R. | Agassiz, BC
My son regularly throws temper tantrums. The kind that make you cringe and feel bad for ‘that mom’ who has to handle it when you hear it in public. When he was 2.5yo we flew internationally and while in the securities line he went wild. This was the only time we were glad he did, because we were hand-picked by a considerate security officer who put us at the front of a 200-person long line. The only time it came in handy!
– Lila B. |Winnipeg, MB
One day Ada picked up the cats food dish, so I calmly asked her to put it back down. She immediately threw the dish (and herself!) to the floor and began kicking, screaming, and crying in the huge mess of cat food. I had no idea what to do because she had never behaved this way before. I took a step back and let her sort her emotions out for a minute. Needless to say, we keep the cat food out of reach now!
– Katie L. | Vancouver, BC
We were at the park and having a blast when I smelt something funny. My son was just about to go down the slide when I noticed something brown on his legs and knew he had experienced the dreaded diaper “blow out”. I had no choice but to encourage him to go down the slide. Since we live close to the park I didn’t have a diaper bag, so he had to walk about 5 minutes home in an uncomfortable state all while being upset about our sudden park departure.
— Lori | Ancaster
She wanted a grilled cheese, but didn’t want it cooked. Lol I have a photo to go with it.
– – Larissa F. | Moncton, NB
I am a mother of kid who just turned 2 and I am also 12 weeks pregnant with the second child. You won’t believe how exhausting it feels to be pregnant and have to deal with my son most of the time. He doesn’t want to spend time or be fed by his Daddy. He wants me to give him milk/snacks. He wants me to put him to bed. He follows me around ALL the time. What can I do? Maybe just hope that this stage will pass…..before the second baby is born.
– Lisa N. | Toronto, ON
My 2 and a half year old son is developing this really terrible behavior. He has never acted like this before. He used to be bright and smart for his age. It used to be so easy to teach him things. These days all I hear is “NOOOOO” and he screams at the top of his lungs, as he rolls all over the floor. There are many times when we couldn’t even figure out what he wants. If he only knew that we were just as frustrated as he was!
– Crystal T. | Vancouver, BC
I am a concerned grandma. My granddaughter is adorable, but when the meltdown happens, it turns all our world around. She runs like the wind, sometimes even throwing off anything she sees. Her meltdowns are like none I have ever experienced and she screams louder than any toddler I have ever heard. When she is in a good mood, she displays a very loving behaviour to everyone, even pets. I find that calm manner is a better approach than allowing frustration to show in our behaviour towards children at this stage. I heard this quote about terrible twos are like a blender with no lid! That’s the kind we have at home!!! LOL
– Grandma Olivia | Winnipeg, MB
Written by: Donna Costa
Check out our blog – Baby and Toddler Speech Milestones