How to Cope with the Terrible Twos

The “terrible twos” are a time when small children begin to explore their character and demand autonomy. Discover how to deal with them in this article.
How to Cope with the Terrible Twos

Last update: 16 September, 2019

When children reach two years of age, they enter a stage of big physiological and psychological changes, almost like a small puberty. They begin to demand autonomy and express their character in ways that, at times, can exasperate their parents and other adults. So, how can parents cope with the terrible twos?

This stage can begin around 18 months of age and last until they’re four. It’s a normal phase that must be gone through. Its intensity will depend on the child and the family circumstances.

What are the terrible twos?

Any parent with children who have already passed this age can confirm how radically children change around the age of two. Some of the most frequent examples are:

  • Children become capricious and want to impose their wishes at all costs.
  • They become self-centered and possessive, and don’t want to share.
  • The word “no” has been firmly installed in their vocabulary, and they become extremely stubborn.
  • They often don’t accept orders or help from any adult.
  • They easily get angry, for the smallest of things. As a result, they cry, shout, and have frequent tantrums.
  • In their eagerness to impose their will, some children may begin to refuse food or activities that they had previously accepted without a problem.
  • Despite the parents’ attempts, whenever a tantrum occurs, the child doesn’t listen or reason.
How to Cope with the Terrible Twos

Understanding your two-year-old

In all the confusion and exhaustion, many parents wonder who or what has changed their little angel into a small, hysterical, and uncontrollable human being. What could have happened?

By this age, children’s cognitive and motor development have evolved considerably. They’re already able to move freely by themselves, as well as reasoning and choosing. They start to know what they want and how they want to do it.

Up until this point, they’ve been so attached to their parents that they just went with the flow, as it were. However, at around two years of age, they start to notice that they’re actually individual little people, with their own identities, personalities, and abilities.

Becoming individuals

They become self-determined and want to enjoy and use that “separation” from the mother. They start to explore their tastes, ideas, and their own character. At this point, they now want to choose and do things on their own, without adult help or intervention, and they hate it when that independence isn’t respected.

They now see what they want to do, but they don’t see their limitations. They know what they want to do, but often don’t know how to achieve it. In addition to this, they start to become more aware of themselves, and experience more complex emotions, such as pride or shame.

But, of course, they still don’t have the capacity to manage or express their emotions clearly. For that reason, when their parents refuse their wishes, the only way they know how to react is by throwing a tantrum.

At this time of their lives, they aren’t able to fully understand why they can’t have what they so desperately want, and why there should be limits on what they can do or have.

How to Cope with the Terrible Twos

It’s a complicated stage for both parents and children who, on many occasions, don’t know what’s happening to their children, or just why they’re so upset.

How to cope with the terrible twos

Despite being a normal stage of life that will pass by, it can be a desperate time for parents. Frustration and helplessness can become part of your day-to-day life. On occasions, you’ll feel so helpless that you’ll want to throw in the towel.

It’s important for you to realize that, even if you do everything right, you won’t see immediate results in your children. Tantrums are always going to happen and, despite them, the path of patience, love, and respect will always be the right one.

Some points to help you

  • You should never react violently, yell, nor hit your children. Keep calm and talk to them lovingly. Wait patiently for their tantrum to end, and then explain your reasons calmly.
  • If possible, avoid giving a resounding “no” as an answer. It’s preferable to offer them several options to choose from. If what the child wants to do is acceptable, then let him do it. If it isn’t acceptable, stand firm and help him cope with his frustration.
  • Try to keep to routines and let your children know in advance what you’re going to do. This will help them feel safe.
  • Don’t judge and criticize them for their tantrums. They’re not doing it because they want to misbehave; they’re just simply learning to live and, at this age, cruel comments could severely damage their self-esteem.

We hope you’ve found this article about how to cope with the terrible twos interesting. If you’d like to know more, here’s another great article for you on the same subject.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • De Piaget, T. D. D. C. (2007). Desarrollo Cognitivo: Las Teorías de Piaget y de Vygotsky.
  • Etxebarria, I. (2003). Las emociones autoconscientes: culpa, vergüenza y orgullo. EG Fernández-Abascal, MP Jiménez y MD Martín (Coor.). Motivación y emoción. La adaptación humana, 369-393.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.