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Smart Strategies to Tackle the “Terrible Twos”

When your baby is born, you’re head-over-heels in love. You genuinely enjoy and appreciate each moment you spend together. After your child reaches the age of two, you may reflect on this phase with your little bundle of joy and miss how much easier it seemed in comparison. The good news is that you can survive this challenging time of life by following specific strategies to manage what is well known as the “terrible twos.”

At two years old, a new phase of development begins. At this stage, most children develop their sense of self and want to do things independently while actively exploring their environment. They’re no longer completely helpless and will be sure to let you know that fact. Language development rapidly progresses, and kids typically learn the names of objects of interest and the ability to express their ideas, wants, and needs. As they discover their independent nature, yes, they will also develop the ability to say “NO!” at this time.

A significant challenge for young children is learning what psychologists call emotional regulation. “Meltdowns” are common during this period. They’re no longer babies, but they’re still likely to have problems communicating well and being patient, as well as having self-control. Parents can use the bond formed during infancy to help their children learn to manage their emotional expression and begin to grasp the concept of delay of gratification. While they instinctively seem to have the ability to say “NO” more than ever before, toddlers also need help learning how to accept “No” from others.

It’s beneficial to learn to plan ahead with a toddler. Schedule your daily activities around your child’s naptime and anticipate their responses when you can. For example, avoid trips to the store when it’s too close to naptime. If possible, wait until your child is well-rested from their early afternoon slumber. If you must go out to the store, try to do it during the part of the day when your child is generally in a good mood. You can prevent headaches later on by avoiding trips when you know they could be cranky.

Another helpful planning strategy is to ensure your children eat before leaving the house. It’s best to plan outings when they’re less likely to be hungry. Just in case, have healthy snacks and drinks on hand while you’re out and about. You’ll thank yourself later.

Many two-year-olds don’t like change. If this describes your child, try to let them know ahead of time what will happen. Tell them 10-15 minutes before you have to go somewhere or switch an activity so they can start transitioning from one situation to another. This will give them time to absorb the information and anticipate what is coming next.

It’s also a good idea to be clear about what you expect before leaving to do errands, for example. Before heading into a store, you can explain to your child that while they may not be able to get candy or a toy, if they behave in specific ways (for instance, not ask for candy), they can do something fun upon returning home. Communicate in a way they can understand by being short in explaining your expectations.

It’s common for young children to desire to do something that doesn’t yet align with their abilities. For instance, your child may express wanting to get dressed independently, yet they haven’t reached this developmental milestone. Furthermore, they do not yet possess the language skills to ask for help if needed. This combination can cause frustration, leading to unruly behavior (like throwing a toy) and tantrums.

Don’t wait to deal with your child’s defiant behavior. Before they reach this stage, decide how you’ll respond the first time your child throws a tantrum when they don’t get their way. Be specific and firm: tell your child no hitting, biting, whining, or whatever it is they’re doing that you deem inappropriate. The key is to be consistent in handling problem behaviors each time they arise and not give in to demands. Doing so will only serve to reinforce this kind of negative behavior, which you want to avoid.

Acknowledge your children’s feelings of frustration, anger, or sadness. Explain that these feelings are normal, but acting in a way that will hurt others is not okay. Understand your toddler’s abilities. Help them find the words they need to express themselves. Hold them, tell a joke they can understand, or speak in a soft voice to soothe them. If your child acts out in public, calmly remove them from the situation immediately. For example, if you’re at a store and a tantrum occurs, leave the building if possible and sit with your child in the car until they can gain control of their emotions.

Recognize your child is growing up (often faster than you’d like), and they can do things they were unable to in the past. Give your kids activities that will allow them to show off what they can do. Doing so will also help them remain occupied to avoid the “terrible two” behaviors. Make a big deal out of them putting their clothes in their dresser or helping you set the table. Find small things they can achieve which will give them a reason to shine and for you to be proud of their accomplishments.

Try following these parenting tips to tackle the terrible twos. Be mindful of the importance of planning and learn to anticipate both your child’s needs and their reactions over time. Try to speak to your kids in ways they can understand without lengthy explanations. Take a deep breath, and know that this challenge will end soon, leading to another exciting period of learning and growth for your child that is easier than the last.