Navigating the Terrible Twos with Patience and Humor

Posted February 3, 2011 by

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Now that I am embarking upon my fifth round of “terrible twos,” I think I’ve (finally) got it.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have spent time with several two-year-olds and have observed the respective interactions with their parents, other children and related adults. Interestingly, there is a common complaint most first time (and second time) parents express when it comes to their two-year-old child.

I hear it all the time. And, I was also one that would constantly grumble, “What am I doing wrong? Why is she so fussy, cranky, feisty, aggressive, antisocial, selfish, volatile…”

The answer is because the kid is two-years-old. There is a fascinating transformation that occurs when a child turns two. The once sweet, docile, smiley baby that everybody coddled and loved morphs into a whiny, belligerent, annoying little creature.

Folks, it is child psychology 101; your two-year-old is beginning the process of independence and seeking to establish an identity all of his own. He wants to break away, yet is insecure about how to go about it. He wants to make his own choices and feel like a big shot. He needs to feel his parents are there for him should he need them, but only on his terms.

When his temper erupts and he flings himself onto the floor in a rage, landing on his back floundering like a cockroach, leave him alone. Do not try to talk him out of it, reason with him or pressure him to discuss his feelings. He is furious because he is two and is going through the equivalent of puberty with all its accompanying emotional complications. He is confused and wants freedom yet simultaneously still wants to be a baby. He wants it all and still lacks the vocabulary to express his sentiments. Can you imagine how frustrating that is for the child?

My advice for any parent would be to first allow your child to have their attack of ire — just make sure nothing dangerous is in the designated tantrum area that could result in injury. Do not interfere nor give any credence to the wild passionate display of wrath. Stay out of it and give him some space to decompress.

Let him know, in a very stoic and nonchalant manner, that you’ll be waiting for him — to continue playing, eating, dancing, etc. when he has finished with his episode. This allows him to feel in control, albeit of his own fury. This way he can experience a little independence, which is what he so desperately (thinks he) craves. In essence, you are validating your little son or daughter as a free-thinker who chooses to enter into a well deserved frenzy, if he chooses to do so.

Secondly, do not engage the child in decision-making when in such a state of mind. Two options will suffice once his serenity returns. At this tender age, simple choices such as, “Do you want to wear the blue or the red shirt today?” are perfect. Open-ended questions with endless options like “What do you want to wear today?” will overload an already overstressed brain and take the kid hours to reconcile. The key is to encourage simple, independent decision-making when your child is sane — never in a moment of fussiness or exhaustion.

And lastly and most importantly, ignore your child’s negative behavior. Rest assured that he is normal and undergoing inner struggles to emotionally break-free, (but not too much) from his primary caretaker, YOU. Allow him that freedom and respect his developing individuality. Don’t be overbearing, over-analytical, or judgmental of his plight. Do encourage him to re-group during a spurt of alone time — without you trying to be part of his every waking moment. Give the little guy or gal some breathing room for crying out loud.

(If none of the above works, try sending your son or daughter to an orphanage until age three. I guarantee that with the lack of attention, doting, and special treatment, he will become more independent, self-confident and well-balanced as a result.)

About

Darah Zeledon aka The Warrior Mom is a wife, mom of 5, writer, fitness buff and thinker. Her unique voice reveals an experiential and academic knowledge of the social sciences—particularly psychology and sociology. Her empowering messages are born from an appreciation and passion for life and a nonstop quest for truth, reflecting a wisdom and resiliency earned by an array of challenging life experiences. Despite it all, Darah’s personal favorites are the quirky anecdotes exposing the chaotic tug-of-war between motherhood and personal passions. She’s currently working on her memoir—a tragic, yet inspiring story of the last five years of her life entitled: A Lucky Girl. You can read more of her musings at: http://www.warriormom.net

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  1. lisa2276 (Edit) Report

    I also used the naughty seat with a 5 year old (who was 4 at the time) and it works pretty well. He does his time out and then has to apologize to the offended party. He is a much calmer child afterwards. Not every technique works with every child, you just have to trey them out to find the one that works for you.

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  2. Dana (Edit) Report

    I am on the same page as Jennifer. My daughter is just a little over 2. Her tantrums only got worse by ignoring them. We do the “supernanny” technique w/ the naughty chair. She receives a warning first and if the inappropriate behavior continues she is placed in the “naughty” chair w/ a simple direct explanation. This tecniques has curbed her tantrums and is teaching her to deal with her frustrations in an acceptable manner. Each child is different so the techniques that works for some will not work for all. You just have to have realistic expectations of your child and unending patience and love.

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  3. judy (Edit) Report

    This really does work!!! When we got one of our foster children who had been basically locked away for 7 years, had no social skills and was non verbal, she behaved very much like a two year old. Demanding her way or the hiway. I would ignore or if in a bad spot say “this is NOT ok, you need to get …(out of road, etc.)” She listened or calmed quicker. Places like school would coddle and bribe her. “Come on…if you come in we’ll give you fruit snacks, we’ll let you blow bubbles” etc. So it reinforced, I get to do or have extra fun stuff if I act like a wench. This is so true for children who are chronological 2’s as well as the mentally and emotionally two’s also. Now that I am in my 40’s and raising a second family, I don’t get bothered with the fits in a store or out in public…but I hear comments from other people and I know I used to be one of those other people. “Why are they not doing anything”, “Boy that kid is spoiled”, “if he/she were mine……..” But now I know they are not spoiled, that “doing” isn’t going to change but may escalate etc.

    Encouraging in the good times, ignoring when you can in the bad…GREAT advice.

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  4. Jennifer (Edit) Report

    I have to disagree with allowing the tantrums and ignoring the behavior. I tried ignoring the tantrums but they increased and my daughter was not learning that this behavior was unacceptable. I calmly remove my daughter from the situation and place her in time out if she is really acting out of control. (Otherwise, I simply sternly tell her that she is not acting nicely and give her clear instructions how to handle herself – be helpful, ask nicely, etc.)

    In time out, she will sit (and cry and throw her fit) and soon calms down. I can then go in and simply say “your behavior is not appropriate. If you want xyz, you need to ask nicely.” I use simple language to tell her exactly how she is to act in the given situation, then give her the chance to try again.

    I have seen how this helps her learn to control her behavior – in fact, she had a conversation with herself at lunch one day about how to ask for a drink, then she turned and asked “may I please have a drink?” to which I was glad to reinforce with lots of praise and a drink.

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  5. Jo Green (Edit) Report

    Great advice. I have heard this many times from parents – just to ignore the “display”, which can be so hard, but sound like it works.

    Reply

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