How to Handle Terrible Twos
Do you know the one phrase that strikes fear into the hearts of parents and teachers more than any other?
It’s those three little words: the terrible twos.
As a parent, you are most likely familiar with the terrible two stage in children. And while it is a completely normal phase in the developmental process, it doesn’t make it any easier on you and everyone else who comes in contact with kiddos going through it. After all, it’s an exhausting period marked by tantrums, stubbornness, defiant behavior, crying and lots and lots of frustration for everyone involved.
While there isn’t a definitive list of characteristics and signs of the terrible two stage, you can bet most children will exhibit a number of characteristics, including:
Throwing tantrums: If you’ve seen one child throw themselves on the floor while flailing their limbs, you’ve seen them all. Total emotional meltdowns are a hallmark of this phase and just one of the many issues you’ll have to address when dealing with the terrible twos.
Sweating the small stuff: Kiddos will often become frustrated when they aren’t understood, regardless of how tiny an issue is. In many cases, they know what they want, they just don’t know how to express it. This often leads to tearful outbursts. Luckily, this issue goes away as children learn how to communicate better and use their words.
Hauling off and hitting (and kicking and biting) someone: Again, since children don’t always know how to use their words and articulate what they want at this stage, they’ll resort to lashing out physically. While this is certainly a normal behavior when dealing with the terrible twos, that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable, so make sure you don’t let it go unaddressed.
Forgetting every word other than “no”: When a child is going through the terrible two stage, “no” will become their favorite word. And it doesn’t even matter if it makes sense in the context of the situation. By this time in their lives, they’ve realized this is a formidable word that wields great power and gets the attention of grown-ups around them.
Luckily, there are a number of tips, techniques and strategies that can help you navigate how to handle the terrible twos.
Be ready: First, it helps to be prepared when dealing with the terrible twos. And one of the best ways to be prepared is to realize the terrible two stage doesn’t necessarily occur right when a child turns two - it can happen anytime during 18 to 30 months - and sometimes can last well into year three.
Keep calm: The last thing that’s going to help calm a screaming toddler is if you match their intensity level by having your own meltdown. If you begin feeling your stress levels rising, try to calm yourself before proceeding and addressing the situation at hand. If you need (and are able to) leave the room momentarily, regroup and collect your thoughts. And if you’re unable to leave the room, briefly pause and take several slow, deep breaths and refocus. The last thing you want to do is lose your cool.
Be consistent: Children need to understand what’s acceptable and what’s not, so setting rules and boundaries is especially crucial at this stage and one of the most important strategies when dealing with the terrible twos. It’s also critical to make sure you are consistently enforcing the rules and in the same manner every time. Toddlers pick up on things we might not expect them to, and if they sense rules aren’t being carried out consistently and uniformly, they may begin ignoring them.
Create structure: Regardless of age, schedules are always helpful for children. This is especially true for toddlers because they provide structure that kids crave. So as much as possible, keep a daily routine in place, including meals and nap times.
Know the triggers: When dealing with the terrible twos, it’s helpful to know a child’s behavioral triggers. There are a number of things that can trigger your child, including fatigue, frustration, hunger and over-stimulation. If you remain aware of these, you can anticipate a tantrum, head it off at the pass and hopefully address the issue before an outburst occurs.
Practice positive encouragement: Even though it might be difficult in the moment, positive reinforcement, praise and encouragement will go a long way when dealing with the terrible twos. Try not to focus on what they’re doing wrong, but instead, reward them when their behavior meets your expectations of them.
Be patient (with your child and yourself): Just keep telling yourself, this too shall pass. Because it will, and at the end of the day you (and your little one) will make it through this and be all the better for it.
If you want more information on how to how to handle terrible twos and navigate this period in your child’s life, ParentEducate.com has a number of great courses to help you navigate the terrible twos.
For instance, An Introduction to Positive Child Guidance will show you the characteristics of positive guidance, Childhood Stress is designed to help you understand the sources and symptoms of childhood stress so you can better understand things that might trigger them and Setting Limits with Infants and Toddlers introduces ways to set limits for your child, including strategies for promoting self-control.
To check out all of ParentEducate.com’s courses (and to claim your free seven-day trial) click HERE!