The "terrible twos" are frequently spoken by both parents and paediatricians. This is a common developmental period encountered by young children, frequently characterised by tannery, stubborn behaviour, and much anger. When your child turns 2 the terrible twos don't always happen yet. The terrible two usually start anywhere between the ages of 18 to 30 months, and, despite what the name implies, can last well into the third year of life.
Although the tantrums will definitely still occur after your child turns 3, by then they also become less regular. Read on for more information on what to expect and how to manage the awful twos…
What Are the Terrible Twos?
The terrible twos - characterised by stubborn behaviour, like saying "no," hitting, kicking, biting or violating rules - can start as early as after a first birthday, or may not set in until a child is 3 years old.
What Causes the Terrible Twos?
While irritating and stressful (probably for both of you), the terrible twos is a natural developmental period and a sign that your child has reached some pretty significant developmental milestones. Around age 2 is when walking , running, talking and being heard get easier, and also when they tend to imitate what others do. We want help with laundry, talking on the phone, washing their hands and following adult routines.
Yet they also don't know what's fragile, which is why they can check limits. They still gauge their independence: Toddlers like to do something on their own, but they still like someone to be near by watching them and may not have the vocabulary to express their desires. They may want to put on their socks by themselves, but they want you to watch - or they want you to help but only by pulling the fabric over their toes. And if you don’t meet their exact expectations? Hello, tantrums.
Signs of Terrible Twos
Although there's no definitive list of signs that the terrible twos are reaching and each kid is different, these common clues will tip you off to the fact that your child has entered the terrible twos stage — even if she's not exactly 2 years old.
- Kicking, biting or hitting - Since children may not have the vocabulary to express themselves, and fail to develop impulse control, they may be physically lashing out. As annoying as it is, terrible twos and hitting go hand in hand — but while it's common, it's a behaviour that needs to be handled consistently to halt it.
- Tantrums - Scream, wail or throw yourself on the floor are typical elements of a terrible twos temper tantrum, a characteristic of this period of development.
- Saying “no” - Even if the "no" doesn't make sense in the situation (like when you're offering a favourite dessert or toy), while testing boundaries and learning the power of the word, kids tend to overuse this phrase.
- Territorial fighting - Toddlers are at this stage learning the "mine" concept, experts say. Because of that, they may become very territorial and pick fights with people (and even pets!) who take what's "theirs," even though it's a normal thing like a sofa, chair or particular spot on the floor.
Tips for managing the terrible twos
To help your child (and yourself) through the terrible twos, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following:
- Keep a regular meal and sleep schedule. Tantrums are more likely to happen when your child is tired or hungry.
- Try to avoid yelling - you want to model perfect behavior for your child.
- Praise behaviors you approve of and ignore ones you want to discourage.
- Hold simple laws, and have short explanations. For example, tell your child that when they cross the street they have to hold their hand, because you don't want a car to hurt them.
- Let your child have some control by offering a choice between two things. For example, you might say “Would you like to wear your pink hoodie or yellow jacket today?”
- Keep your toddler’s home environment safe. If you don’t want them getting into something, put it out of sight if you can.
- Don’t give in - Set your limits and be consistent. If that means your child has a full-blown tantrum in the grocery store because you won’t buy a candy bar, simply remove your child from the situation and wait until things calm down. You won’t be the first parent to leave a full cart in a random aisle.
- Stay calm. Your child will feed off your stress. Count to 10 or take a deep breath, whatever helps you to keep your cool.
When to seek help
The tantrums and rebellion that come with the awful twos are common, but if you feel like the behaviour gets out of hand or you're simply frustrated, speak to the paediatrician of your child. Your child's doctor can also give you advice on how to handle the behaviour and inform you if a mental health examination is required.