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A parent’s guide to the “terrible twos”

08 November, 2023

If your adorable child has suddenly turned into a screaming monster who just won’t listen to reason, it could signal the arrival of the dreaded “terrible twos”! Take a deep, calming breath and know there are ways to navigate this stage. We’ll share our best tips with you.


What are the “terrible twos”?

It’s helpful to know the “terrible twos” are a normal developmental stage that most children experience. Not sure if your little one is there yet? If they suddenly start to lose their cool when you bring them the “wrong” socks or when you cut their toast into squares instead of triangles, that could be the first signs of “terrible twos”. Take heart in knowing that your child doesn’t mean to behave so irrationally, they’ve just got a lot going on in their growing brains! They’re developmentally ready to have their own ideas and preferences, but they can’t yet communicate them and it’s super-frustrating!


What causes the “terrible twos” and why does it happen?

Imagine having a clear idea about what you want to eat for breakfast, what outfit you want to wear today or book you want to read, but no one understands you and they keep offering you something else. It’s kind of irritating. Now imagine that happening ALL DAY LONG. Add to that perhaps you’re feeling a bit tired. Or hungry (because your sandwich had peanut butter instead of vegemite on it so you didn’t eat it!).

Frustration is a big contributor to two-year-old tantrums. While toddlers are growing at a rapid rate both intellectually and physically, their language skills often aren’t advanced enough to articulate all the new thoughts and ideas whirring through their brains.


Symptoms of the “terrible twos

“Terrible twos” symptoms can vary in individual children as they respond to this stage in different ways. Usually, compliant children may start to:

  • Say ‘no’;
  • Refuse to cooperate;
  • Insist on doing tasks independently;
  • Test boundaries;
  • Have mood swings;
  • Fight with siblings or playmates;
  • Kick, spit, bite or throw objects when angry;
  • Scream or yell and;
  • Have temper tantrums.


Tips for navigating the “terrible twos”

Recognising this developmental phase can help you to respond to your child’s behaviour with the patience and understanding they need. As always, sticking to a good routine, ensuring adequate sleep and providing nutritious food will help children feel safe and secure.

Given that frustration around communication is a big contributor, it may be worth spending time working out agreed non-verbal cues with your child, such as nodding and shaking their head for yes and no, or pointing to their preferred option.

Allowing more time to involve your child in choosing their outfit or sandwich filling respects their increasing need for independence. It can be helpful to offer them two simple choices, rather than overwhelming them with everything in the cupboard!

Praising good behaviour can be helpful, while some children respond well to calming techniques, and distraction is a great tool for every parent. For those times when these all fail, you may consider taking away privileges or putting your child in timeout. Most importantly, try to stay calm. Our Parent’s Guide to Surviving Temper Tantrums may help.


How long does the terrible twos last?

If you’re in the midst of it, I’m sure you’re keen to know when do “terrible twos” end! Of course, it varies from child to child! While the “terrible twos” usually appear in children after they turn two, it may occur up to a year earlier or later, hence the term “terrible threes”! The good news is, this behaviour eases as children develop more language skills and are able to better manage their emotions.


Do all children experience the “terrible twos”?

Experts agree most children experience the “terrible twos” to some extent. Research shows tantrums occur in 87 per cent of 18 to 24-month-olds and 91 per cent of 30 to 36-month-olds.


When to seek help

While tantrums are normal, constant, dangerous or extreme tantrums and defiance can indicate a behavioural disorder. If you’re feeling unsure or overwhelmed, it is worth speaking to your General Practitioner or Pediatrician.


Find support at Edge Early Learning

At Edge Early Learning, we’re committed to supporting parents to help children grow and thrive. We have excellent routines in place and provide children with understanding and care through all their developmental stages. Learn more about the importance of routines in early childhood, here!


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