What are the Terrible Two’s & How to Manage It

Updated: Oct 19, 2019

As a mental health professional who specializes in parenting, toddler temper tantrums are a popular topic in my office. Parents frequently want to know more, asking a variety of questions:

> What is the Terrible Two stage in toddlers?

> How do you manage the Terrible Two stage?

> How do you manage temper tantrums in toddlers?

> How do you manage temper tantrums in public with your toddler?

If you have a toddler in your home, you’ve probably come to ask many of these same questions yourself!

Toddlers are like little adults in many ways. They have their own ideas on how things should be done, and usually on the stubborn and willful side. The Terrible Two's are a pretty well-known stage of child development… and dreaded by most parents. But why? Why exactly does this stage post such a difficult time in parenting?

How can you better manage toddler temper tantrums?

What is the Terrible Two's?

The Terrible Two's can start as early as 18 months and last until about 3 ½ years of age. By the age of 4, most children have out grown this stage, and they go back to the desire of pleasing their parents.

During this time in a child's development, children are discovering themselves. They come to recognize that they have "needs" and "wants." They also discover that there are certain activities they just don't like.

Children during this time become “ego-centric.” This means that it becomes all about them all the time! At this stage, they’ve come to realize that they exist as independent persons, separate from you or anyone else. As such, you'll start hearing things like, "that's mine," or "I want that," or "give it to me!" Sound familiar? The words "I," "Me," or "Mine" will become very popular, and used in almost any phrase or sentence they say.

Now, the Terrible Two's are considered terrible, because children begin having tantrums at this stage. You might witness crying, kicking, screaming, hitting, biting, or watch the child throw himself on the floor. These behaviors are normal and to be expected.

There are many reasons why toddlers will engage in this behavior:

1) Inability to Communicate

Most toddlers around this age lack the ability to effectively communicate their wants and needs. They don't have an expansive vocabulary, and thus, struggle to communicate their feelings to others. As a result, children become frustrated, which then turns into negative behaviors that develop into tantrums.

2) Poor Modeling

Another potential reason for tantruming is poor modeling from parents or other important adult role-models. Most adults will raise their voice when they are angry, or will even "storm off" when they are upset. Some adults will slam doors, throw papers on the floor, or simply toss objects they are holding in an aggressive manner. When you think about it, that is simply an Adult Tantrum.

If your children are watching you engage in that behavior, they will assume that the appropriate way to communicate their own anger or frustrations to others is by imitating this same behavior.

If you are unsure whether you are guilty of this (HINT: most adults are), ask someone who knows you personally and has frequently seen you during times of anger and frustration. Let an objective person share with you what they have seen.

3) Impulsivity

Children at this age have a very difficult time controlling their emotions and behaviors. A large part of this has to do with impulsivity. Most toddlers are very impulsive, and will simply act out thoughts or ideas that come to their mind without stopping to think about the consequences of their behaviors.