little girl in yellow sundress and hat

2-year-olds aren’t terrible—they’re just learning how to be human

Ever heard of the terrible twos? Yes, I’m talking about the phase in life where you take your 2-year-olds to the grocery store, and one minute they are riding in the seat of the grocery-cart calm, cool, and collected and you then turn around, just for a second, and you got a screaming toddler on your hands. I think most parents know this situation all too well, and I’m sure many of us have thrown in the towel and swore to god that you will never enter a grocery store with your child until they’re officially a 3-year-old  and the terrible twos have finally come to an end. 

While it’s easy to write-off our children’s temperament to just be another case of the terrible twos, there’s really more to the story, and wait for it… a lot of it’s because of our own expectations of our now 2-year-old child.

Think about it. When your child was born, it was probably the best day of your life. And for the next year to year-and-a-half, you gave your child a free pass. And why wouldn’t you? They’re a baby. 

At any time of the day, your baby would coo, cry, poop, and wake you up every night, and I can guarantee you this is what you would think: ‘well it’s my baby, of course, they’ll cry and need my attention. I mean, They’re just a baby after all!’ 

But what makes a toddler so different? It’s as if because they’re an extra six months older we’ve created an absolutely different set of expectations for them. And you’re not alone – I’m pretty sure after the fifth temper tantrum of the week, every parent starts counting down the days until their toddler turns three. In no way am I saying that a three-year-old will likely have significantly fewer tantrums (and this is of course something to look forward to) but I’m saying that maybe there’s a point to the tantrums besides irrationality – I mean they’re still learning how to be human after all. 

So why do 2-year-olds have so many tantrums? 

Let me start by saying these temper tantrums are completely natural. And if it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be a nickname to classify just how difficult all 2-year-olds are. In fact, your child is most likely throwing a tantrum because they have unmet needs that they can’t communicate with you [1].

At two, our children’s brains are still developing, so emotions such as anger, frustration, fear, and seeking out the safety of their parents will most likely turn into a temper tantrum [1]. Unless of course your 2-year-old has the sophistication of a 6-year-old and for that, I applaud you. 

2-Year-Olds: The strategies can we use to deal with their temper tantrums 

KidsHealth, a trusted source for physician-reviewed information, offered some advice on how to best deal with your toddler when that oh-so-precious temper tantrum takes full effect. Here are five key strategies they offered [2]: 

1. Positive Attention

I know it may seem a little weird to give your child positive attention after they just threw the BIGGEST temper tantrum you think you’ve ever seen but hear me out – operant conditioning is no joke. Obviously, talk to yourself after an incident and communicate that throwing a tantrum is not okay but also remember to reward them when they are being sweet and have done something well. When we reward our toddlers for good behavior, you’ll start to see this good behavior a little more often because that’s right – our toddler associates it with a reward. 

2. Let them make the choices sometimes

Could you imagine just learning how to walk and seeing how big and magical the world is and then having no choice over what you do or where you go? Sounds awful, right? Well, that’s the reality of a toddler. They want to explore and make decisions sometimes, maybe we should let them. 

This leads me to the next piece of advice: 

3. Choose your battle

When you’ve said no to your toddler, and they continue to insist. Try and take a breath and consider if what they are asking for is really that big a deal and if saying no is so important that it’s worth a tantrum. 

4. Take away temptation 

If there’s chocolate or wine (or whatever your guilty pleasure is) sitting in front of you and someone said you’re not allowed to eat it, that would suck, right? But if you never knew the chocolate and wine was there, suddenly it’s not so bad. Same with our kids. If they see something they like and it’s off-limits…here comes a tantrum. Best to keep all things off-limits away from your toddler to avoid this altogether. Out of sight, out of mind. 

5. Distract your child 

Now here is where you can take advantage of your child’s developing brain – their attention span is pretty short. Here is where you can take them to a new room or the backyard to switch up the environment, or maybe even introduce a new activity, different from the one that caused their temper tantrum in the first place. 

And there you go, five ways to make the terrible twos just a little bit more tolerable! Good luck to all the parents out there with 2-year-olds! (Now just wait until they’re three.)

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  1. Toddler Tantrums – How to Deal With Tantrums In 2 Year OldsParenting For Brain
  2. Temper Tantrums.” Kids Health.