Terrible Twos: Why 2-Year-Olds Are Difficult

By Heather Burdo

Have you ever noticed when your child is two-years-old or even approaching that age, it’s like they have transformed into a tiny human with an immense amount of attitude? Who knew attitude could happen at this age, especially this intense.

You’re not alone when you go through this. It’s not just your child, and there is definitely nothing wrong with your little one, either. So, what exactly is going on to make this adorable little person full of so much “tude”?

What Exactly Does “Terrible-Twos” Mean?

This term has been used for years by parents to describe a change in their two-year-old child’s behavior. Parents relate it to this age because that’s when they notice how fast their child’s mood and behavior can shift. It can seem like one minute your child wants to grab a blanket, curl up in your lap and cuddle - while other times, they seem to whine for no reason and want to run in the other direction.

A Two-Year-Old Isn’t Trying to Act Out

While this phase can certainly stress you out (and that’s normal) it’s important to know that your child isn’t trying to test your patience on purpose. What’s happening is that during this age, children go through a major emotional, intellectual, motor, and social change.

Your little one can understand more speech than he or she can express - which leads to a bundle of behaviors and emotions that are difficult as a parent to interpret. Just imagine and put yourself in their shoes - they can understand several words, but they are still trying to learn how to speak themselves plus communicate with you. It’s hard for them to express what they need.

While they’re still little in your eyes, children want to be more independent but they are just now beginning to discover rules they need to follow. They’re eager to learn but can also become frustrated in an instant (yes, even with a full-blown tantrum) because they are trying to grasp how to do something, or even how something works. They don’t know how to handle their emotions just yet, so instead they kick, scream, turn red, hit, and so on.

So, What Can You Do?

Between the meltdowns over being tired, not getting to eat a random small object, or wanting a certain sippy cup -- what gives? What can you do as a parent?

One of the best things to do at this age is to remember that your child is so caught up in their emotions. They are still learning how to react to situations that don’t go their way. When you keep in mind that this is a normal phase in child development, it’s a bit easier to absorb. There’s no doubt you will get frustrated at times. You’re only human. However, knowing it’s normal and that it’s essentially a learning process for your child can allow you to keep yourself grounded and be patient.

While life can get in the way, try to keep a consistent routine. It’s easy for a child to get even more cranky when their sleeping and eating schedule is off. Children crave consistency, routine, and structure. Try your best to come up with a sleeping schedule that will fit your family the best. If family or friends want to do an outing, just explain to them you need to stick to your routine and make plans around your schedule.

When your child is starting to throw a tantrum, especially at two-years-old, redirect him or her. Get their attention on something different. This will teach your little one that the behavior doesn’t get a reaction. The trick is to stay consistent.

If you’re going through this now or will soon, just know you’re not alone. Your child is learning. You both can learn together how to overcome this phase and make it a little less “terrible”. Keep a routine going the best you can and this phase may not be as bad as you may think. If you have any other suggestions for our parents, feel free to share!


Heather is a freelance writer from New York. When she isn't writing about parenting, she is tending to her own two handsome boys. She enjoys all things related to motivation and mindset. All work aside, she enjoys activities outdoors and being with her family. 

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