Turning the Terrible Twos into the Terrific Twos

Speech and Language Staff
September 24, 2020

Many parents of two-year-olds comment about the difficulty of having a two-year-old. The phrase the “Terrible Twos” is frequently used to qualify the feelings of parents about their frustration with their children’s temper tantrums and mood swings.

Whether or not a child has special needs, this period of time can be challenging. I suggest that as we understand this unique period of growth in our children and have strategies to navigate challenging situations, we can turn this time period into the “Terrific Twos.”

From the perspective of a two year-old

Being two-years-old is hard. Children who are two are caught between having new self-help skills, leading to increased independence, and the reality that most tasks still cannot be done completely on their own. They may have acquired a few new words and with language comes power. Children quickly discover that the word “No!” is especially powerful. But with this new-found power of communication, there is also a realization that it is limited. Two-year-olds have a limited verbal ability which leads to frustration. For children with delayed language, feelings of frustration can be even more intense. Overall, children who are two have some ability, the taste of power, but, in the end, are relatively powerless in their situations. That’s a very frustrating scenario!

From the perspective of a professional

There is phenomenal growth and development occurring between 24 and 36 months across all areas of development. In neuro-typical children, this is the time period of an explosion of vocabulary and language. For children who are delayed in language, there is often a significant change in language ability during this year. With all of this growth and development, mood swings and temper tantrums are typical during this time period.

Strategies for parents

  1. Stay engaged with your child by talking with and playing with your child. This is true in your home as well as when going out in public (to the grocery store, the doctor’s office, a restaurant). Additionally, bring along a bag of engaging activities when going out in public. Using a combination of engaging activities and staying engaged with your child’s interaction can go a long way to prevent a break down for your child.
  2. When a child is having a temper tantrum, either offer comfort or ignore the behavior. If you choose to ignore the behavior, ignore for a while, then offer comfort.
  3. Distraction is a beautiful tool to use when a two year-old is upset. Do something unexpected, be silly, or use humor. Tickling sometimes works, if it is a generally desirable and engaging activity for your child.
  4. When engaging in distraction, distract with interaction (tickling, being silly, etc.) rather than with another object (food or a toy). Giving a desirable food or a desirable toy can be seen as a reward and you can inadvertently reward undesirable behavior.
  5. Don’t be afraid of saying “No” to your child but reserve the firm use of “No!” for serious (i.e. dangerous) situations. In other situations, redirect your child’s behavior to another activity instead.

By staying engaged, being prepared, and knowing ahead of time how to pull out of meltdowns can turn this exciting period of development into a terrific time for you and your child!


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