Are We Terrible Yet?: Some Tips for Parents of Two-Year-Olds

Our household has hit a big milestone: My daughter recently turned two years old.

Yes, we are still alive.

However, pretty much anyone who asks my daughter’s age immediately gives their head that all-knowing shake and says, “oh…the terrible twos,” with that tone of voice that says, “Oh, bless your heart! I feel so bad for you, but I’m also a little schadenfreude-y because I had to go through it with my three rampageous beasts of children and everyone should know this suffering.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, “The terrible twos is a normal stage in which toddlers begin to struggle between their reliance on adults and their desire for independence.”

Or, in layman’s terms: “The terrible twos is a normal stage in which it is absolutely, completely normal to writhe on the floor, scream at the top of your lungs over being called a ‘baby,’ and throw perfectly good food on the ground, all in an attempt to destroy any parenting confidence developed during the sweet and cuddly 18- to 23-months-and-29-days period.”

So far, as I mentioned, we are still alive—all three of us. We’ve had our ups and downs, and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t challenging. Here are some of the top issues we’ve faced and how we handle them:

1. The Power Struggle. OK, honestly, every single item could fall under this heading, because that’s what every single confrontation with a two-year-old is: a struggle to determine whose independence will assert itself most triumphantly. If I say, “Let’s get dressed,” she says, “No, be naked!” If I say, “Let’s drink some milk,” she demands chocolate milk (which she had once in a hotel, but apparently it made a lasting impression).

Helpful measures: We’ve found it helpful to offer choices. Instead of saying, “Let’s put on these jammies,” which inevitably leads to intense wailing and pajama-hatred, we say, “Would you rather wear pajamas or a nightgown tonight?” Giving her a chance to choose and feel in control helps grow her confidence in her decision-making skills. Plus, it means we get dressed for bed faster, which is a win-win for everyone.

2. The Tantrums. Oh, the tantrums. The first tantrum was right on schedule. Well, actually, it was one day before her second birthday, because she’s a super-advanced tiny person. I had actually smugly congratulated myself on her good behavior in public, thinking that she was so smart and sassy and charming, she’d no doubt skip right past those tantrums and into the sipping-tea-and-reading-Jane-Austen phase of girlhood. Um, no. There are meltdowns over being mad when the laundry basket is in the way of her dance moves; when there are no more orange slices; when we need to leave the playground. It’s hard being a toddler.

Helpful measures: I try to look at it from my child’s point of view. If I’m in the middle of doing something I love and my husband interrupts me to have me do something he wants, my head can basically spin as I vent my rage. I imagine my daughter probably feels the same way. She doesn’t have a grasp on time or schedules. She just lives in the moment and is totally immersed in what she is doing right then and right there. If I consider how she feels about the situation, it may make me give her some advance warning or determine whether my strict disciplinarian voice is needed. And, when I reach the point in the tantrum where it seems like there’s no return, I’ve found the best thing to do is to just give her a little space and soothe. She wants to be comforted, and within a few minutes (which seem like hours when I’m listening to her wail), she’ll climb into my lap for cuddles and reassurance. I try to be present but not impose myself on her when she’s struggling with her emotions.

3. The Attention Needs. Again, this kid is ridiculously verbal for her age, and she will stop a conversation between my husband and me or interject if I so much as glance at a text message to say, “Excuse me. Pay attention to me.” I always thought kids learned whining from exposure to other people’s whiny, sniffly-nosed bratty children, but I’m here to tell you: it’s innate. If I don’t respond to the first request, my own whiny, snotty, small human will be sure to make her presence known.

Helpful measures: Someone once told me, “You can’t spoil a kid by loving them too much,” and that’s pretty much the guideline that I use in these situations. When she whines, I try to just love and engage: sit down and read the story or take a break from cooking to give her a bowl and her own items to mix. Loving doesn’t mean I acquiesce to the whining. In fact, I usually try to get in a message like, “I can understand you better when you use a gentle voice” (OK, that sounds super sappy and earth mother-y, but you get the message I’m trying to send her, right?).

4. The Inexplicable. Some things happen around here that seem like straight-up sitcom fodder, like:

If you ask my two-year-old what her favorite game is, she won’t say “baby dolls” or “tea party” or “soccer goal,” even though these are all activities that her toddler heart holds dear. Instead, she gleefully tells us that her absolute favorite game is “MAKE A MESSSSSSSSSSS!” The rules to this game are fairly simple: Watch Mommy pick up all the toys (barring a fight over a Sofia princess being placed in a box that is clearly “ONLY FOR LEGOOOOOOOOOOOS”), wait until Mommy isn’t looking, and then shout, “Make a messssssssssssss!” at the top of your lungs while dumping the Rubbermaid containers on the floor. Then, pretend you have no interest whatsoever in those toys and watch Mommy’s reaction.

Every single time we address my daughter by name, she immediately and without fail says, “Hate that name.” Which, um, thanks, kid, because it’s not like I agonized for months to choose the perfect moniker for you, something classic and elegant and perfect for you. Nope. Not at all. Even better, she demands upon each reference of her name, to be called “Dragon” instead. You read that right. Dragon. She even takes it upon herself to correct other children, adults, and strangers, informing them of her preferred name. I can only imagine what these people think of me—either that I’m some crazy Game of Thrones maniac who couldn’t be bothered to use Khaleesi or something else at least slightly name-worthy. Nope, they must think I’m the mom who named her kid after a fantasy reptile.

Helpful measures: Yeah, I have no guidance whatsoever when it comes to these areas of terrible two behavior. You’re on your own there with your own small Unicorns and Gryphons and whatnot.

To sum it up, some things about two are terrible. There’s no sugarcoating it: It is not fun to watch your child go through so many extremes of emotion and not know how to fix it and make things better for them. However, there are plenty of things that make them terrific twos as well: the increased chatter and beginnings of actual conversations; the curiosity; the independence; the excitement of watching these wonderful little people conquer a big, new-to-them world. We, as the parents, are lucky to be along for the ride.

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4 Responses to Are We Terrible Yet?: Some Tips for Parents of Two-Year-Olds

  1. denise
    denise March 14, 2017 at 11:14 am #

    Thanks for penning this. I hate the term terrible twos. When you have teens, others offer the same looks, eye rolls and “good luck.” I hated that, too.

    It sets a tone for the stage. A tone for adults. It tweaks their perception, their expectation.

    We always tried to turn it around. Try to see it from the child’s POV. They’re growing and changing so much throughout childhood – but especially on those toddler and teen years.

    When someone says they have a 2 year old I usually get excited – “wow! We loved that stage!” – we really did. The same with teens. How refreshing it is to put a positive spin on things. Also, if I don’t know them well, before being all
    Pollyanna, I might say, “how it going?” Because sometimes it is hard. Like anything else, if you can understand the challenges and twist the perspective it may make it easier for everyone.

    Great post!

    • Natalie
      Natalie April 1, 2017 at 3:24 pm #

      Thanks so much for the feedback! I do love the 2 year old stage because I love watching her change and grow. Looking forward to what comes next!

  2. Alyssa March 10, 2017 at 1:40 pm #

    Loved this! My little just turned two last month and I can totally relate! Choices have been a life saver for us as well. I do have to say Dragon is unique, but it could have been worse. She could have chosen a “dancer” name like glitter. 😂

  3. Emily March 10, 2017 at 10:26 am #

    The first thing that you mentioned sounds like either a book or a seminar called “parenting with compassion” (or something like that) .. you give choices and at the end of the day the choices the child makes effect the overall outcome of the day.. “do you want to calm down and go get ice cream later or do you want to keep screaming and get no ice cream” .. by old boss has a little girl just about a year older than Noelle .. that’s who i heard about it from 🙂