Parenting • Jun 27, 2011

10 Tips to Survive the “Terrible Twos”

        “I want it! I want it!” These are the words I heard coming from a two-year-old who was screaming, crying and kicking in her stroller as her mother made a hasty exit from the department store. I laughed out loud as I watched from a distance. Not because I’m mean or lack compassion. But, because as the duo passed, I was looking at, no coveting, a beautiful jacket that was outside my budget with the words, “I want it! I want it!” echoing in my head!
     As a pediatrician, I tend to look at the world as a developmental challenge. Seeing the screaming two-year-old reminded me how far I’ve come and allowed me to walk away from the jacket smiling. As a parent survivor of the “terrible twos,” I could definitely identify with that mother’s pain. As a mom of triplets, I had much angst about weathering the terrible twos. I started preparing much like one might prepare for a battle: reading, strategizing, stock-piling supplies. Then the “terrible twos” arrived and like most milestones, they weren’t terrible at all. What I discovered, through reading and trial and error, is that a good attitude and a bit of planning translate into less stress and more happiness for everyone.
      Here are 10 tips to turning “Terrible” into “Tolerable and Sometimes Terrific” Twos:
       1. Ready, set, go. The developmental stage thought of as “the terrible twos” can begin anywhere from 18 to 30 months and typically lasts well into age three. Prepare for it.
      2. The Golden Egg: This is the most important key to success! Remind yourself that the developmental goal of this stage is to “initiate independence and explore the world” not “make mommy mad.” So, when you want to leave the park and your child says, “No!” then returns to intently digging in the sand, you see the world through his eyes. Deep breathing helps here.
       3. Picture it: Children at this age love to help and learn by imitating. Take photos of toys and put them on bins to label the contents: balls, cars, blocks, dolls. Then, when you start to sing “the clean up song,” she has the tools to help.
        4. Time for tasks and transitions: It is quicker to put away the groceries or crayons yourself, but two-year-olds love to imitate and help. Allowing time for them to help teaches independence and new skills. Allow 10 minutes to leave a play date. “You can go down the slide two more times then we have to go.” Show your fingers, count to two, then count each trip down the slide.
       5. Don’t ask, don’t tell: Don’t ask a question with a possible “no” answer if you won’t allow that response. Instead of “Do you want to go upstairs to bed?” or “You need to go to bed right now!” try “Would you like to hop up the stairs or crawl up the stairs? Let’s race!”
       6. Be “A Man with a Plan.” Picture a day where you had no idea what was on the schedule and every time you started something fun, someone came and took you away by the hand. Would you throw a fit? I would. Help your child know what to expect from the day. Get poster board or a large piece of paper. Put pictures on it demonstrating the daily routine. As the day passes, ask your child to show you that activity on the schedule and then what comes next. For example, photos of: foods to represent breakfast, a toothbrush, clothing, family vehicle (to show daily errands), child napping, etc.
        7. The Shell Game: Remember the game where the man placed a ball under a shell and tried to distract you by moving the shells fast? Distraction is awesome for two-year-olds. He begins to ask for cotton candy at the zoo, “Wow, Tommy, look at that elephant, let’s go see what he is doing? We better hurry or we will miss it.”
       8. Positives attract: Have you ever had a day in your career or otherwise where everyone told you no or was negative? How did you feel at the end? Research shows that children remember positive statements more easily than negative. They also learn and retain information better. So, instead of, “Don’t slam the door!” try “Close doors gently.” “No hitting!” can be “Hands are for helping not hurting.”
       9. Feeling your way: Acknowledge feelings and help teach words to express them: “I know you are sad because your cracker broke when you tried to pick it up, but look, it still tastes yummy!”
       10. Do a “Dr. Phil”: At the end of each day, ask yourself, “How’s that working for you?” Celebrate your parenting successes; strategize about your challenges and remember tomorrow is a new day.
       Are you about to go through the “terrible twos?” If so, what questions do you have? Are you worried? If you have already passed this milestone, how was it? Any tips for those about to experience it?


  1. I always try and use these tequniques(thanks mom for pounding them into my head :)..) But I am really having a hard time with hitting and pushing. We dont hit or push in our home and I dont know where my recently 2 year old son realized that it was ok. I also have a 4 year old daughter who does not push or hit him, she is very gentle with him. But when he hits her I tried having her tell him in a stern voice “dont hit me”, and even told her to give him a hug and a kiss when he does it. But after him just getting more angry and lashing at her again, after time out (yes he acctually stays for 2 minutes and returns to give hugs an apologies) he hits or pushes her again in a few minutes. All of the cool big kid things she is allowed to do, she helps me teach him to do them also so I dont know where all of this rage is comming from.

  2. They “weren’t so terrible after all”? I definitely don’t see that in my life!

  3. Mty son will be three in two weeks, and thus far there really hasn’t been anything “terrible” about the twos. He threw three tantrum in two weeks about 6 to 8 months ago… that was it. He has never bitten or pulled hair, and hitting was easy to stop (we just explained that he doesn’t like to be hurt, and we don’t like to be hurt either) He has always been very easy to reason with, which has helped calm any storms that seemed to be brewing. I have been fortunate, he was an easy child from conception, easy pregnancy, easy to love, easy to be with. I wish I could claim it was superior parenting, but alas, he really did just come out that way. I have been told that the child we have due in October will likely be less simple. Fingers crossed

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