How to Deal with Terrible Twos

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A bored and grumpy toddler child is laying on the carpet at home, pulling on his cheeks and making a pouting face.

There is a reason why the phrase ‘The Terrible Twos’ is stuck in our cultural consciousness. A Google search produces over 800,000 results in less than half a second.

Parents everywhere are feeling a little overwhelmed. And, honestly, the toddlers are, too. But, there are reasons to treasure these often frustrating years. While they will always be memories of our children, they are also important things to remember for ourselves.

Tackling the Terrible Twos: How Are We Feeling?

Many parents are ecstatic when their children begin speaking. Finally, we all think.

Language is a huge part of the universal human experience.

So it’s no wonder it would be a happy time to hear your child’s first sounds become words, and words become sentences. But, we should remember something significant: our children don’t have the language experience that we have.

That means they have a harder time expressing what they feel, and that difficulty can be even more frustrating. And we all know where a frustrated toddler leads—to a near-nuclear melt-down. So, how can we help?


Are you hungry?

Do you want a snack?

Are you thirsty?

Are you tired?

Do you want a nap?

Are you bored?

Is too much going on?

Especially in the summer, dehydration can make a grouch out of anyone. But, it’s also dangerous! Keep some water handy at all times. It can even sneak up on adults.

A sad looking little toddler boy is staring at the camera as he has gotten into trouble playing in the dirt and mud outside on a summer day.

A small child probably does not know the word ‘overwhelmed.’ Even so, that word can apply frequently. Grocery stores, unfamiliar locations, and unfamiliar people can all seem to flood the senses of a small child. They may need a quiet room to settle down.

Let’s be honest: even as adults, we could all use a quiet room at times. It’s just that toddlers have a harder time putting their needs into words, and correctly identifying them.

This is something even us adults need to remember.

Why is Everything Such a Big Deal to Toddlers?

One broken banana can seem like the end of the world to a two-year-old. But, why? The better question to ask is ‘why isn’t it a big deal to us, the adults?’

The answer is ‘experience’ and ‘time.’ We’ve got a few years of experience on the toddlers. So we know that there will be more bananas, more goldfish, and better days in our future.

We’ve been through it all, you could say. So events that may have ruined your day two decades ago might have transformed into minor annoyances by this point.

But, they don’t have that experience to draw upon. Toddlers don’t know that a broken banana isn’t going to ruin the taste. Minor problems may be the worst thing your child has experienced in their life to date. Their emotions are so much more intense than ours because they don’t have the lense of time to look through the events of their lives.

What Else is There to Discover?

For a toddler, the possibilities are infinite. But, we shouldn’t forget that there are still things for us adults to learn as well. Our toddlers often take us on a strange and beautiful journey as they first encounter what our world has to offer them. And it can provide us with an opportunity to explore the same world.

So while our toddlers are learning how to dress themselves and how to drink out of sippy cups instead of bottles, we may want to consider if there is something we don’t know—or something that’s important to us that we’d like to show our children.

 

Toddlers are still learning how to interact with the world. They don’t understand how to interpret everything yet (including complex emotions) and they still need to rely on us to show them how to convey those feelings in a socially acceptable way.

The Gift of Communication

Let’s be real for a second. We could all be a little better about this one.

Some parents get stuck in the trap of thinking their toddlers are actively acting out to embarrass them or be contrary. And the reality is that often it’s not that deep. Children often just want to be heard, to understand that someone is there with them while they are upset.

Parents get stuck in an ‘us vs. the child’ mentality. Like a mother whose son keeps demanding cookies: the situation can be exasperating, and it can feel like a battle of will is the only way to solve it. Sometimes you need to patiently explain that the cookies aren’t ready for the child to eat because we haven’t thoroughly baked the dough yet, or because he’s already had his limit and too many will make his tummy upset.

 

Explaining in this way can prevent a meltdown. This de-escalates a competition or a fight and makes it more of a conversation. The reality is that our children are so consumed by their world and their own lives—they aren’t thinking about our egos, our motivations, or our pride. And we need to remember that.

In the cookie situation, it might take an observant third party to see what’s going wrong. It’s not always easy to remember that our expressive kids don’t have the tools to adequately communicate what’s going on beyond their frustration. So take the time to reinforce that you work as a team in your family—and hopefully, you can prevent a meltdown.

Communicating at the right level can be tough, especially if your child is ready to have a meltdown in public. Do your best to keep your cool and remember effective, toddler-friendly communication strategies for best results.

a one year old small child is laying on a very messy kitchen floor, covered in white baking flour.

If you enjoyed this article, consider checking out ‘The Happiest Toddler on the Block’ for more advice on the Terrible Twos, and how to wrangle your little nuggets during them.

If you have any more tips or insight on navigating this epoch in your child’s life, please leave a comment below.

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