Anyone with a child has some stories about the “terrible twos.” The age of two isn’t all bad — it’s filled with exploration, curiosity, and wonder. The terrible part comes in the form of screaming, the constant use of the word “no,” and those ever-so-fun meltdowns in the middle of the commissary.

Even worse is the fact that “terrible two” is a bit of a misnomer. The stage isn’t limited to the age of two. Defiant behaviors and temper tantrums will often emerge around 18 months and continues through the age of three. What other parents may not tell you is how normal and developmentally appropriate this behavior is. A child’s capacity for self-regulation and self-control does not really begin to emerge until age four or five.  While there is no “one size fits all” approach to parenting, there are things you can do to help your child learn how to cope with their feelings.

  1. Validate feelings. Children are expressive at this age and have lots of things they want to communicate. However, they lack the communication skills necessary to appropriately express themselves. This contributes to the meltdown that your child has over seemingly small things. Let your child know that you understand their point of view. For example, if your child is upset about leaving the playground: “Playing at the park is fun. It is sad when we have to leave.”
  2. Limit-setting. Set limits after feelings are validated. Try to use simple and non-threatening language. Using the same example as above: “Playing at the park is fun. It is sad when we have to leave. It is dinner time now. Time to go home and eat so you can be big and strong.”
  3. Choices. Offering choices to your child can allow the opportunity for control and can stop a power struggle before it begins. “It is time to leave. You can either walk to the car like a big kid or I can carry you. Which do you want to choose?” 
  4. Enforce. This part is key. You must follow through on the limit for it to be effective. If your child is refusing to walk to the car, you pick the child up and carry them to the car. If your child is upset about this, remind him/her that this was his/her choice and encourage the child to make a different choice next time.
  5. Stay calm. This can be tricky, particularly if you are carrying a screaming two-year-old to your car at the park. Remember that children learn how to respond to stressful situations by watching you. Demonstrate the behavior you’d like them to have when they are upset.

Services are available if you are feeling overwhelmed as a parent and are looking for additional support. The New Parent Support Program is available to parents of children ages 0 to five. It is a home visitation program that provides support and education on effective parenting skills and child development. Contact your local Family Advocacy Program for more information on the New Parent Support Program and other parenting resources.