Baby News

Why Are 'The Two's' So Terrible?

Tuesday 15th of January 2013  |  Category: Baby News  |  Written by: Alice Edwards

The arrival of your child’s second birthday brings with it so many wonderful developments. Their speech comes along leaps and bounds; they have well and truly left babyhood behind and are now little girls or boys, capable of making jokes and enjoying in their new found independence. However, the two’s also bring tantrums, and a lot of tears (usually theirs, occasionally yours.)

The Myth of the Terrible Two’s?

When my daughter was a baby, I often had other parents say to me ‘just wait until the terrible twos!’ This led to me dreading my daughter turning two, as she was already quite partial to the odd tantrum, but I also assumed that these parents must be exaggerating. Afterall, why would a lovely child turn into a little monster just because they are now two years old? I’ve always thought that children must get easier to look after as they get older. When my child is two, I reasoned, I’ll no longer be getting up in the night, I won’t have to wind her after feeds, they’ll be less nappy changes, more predictable behaviour etc. Well, to all those parents whose child is yet to turn two, the terrible twos isn’t a myth.

baby having tantrum

It led me to question why toddlers suddenly turn into little tyrants at this age, often displaying sociopathic behaviour. Childhood behavioural experts believe 2 year olds engage in what’s called ‘oppositional behaviour’. This is when they realise they don’t have to agree with other people, and so deliberately disagree with them. Two year olds have a strong desire to assert their independence, which is the hallmark of tantrums. They are able to make their own decisions, and when this decision making ability is thwarted, it makes for a very frustrated and angry toddler. Children at this age aren’t logical, so they cannot follow the reasoning of a decision made by an adult. They simply can’t understand why their caregivers are trying to make them do one thing, when they want to do another. Although the terrible twos aren’t easy for parents and caregivers, it must be a difficult time for the two year old too. They have a certain amount of vocabulary skills, but can’t always make themselves understood; they are able to go off and do things by themselves, but often get frustrated and upset if they find they need adult help to accomplish a task. They are torn between clinging to their parents and being independent, while trying to come to terms with having to follow rules, even when they don’t want to. A desire to ‘test the boundaries’ to see what they can get away also motivates much of their behaviour at this age.

Experts believe the best way to cope with toddler tantrums is to give them as many choices as you can, so that they feel they have control over their own lives. Let your child choose what to wear that day (from an assortment of options you’ve already chosen!), let them choose what snack to have, what book they want before bed etc. This won’t stop all tantrums, but will give your two year old a sense of independence. Jay L. Hoecker, M.D from the Mayo Clinic advises the following for dealing with temper tantrums: ‘when your child has a temper tantrum, offer comfort or ignore the behaviour. Try to limit your use of the word "no" and, instead, use other forms of discipline, such as redirection or humor.’

The Two’s, The Three’s

Of course, some children get the terrible twos before they turn two, or at 3, or never at all. That’s not to say there’s a child out there who has never had a tantrum, but some parents are lucky enough not to notice an increase in tantrum and tears around the age of two. I’ve heard other mums longingly look forward to the end of the terrible two’s when parents of two years old assume the tantrums will disappear and their child will turn into a perfectly behaved little angel. Rather than wishing your child’s childhood away however, accept that these tantrums are a rite of passage. And remember that while two years old can be challenging to look after at times, most children are a handful at any age!

Although my daughter can throw the mother of all tantrums, and decides to ‘test the boundaries’ with me on a daily basis, I absolutely love this age. Seeing my daughter’s development and her unique personality emerge makes for many heart-melting moments, leading me to conclude that the terrible twos should be renamed ‘the occasionally terrible, but more often terrific two’s’. Not quite so catchy, but more accurate, in my opinion.

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