One minute you had a cute, gurgling baby and now you have a toddler tyrant on your hands!
The “terrible twos” are something all parents go through. Even though it’s a well-known label, many parents are shocked at how frustrating it can be.
My experience with the “terrible twos” has seen me trying to walk around a supermarket with a shrieking toddler kicking and hitting me, and taking my toddler somewhere I thought she would love, only for her to spend the entire time sobbing.
It can be a very difficult time to cope with your toddler, but there are lots of things you can do to navigate the “terrible twos” and head off tantrums before they get started.
The important thing to remember when it comes to surviving the “terrible twos” is:
Stick to your guns when you say something, such as setting limits and find a routine that your toddler does well on.
Having said that, don’t beat yourself up if you resort to bribery with the odd treat or the odd little white lie to get your toddler to play ball.
As parents, we all sometimes have an emergency situation where we just need our toddler to go with what we need them to do. Survival by any means necessary is all us parents can rely on sometimes!
What are the “terrible twos”
As your toddler learns new skills such as walking, talking and more precise hand-eye co-ordination they may become frustrated.
Your child is more active, which by extension can make them more tired, and they are increasingly determined to do the things they want to do.
The “terrible twos” are associated with tantrums, defiance and frustration. Your toddler may become fussier, with a much shorter fuse.
They will dislike being told “no” and become angry when they cannot accomplish something they are trying to do, such as putting a toy together or climbing onto something.
You might also be shocked at how your toddler now refuses to go along with the things they used to be quite happy to do.
They may develop aversions to certain foods, or lash out at being taken shopping.
Your toddler is learning more about the world around them and how they fit into it. However they don’t yet have the social filter or emotional control to deal with the resulting feelings all of that brings.
Toddlers can only learn how to cope with these changes in their own time, and with your help.
If you set them boundaries and an example of how to properly behave, then they will get there and become far more pleasant to be around again!
When do the “terrible twos” start
The name “terrible twos” is a little misleading, because it often begins before the age of two and can continue beyond it!
The behaviour associated with the “terrible twos” can begin at around 18 months
When will the “terrible twos” end
The good news is that there is an end in sight for the “terrible twos”.
The bad news is it can carry on until your child is 3.5 years or even closer to four years.
By the time your child is four, you will notice tantrums have dwindled and they are much more receptive to reason.
This is because your child has now adjusted to having just one or no nap and they have become better at keeping a handle on their emotions, despite being frustrated.
How to cope with the “terrible twos”
So what can you do about the “terrible twos”? Follow these top tips to help your toddler during tantrums and to keep them from becoming frustrated in the first place.
We’ve already touched on this, but it is really important to stick to your word and the boundaries you set for your child.
We all know how difficult it can be to do this, so make it easier for yourself by communicating effectively with your child.
For example, when you’re trying to leave the park and your toddler is desperate to stay for another turn on the slide, try to be one step ahead of this. Instead of telling your toddler it’s time to go, give them a five-minute warning, or tell them they can have two more turns on the slide before it’s time to leave.
Find a daily routine that works for your toddler, including the right length of nap, and stick to it as much as you can.
Do not react negatively to tantrums
When your child has a tantrum, they can range from a quick stamp of the feet and the word “no” to an all-out hissy fit where they fling themselves to the floor.
Avoid shouting, however stressed you might feel, and speak calmly to your toddler. If they are hitting out or kicking, try to make sure they can’t hurt themselves or other people. Most tantrums are over in five minutes, but they can last longer, especially if your child is overtired.
Stay calm, speak gently to them and try to distract their attention to something positive. For example show them a different toy, sing a song or try giving them a job to do. For example, if you’re going to do some housework, ask them to help you sweeping the floor or tidying the toys.
The key is to distract them so that they forget they were upset.
When your child is in the thick of a really bad tantrum:
- Hold your child firmly. You don’t have to restrain them, just give them a cuddle and let them know it’s all going to be OK.
- Speak to your child in a soft and calm voice.
- Address what is upsetting your child and try to talk to them about it.
- If they are beyond rational chat, try to distract and move them onto something else.
- Never blame yourself for this behaviour. Stay calm and remember that this is totally natural.
Getting hangry is a real problem! Kids who are hungry can also become tetchy, exactly the same as adults.
Try to add healthy snacks to your morning and afternoon routine so that your child is not getting to hungry between meals.
Stick to healthier choices such as fruit, carrot sticks, or breadsticks with hummus.
A toddler is likely to be hungry for snacks at around 10am in the morning and 3pm in the afternoon. When you’re out and about try to remember to take boxes of raisins or energy bars with you.
Encourage them to eat well-balanced meals
Keep your toddler healthy and happy with well-balanced, hearty meals. I don’t know why, but sugar turns toddlers into argumentative and moody little monkeys.
I’ve also found when they have sugary sweets regularly, they become very upset when they can’t have them on demand. Try to limit them to once a week if you can.
Getting a fussy toddler to eat their greens can be a bit of a challenge, especially if they are going through a phase where everything they like it beige (chips, crisps and chicken nuggets).
Try to convince them to eat vegetables by getting them excited about them. Show them the raw ingredients you are going to cook with and get them to help you cook dinner.
They can’t chop, but they can move a pile of chopped carrots from the chopping board to a bowl.
Let them smell and taste little pieces of food, such as a carrot stick, and show them how you put it all together.
If they are really against eating their veg, you can chop it all down into a paste-type consistency in a food mixer and hide it in whatever sauce you are making.
For example, for a pasta sauce you could get courgettes, carrots, onion and peppers, blend them right down and add them to passatta in a pan to heat for around 30 minutes. Your toddler will never know what’s in there!
Even when your toddler is refusing vegetables, do not stop offering them to your child. Try not to turn it into a battleground, but rather keep offering the veg and eventually your child will get used to eating their greens.
There are lots of ideas for toddler meals that your little one will love over in this article.
Make sure your toddler is getting enough sleep
A lack of sleep is enough to make anyone cranky.
Your toddler should be getting 10 to 12 hours of sleep at night.
Bedtime for your toddler could be disrupted by the 18-month sleep regression or by changes such as a move to a bigger bed.
If your toddler is having trouble falling asleep at night, then you can try the following things:
- Stick to a calming and soothing bedtime routine.
- Don’t play with any toys during the bedtime routine.
- Make their bed a comforting and happy place with their favourite toys and bedding they like.
- Wind your child down with calm activities in the final hour before bed.
- Keep putting your child back to bed every time they try to get up.
- Try a nightlight if they dislike the dark.
- Predict all of the things your child might want, such as a drink of water, a wee or a particular toy, so that they cannot delay bedtime.
Consider cutting back on the sugar
Studies have linked low mood and mood swings to sugar consumption. Try cutting down on the chocolate, highly processed food, sugary ready meals (check the labels when you buy as you may be shocked how much products contain) and sweets.
Sugar is also addictive, so if it becomes a daily part of their diet your child will crave and demand it, sometimes throwing a tantrum if they do not get what they want.
Set a day of the week for sugary treats and try to stick with a healthy diet and snacks the rest of the week.
Encourage your toddler to keep trying
A lot of frustration and tantrums begin because your toddler is annoyed at not being able to do certain things.
From climbing to the top of the slide without help to stacking all of their blocks on top of each other, they are still learning how to use their bodies in the way they want.
When your toddler does struggle, remind them to keep trying and encourage them to have another go. Praise them enthusiastically when they do manage to get something right, but also praise them for trying and tell them how well they are doing.
This will not only ease their mood a little, but it can also help to foster a “growth” mindset.
Psychologists say a “growth” mindset is perfect for learning because the child knows that when they try, they can achieve. It encourages them to learn and strive to build on what they can already do.
Give them choices
Your toddler wants to be their own boss! They are trying to foster their own sense of independence and that means they don’t like being told what to do.
Try and nurture this by offering them choices in what they wear, what they would like to do and what they want to eat. You can make this easier by offering just two or three options which are all doable for you.
Think ahead at all times! Try to predict the times of day or situations where your toddler may become angry or frustrated and attempt to stop it before it starts.
Keep an eye on your toddler when they are playing. You know your child, and will probably be able to read the signs that they are becoming frustrated.
It’s not about stepping in and doing things for them, but about offering them encouragement where they need it so that they don’t become cross with what they’re trying to do.
Create a stimulating and safe play environment
Toddlers are curious about everything and they are desperate to explore the world around them.
Create a safe space where they can play so that you can relax and they can let out all of their energy without hurting themselves.
Have sensory toys that stimulate their sense of touch and exploration, and imaginative play things that let them try to figure out the world around them.
Do the same in the garden, if you have one, and make a special area for them with a sandpit, slide, water table or whatever else you can think of that they might enjoy.
Organise fun activities for your toddler so that they don’t get bored at home, as this can be another big trigger for tantrums and bad behaviour.
Get down to your toddler’s level
When you’re speaking to your toddler and trying to set boundaries, get down to their level.
Make eye contact with them and speak to them in a kind, patient but firm tone of voice.
Shouting is rarely going to work at working through bad behaviour. Gentle parenting is a theory where you treat your child with empathy and respect.
It involves speaking to your child and respecting their boundaries instead of expecting them to conform to a particular expectation.
As with all phases, it passes
Before you know it, hopefully by the age of four, your child will be way less prone to frequent tantrums.
Once your child has honed certain physical skills and is learning to control their emotions, the terrible twos will fade away.
In the meantime, try not to be embarrassed if the tantrums strike in public. Carry on your business, keep your toddler safe if they are really kicking out and remember that all parents go through this!