What is so Terrible about the Terrible Twos?

My daughter, Aleana, is a vibrant twenty-seven-month-old toddler whose favourite word is No. Her favourite thing to do is to put her palms out and say, “no mummy, stop”! she loves to run all over the house once her clothes are removed for bath time to hide in her favourite spot. Her favourite thing to eat is all the things that I do not give her, like little things she would pick up off the floor, or the flowers she picks from the garden. She also likes juice and ‘yogie’ short for yoghurt. However, she will not eat vegetables or the beautifully arranged meals I would toil hours to prepare for her.

These are just a shortlist of all the things my little girl will and will not do. Is it disheartening that she is a picky eater who has no pattern and is impossible to predict and plan for? Yes! Is she constantly testing the boundaries I establish? Hell Yes! Does she use the word no a million times per day? Yes!… She is two years and three months, smack in the middle of the terrible twos, and I pray daily for this phase to pass.

We have all read about and experienced the terrible twos, but what is it? Why is this phase of a child’s development so difficult? Why do so many parents dread this phase? What is going on in their little heads? Well, here is what I found out.

What are the terrible twos?

The terrible twos is a stage in the child’s development in which the child is recognizing what is right from wrong. Behaviours demonstrated during this phase “are all about testing boundaries, asserting independence and learning how to communicate needs and desires”. [source]. During this stage, a child is developing fine motor skills, learning more words, and developing a greater ability to understand what is being said and the ability to do more on their own.

It must be noted, however, that the terrible twos can develop before or after the age of two. It can span from eighteen months to four years. The terrible twos are identified not by the child’s age but by their behaviour. I saw a distinct change in my daughter’s behaviour at around nineteen months. Before that time, she did not hesitate when I would say “come Aleana”. But once she hits nineteen months, I would give the same instructions. However, it was met with hesitance and, much to my dismay and outrage, a strong “No”! and when she was feeling herself, she would put her palms up and say, “No, mummy”!

What’s with the ‘terrible’ moniker?

This phase is ‘characterized by defiant behaviours’. A child is developing fine motor skills; however, their verbal skills are not as developed, which prevents them from adequately communicating their needs, which causes frustration, outburst, and tantrums. [source].

This phase may look different for every child, however, there are some common indicators such as temper tantrums, consistent use of the word no, mood swings, and or hitting or biting. These symptoms/behaviours are fleeting, however, prolonged display of temper tantrums and the inability of a parent to calm a child may indicate the presence of other serious developmental issues. Check with your paediatrician if you have concerns about your child’s behaviour.

How to cope with the terrible twos

To effectively cope with this often-difficult phase of your child’s development, one must first understand what it is, why it is happening, and understand that it is normal. Parents and/or guardians must understand that a child having a temper tantrum is not an indicator of bad parenting. For both child and parent to get through this phase unscathed, requires the parent to be prepared and patient.

Compared to others, my daughter’s ‘terrible twos’ are mild (Thank God!). However, if your child falls on the other side of the spectrum and has wild, fist-beating-the-floor-tantrums, or you simply want to have more tools in your arsenal, here are five tools to help make the next episode a little more manageable:

  • Address bad behaviour immediately. Whenever your child displays inappropriate behaviour, ensure that you address it, right then and there, so that the child knows that their actions are wrong and hopefully will not repeat them. As they say, punishment delayed is punishment denied. If you wait to address bad behaviour, your child will not know which behaviour is unwanted and which behaviour is acceptable and is to be repeated.
  • Plan in advance. While temper tantrums can be sporadic and spontaneous, always expect a tantrum or an episode to be around the corner, once your child hits the terrible twos phase. You know your child’s triggers, so plan for it. Know in advance how you will react to your child’s behaviour. Prepare a timeout corner, snacks, or fun activities to do to distract from or prevent an episode.
  • Maintain your stance. When your child acts out when they do not get their way, don’t cave in and give them what they want. Doing so will indicate to the child that there is a benefit from acting up. Maintaining your no will signal to your child that he/she will not get what they want when they misbehave.
  • Be patient. From my experience, whenever I respond to my daughter’s bad behaviour with a bad attitude are times that she would act up even more. When I am calm, and speak to her instead of speaking at her, are the moments that resonate. This is not always easy to do, however, it has been the most effective. Whenever your child displays unacceptable behaviour, instead of immediately responding, take a second, take a deep breath, and then respond as calmly as possible. I guarantee that whatever you are saying will resonate.
  • Spend QUALITY time with your child. My daughter goes to daycare five days per week for up to eight hours per day. As such, I only spend an average of one hour per day giving her my undivided attention. This is meagre and woefully inadequate, but my work schedule does not allow for more. However, the days that I can spend more time with her are the days that she will react positively to my instructions. When we spend time connecting and playing together, she is reassured that I love her and that I have her best interest at heart, so whenever I would correct her, or tell her no, she does not push back but more often than not, adhere to my instructions.


Parenting is hard. There is no manual, no script, no objective guide to tell you what to do, so we have to rely on our good judgment. Most parents love their children and want what is best for them. We want to raise well-rounded, happy, healthy children who will become decent human beings who will positively contribute to society.

Like all parents, I have terrible days where I am questioning my choices and wondering if I am messing up this perfectly beautiful, blank canvas. There are days that I wonder if I am projecting my shortcomings on my child. Conversely, there are days when I feel like I was born to be a parent, that I was blessed and highly favoured to raise such a beautiful soul. I say all of this to say that parenting has a lot of ups and downs.

Whichever mindset you are now in, know that you are the best parent for your child. Know that parenting is difficult, but it is so worth it.

Hope You Enjoyed! 🙂

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