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I keep hearing about how bad things get once a child enters the "terrible twos". I know quite a few parents who claim that the age is just a natural time for frequent temper tantrums, and non-stop pushing of boundaries.

However, I've also heard from a number of sources that it doesn't have to be this way. It seems that not every child pitches themselves on the floor and screams their head off every time they don't get their way in their third year of life.

Are there strategies that can be used to help prevent the main temper issues that are associated with this age?

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Nope, just be patient. –  Some Free Mason Mar 19 '12 at 20:26
    
You don't. There is no preparation. Be afraid, be very afraid. ;-) Seriously .. search the site for "tantrum". Remember .. parenting requires courage! Good luck. –  tomjedrz Mar 25 '12 at 6:19
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5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The twos aren't really that terrible. The threes seemed to be a much bigger challenge than the twos were for us (and for our friends with kids), and four is proving to be a challenge too.

Our son was never a big tantrum-thrower. He's more of a whiner. Maybe I'm being optimistic, but I think if you've set consistent boundaries before the "terrible twos" set in, then it makes the twos easier. We've done time-outs from the time that Andrew was old enough to be testing boundaries, and we continued with the time-outs throughout the twos and the threes and now the fours. He doesn't like it, but if you enjoy a punishment then it isn't really a punishment anymore. But it's not like he just sits in time-out and then we move on. After his time-out, we sit down with him and discuss with him (simply) why he was put in time-out, and then we reassure him that we still love him, we'll always love him, and we hug and move on. Will you encounter more timeouts as he moves into the twos? Yes. Does he need to go in timeout for everything? No. There are times when he's going to act out because he's tired or bored and I've never felt like it was fair to punish a young child for something like that.

It's also important to realize that many tantrums stem from a two-year-olds inability to clearly articulate their wants and needs, so encouraging your child to talk and helping to expand your child's vocabulary will help wonders. And sometimes you know what the problem is, but you have to carry through with your course of action anyway. For example, if we go somewhere and our son is having a blast, then he gets a little whiny when it's time to leave. We know he's whiny because he wants to stay, but when it's time to go it's time to go. It helps if you clearly communicate to him that you understand why he's upset ("I know you want to stay and play because you're having fun") and then explain simply why it's time to go ("but now it's time to go home and make dinner"). If you can add in something that's fun that he can look forward to when he gets home then it makes it easier, too ("Would you like to help me cook dinner?" or "Would you like to play with your train when we get home?"). You're also modeling good communication skills to your child. Clearly if a child is in the midst of an utter meltdown, this approach won't work and sometimes all you can do is pick up your child and leave.

Finally, allowing them to have some power is a good idea and then you avoid some of the inevitable power-struggles that lead to toddler meltdowns. Letting them choose which pair of pants they want to wear that day or choose which movie you're going to watch or what books to read at bedtime. They don't have to be big decisions. In fact, our rule is, "If it was an important decision, I wouldn't let the kids make it", but does it really matter which long-sleeve t-shirt he wears that day?

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So far we're halfway through the "terrible twos", and I think you hit it right on the nose with this answer (I wish I could +1 it again now that almost a year has passed!). We have worked hard to set consistent boundaries, and enforced those boundaries. We get very few tantrums (although my son is an early talker, which probably helps, and is also consistent with your answer). –  Beofett Feb 28 '13 at 14:09
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We have a relatively laid back approach supported by consistency and a no-nonsense attitude, so we had very few problems at that age. When the kids attempted a tantrum we immediately put them in a time out and made it very obvious to them that their siblings were having much more fun than them.

While they do get frustrated with their inability to communicate, they learn very quickly - as long as you are consistent. Give in to a tantrum once and you will have trouble for ages trying to get them to relearn.

So we just talked rationally with them and explained good and naughty behaviour, and ensured we always did what we said we would do.

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I just started reading the book "Baby Signs." Apparently, much of "terrible twos" (actually starting closer to 12 months and lasting to age three, supposedly) has to do with the inability of the little one to express his or her needs. If you can teach them (and yourself) basic sign language, which they're able to perform months or years before their ability to speak is there, you can alleviate much of the distress of this time period, supposedly. It's based on research and reviews and seems fairly solid and quite doable. We have friends that taught their kid (now 5) to sign and raved about it. We're definitely going to try it.

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+1 for sign language. We used it with our toddler and I think it helped him a lot because could express himself long before he could talk. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Mar 23 '12 at 20:42
    
Disagree .. this isn't about teaching the kid to express themselves .. it is about teaching the child to control their behavior. I never had any trouble knowing what my two-year-old daughter wanted. –  tomjedrz Mar 25 '12 at 6:21
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@tomjedrz actually, it is very much about teaching them how to express themselves confidently and productively. We used ASL and Meg Coates' style (in essence) with our little girl and I only remember two tantrums. Both were when she was really tired and a little ill. I also taught in a two's classroom for a couple of years and the kids with larger vocabularies and a better ability to express themselves did not typically use tantrums where-as kids with compromised communication did much more frequently. –  balanced mama Dec 7 '12 at 16:22
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The twos are indeed terrible. But with our son, I found that once we started understanding what he actually needed, the situation got much better for him and us.

Two year olds need

  • Highly perceptive and adaptive parents
  • Lots of hugs
  • Plenty of two-way conversation
  • Education (start with numbers then introduce letters)
  • Structured activities such as drawing
  • A healthy dose of pre-school TV shows
  • Consistent routine

Bonus points:

  • iPad with a collection of age-appropriate apps

Things to avoid

  • Allowing them to turn lights on/off, open/close doors, etc. as a matter of routine.
  • Trying to reason with them using if-then constructs.
  • Putting temptation in their way. It's better to prevent rather than punish.

On the "things to avoid" list: If you allow a two year old to come to expect that he/she will always do those little things (and it doesn't take much to establish that expectation), you will end up with a very angry toddler. Your toddler won't just be angry when someone else does one of these things - he/she will be angry all the time due to the burden of having that power. Fortunately, this can be undone if you stage a coup d'état. It will be ugly, but you'll have a happy toddler in no time.

Teaching a toddler to count is very important because you can introduce the concept of sequences. They don't understand "if you don't eat your greens you won't get dessert", but if they can count they can quickly be taught that things happen in a certain order. So if you say, "One: eat your dinner. Two: have dessert." they start to get it.

If you look past the terrible aspect of twos, it can be a very rewarding time for parents. This is a year of massive mental growth for children. They learn so much. You just need to be patient and understand what they need.

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I think it's inconsistent to discourage "Trying to reason with them using if-then constructs" while encouraging "One: eat your dinner. Two: have dessert." For the things to avoid, please expand on why to avoid them and what to do alternatively. –  amcnabb Mar 23 '12 at 20:17
    
+1, I only disagree with your first two "avoid" bullets. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Mar 23 '12 at 20:44
    
@amcnabb: At such a young age, if you tell them if-this-then-that, they don't get it. Developmental psychology studies back that up. However, it so happens (from my parental experience) that youngsters can easily be taught numbers and, once they're confident with counting to about 10, the concept of sequences of events can be introduced. I have found it to be effective on our oldest son from about 2.5 years of age. –  Steve Taylor Mar 24 '12 at 3:45
    
@TorbenGundtofte-Bruun: Notice I said "as a matter of routine". If they come to expect to always be the one to open/close doors, switch lights on/off, etc., they can get very upset when someone else does it in front of them. We learnt this the hard way. When we put an end to it, the transformation was astounding. That is, after the very ugly meltdown. But don't take my word for it. Go ahead and try it yourself! –  Steve Taylor Mar 24 '12 at 3:49
    
@SteveTaylor, I'm sure that complicated if-then constructions aren't understood, but simple ones are fine. In fact, the "one: eat your dinner. two: have dessert" is the same as "if: eat you dinner. then: have dessert" with different words. It's no easier or harder to understand. We've been using "first: eat your dinner. then: have dessert" (another variation), and our daughter started making her own first-then constructions at about 23 months. For example, if she really wanted milk but knew we wouldn't give it, she'd say "first 2 bites, then milk" since she was familiar with the idea. –  amcnabb Mar 24 '12 at 14:09
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First of all, if you are expecting it it may be a self fulfilling prophecy, so stop worrying. I don't think there is much you can do to stop it if you child chooses to display these behaviors there are a couple of things you can do to make them dissipate. Tantrums will come at some point, more then likely, if not at two then at three or even later.
I have found that removing the child from the room and saying very calmly "you may return when you stop crying' works pretty well. One of my children was able to go for almost half and hour before she discovered we were serious, that is the hard part but YOU CAN NOT GIVE IN! When they do return ask, is there something you need or want to talk about, usually after so many tears they have forgotten why they were crying!

Good luck, and just love them, no matter the behavior.

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