I am very worried about my 2-year-old granddaughter (she will be 3 years old in 3 months). Anytime she gets in trouble she laughs no matter how she is disciplined. Her parents have tried talking to her, time out, or a spank on the bottom.

She screams at the top of her lungs when she wants something, or if you don't answer her right away. Now she has started hurting kids at daycare. She bites on the face and arms (although I do know 2-year-olds bite sometimes) but she also will take her nails and scratch the child on the face until she draws blood, or she will grab them by the throat and shove them against the wall after she bites them.

I know this isn't correct behaviour for a child but how can I help the parents?

  • 1
    Seems like typical terrible two behavior... however tasking it may be for parents znd caretakers. However, physical punishment or humiliation are off-limits... in fact, in many countries it is a criminal offense.
    – Roger V.
    Commented Aug 18, 2021 at 10:13
  • Humiliation is hard to prove in a court of law. They'll never catch you. Commented Aug 18, 2021 at 15:31
  • @JanusTroelsen I agree with that. I think such laws are more intended to remind patents that not any behavior is okay. Besides, it is counterproductive.
    – Roger V.
    Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 11:33
  • @RogerVadim "However, physical punishment or humiliation are off-limits... in fact, in many countries it is a criminal offense." And in sane countries, it's only outright abuse that's illegal.
    – nick012000
    Commented Aug 23, 2021 at 3:53
  • @nick012000 I think most people agree that physical punishment is bad (regardless of whether it is legal or not), and that most parents turn to it in desperation - not because it is particularly effective as an educational method.
    – Roger V.
    Commented Aug 23, 2021 at 5:39

3 Answers 3


Terrible two
At the age of 2-4 a child goes through a phase where they learn the notion of authority. Essentially, by now the child is sufficiently intelligent and autonomous to know what they want and how to get it (more or less), but they don't know that some things are impossible, not allowed or simply not suitable at the current moment. They therefore will ignore the parents'/caregivers' objections and insist on their wishes to be fulfilled. This often means being stubborn, crying, throwing things, biting - whatever can make the parents yield. On some occasions parents reach the limits of their patience and situation may escalate.

The most important at this stage is that parents and others remain consistent about what is allowed (or when and how). Not only will this help a child to learn faster the limits imposed on them, but it will also give them a feeling that the world is predictable, which is an essential gradient of what is called self-confidence.

Keeping common front In this respect, it is important that the parents and the others agree on the same demands and rules. In other words, if one parent says "no" or imposes a punishment, the other should play along. If one disagrees, this disagreement should be discussed without the child present, or, at least done openly, so as not to override the other parent decision. This gets more tricky when dealing with the grandparents, who would often allow a lot more than is permitted at home, and parents-grandparents communication is not always the easiest part of (grand) parenting.

As I have already mentioned in the comments, physical punishment or humiliation are off limits. This does not mean that everything should be permitted, and that no misfeed should be punished. Rather one should develop a set of punishments of different level, suitable to one's family situation and circumstances. Examples of possible punishments could be:

  • Sending the child to their room
  • Taking temporarily away a toy (that is the source of a quarrel)
  • Refusing/postponing a reward (such as dessert or coveted activity)
  • Gently forcing the child to do the necessary things (brushing teeth, washing hands, dressing, etc.)

I stress again the need for consistency - the punishment should be proportional to the gravity of the misdeed. Always employing the maximum punishment would confuse the child of what is really bad, and what is more or less tolerable. Also, do not promise punishments that you know you won't apply - the child will quickly learn to ignore such threats (e g., they know that you would never sell them to the neighbors).

It is important to associate the cause of the punishment and the consequence, and give the child time to understand it. I suggest following these steps:

  • Make sure that the child is actually paying attention (e.g., put yourself directly in fron of them or touch them)
  • Explain what you expect to be done and what would happen, if they do not obey. (One recommends using "I-language" rather than "you-language" - e.g., "I want you to take off your shoes")
  • Give the child time to react (e.g., "five minutes", or "one last time* of the activity, ir simply say that you count till three)
  • If the child does not comply, apply the punishment.

Diversion tactics
Sometimes one can avoid a conflict by using distraction tactics. For example:

  • democracy - offer two alternatives which really lead to the samw end ("you want to wash your hands in the kitchen or in the bathroom?")
  • avoiding temptations - e.g., simply hide summer clothes in winter, if the child is atubbornly tempted to put them day after day.
  • offer a reward - e.g., promise a piece of chocolate, if the child eats a few more carrots
  • marketing - formulate your demand as an exciting activity (e.g., making soap bubbles while washing hands)
  • doing things together - e.g., ranging the toys.

Reasonable expectations
You cannot expect from a child the same level of understanding that we expect from a grown-up person. In particular:

  • Give them time. It may take a child ten times longer to put on their clothes than it takes to an adult, but they do it - this is the principal part.
  • Avoid complex explanations and complex demands: "I want you to wash your hands" is better at this age than explaining that we wash our hands in order to avoid infections - simply because the child can understand it.
  • Stay calm (easier said than done, but certainly pays off)
  • Choose your battles wisely. That the child does not eat with their hands or does not put their feet on tge table is not really important at this age - it can be learned later. On the other hand, such things as not beating/biting other children, throwing stuff or eating with dirty hands are not negotiable.

I really didn't want to believe in the so-called "terrible twos", mainly because I want to believe that children will only behave badly if undisciplined and I don't like excusing bad behaviour. However, after having two children, I do understand the truth behind it.

At age 2, children are learning fast and want to explore the world, but they see adults looking out for their safety as holding them back. So they get frustrated, and they 'test' boundaries with bad behaviour. Also, a lot of frustration comes from the fact that they can't fully express themselves through language yet, so they do get angry, throw tantrums, and lash out.

The behaviour you describe is exceptionally bad. Biting, scratching etc is not behaviour that all children that age exhibit. However, the reasons for it may well be the same as every other child that throws a tantrum or crayons on the wall. Something needs to be done, but don't worry excessively at this stage, you may not have got a monster on your hands.

You mentioned spanking, which obviously is a controversial subject. Many don't agree with it, and in some places it is not legal. I'm not going to make a big deal about it, except to say that if you want your child to stop hitting other kids, hitting them doesn't really teach them the principle that underpins that.

How can you help the parents - I would say that depends on your relationship with them. As a grandparent, you help, you love the kids, and you worry about them, but you are not the parent and are ultimately not responsible. Saying something about this to the parents may be seen as interfering. They have the responsibility, and sooner or later it will come to a head. A child would not be allowed to exhibit that behaviour at school. It may be better to just be supportive, not to worry excessively, and let the parents deal with these issues if they persist.


I agree with @Roger Vadim that at the age of 2-4 children go through learning the notion of authority. They learn to express their emotions and desires, but only in those ways, they see around daily. It means that every person in a child's life can stand for a behavioral example. Of course, their family and close friends are the most obvious examples of how to behave in different situations.

The best thing you can do in this situation - express love to your granddaughter and be the best behavioral example for her. I think you should discuss certain rules with her parents - what is forbidden and what is allowed. Because, for instance, sometimes sweets are forbidden by mom but allowed by grandpa, and kids use this situation in their favor.

You must log in to answer this question.