How to Enjoy (or at Least Survive) the "Terrible Two's"


The “Terrible Two’s”—what a terrible term! As a new mom, I can remember holding my angelic infant and hearing more than once: “Just wait until she hits the terrible two’s!” This was usually spoken with a patronizing grin and a somewhat maniacal laugh. I know these moms weren’t meaning to be cruel, but at times we all take a little bit of pleasure in knowing someone else will be going through the same kind of misery we have had to endure as parents!

It makes me laugh now, but those comments can actually elicit a little bit of fear in a first-time mom. I have three daughters, and my youngest is a year-and-a-half old, just knocking on the door of the “Terrible Two’s.” The two-to-three age range is actually my favorite. The whole world is opening up to them. Children go from being these babies under your care to these little humans you hang out with all day. They have an entire personality filled with likes and dislikes, quirky fears and tendencies, and of course, their newfound knowledge that they pretty much know everything. I love seeing the world through their eyes at this age. Everything is exciting, there is adventure around every corner, and their imaginations run wild.

But don’t get me wrong, there are absolute challenges that come with this phase, too. Along with those likes and dislikes, tendencies and knowledge, comes an iron will. I think we can all agree up to this point. Now, there are thousands of articles we can read on parenting: different parenting styles, the do’s and don’ts, etc. And the last thing I want to do is add to that white noise. Yet, there is one thing I have noticed that seems to be a large contributing factor to this infamous stage and why it gets such a bad wrap.

Early Boundaries

Many parents end up experiencing the “Terrible Two’s” in the horrible way the name implies because they have waited until their child is around two years old to start any kind of regular discipline. About a year-and-a-half to two years of age is when your toddler really starts to begin to communicate in a meaningful way with words and gestures that are recognizable. While they are certainly able to get their point across before then and can understand a lot more than most people give them credit for, it’s around this age when children are communicating in a way that is pretty obvious to most. It becomes undeniable when they are blatantly disobeying a command.

I realize that a lot of parents feel really uncomfortable establishing consequences for their children before their children can speak. For instance, when parents tell their fifteen-month-old not to do something and the child does it anyway, moms and dads often have a hard time enforcing a consequence, because the child can’t speak or really be a part of a conversation about it. Thus, many parents do a lot of redirecting up until the age of about two. If they don’t want little Johnny touching the remote control, they just move it out of the way, instead of teaching him not to touch it. If Sally won’t share the toy with her sister, her parents give her another toy and the problem is solved. It’s not that these tactics should be altogether avoided, but there are consequences to putting off enforcing rules and boundaries for little ones.

Avoiding World-Rocking Paradigm Shifts

If parents wait until children are two to really start correcting them at all, a toddler's whole world gets rocked. The child is snatched out of a world in which the parents have created an environment with as few challenges, corrections, or negative experiences as possible. As soon as they hit two and can speak in a way that everyone can understand, children are expected to understand boundaries and obey rules. They are expected to accept NO. This is when the “Terrible Two’s” starts—the tantrums, the biting, the outright rebellion. A child’s whole world, as he or she has known it, has been turned on its head. But it doesn’t have to look like that.

My toddlers absolutely have not been perfect. They fight me on things, they assert their will, and embarrass me at times. They have also known there were boundaries since they could crawl. As soon as they were mobile, I slowly started introducing them to the concept of NO—and mainly for their own safety. Sure, redirecting is a tool I use, but it’s not my only tool. If you consistently show children boundaries and get them used to the concept of NO as early as possible, you are likely to enjoy their toddlerhood much more. Your children will learn slowly, over time, that they are not “the boss,” rather than being expected to accept the concept seemingly overnight.

Early Groundwork for “Terrific Two’s”

So from one mama to another, I want to encourage you to embrace the “Terrible Two’s.” Try to lay a little groundwork ahead of time if your little one hasn’t quite reached toddlerhood yet. You can begin to lovingly set rules and boundaries and consistently enforce them. And don’t lose heart if your children have already entered that stage and there are behaviors that you’d like to overcome. Know that their little hearts and minds are being reoriented to embrace necessary authority for their own health, welfare, and spiritual growth—and that takes time. Start being consistent with your boundaries and consequences today, and you will soon start to see a shift toward better behavior. Enjoy these little bundles of energy as much as you can, because they will be off to school before you know it, getting into someone else’s hair soon!

Related Article: The Power of Habit in Teaching Our Children About God

Recommended: Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp

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