Terrible Twos or Tough Twos?

Almost any mom of a two yr old child you talk to, the common consensus is; a switch flips at the age of 2 and kids seem to get very unpredictable, demanding and cranky at this age. Those sweet little babies turn into curious toddlers and the toddlers turn into little people with never exhausting demands; we’ll call them two yr olds instead of terrible twos.

I really think it’s tough twos and not terrible twos.

Tough twos, because your child’s brain is developing faster than the rest of their body, can catch up; so it’s tough for them to explain their thoughts and in frustration, they behave terribly, hence the phrase terrible twos came in. But I sincerely urge you not to use it; because YOUR CHILD IS LISTENING. And, it’s not good manners to call anyone a terrible person.

At some time or the other we all wonder what happens with their brains at this age that calls for such a personality shift; more so we wonder if this will ever change? When will they behave normally again? Coz boy; is it exhausting!

Here are 3 primary changes that happen in two yr olds which make them terrible twos according to some (most) moms.

Two Yr Olds are always thinking out aloud about their feelings.

When adults are unsure of something; they think about it in their mind. Unlike adults, kids think it through by crying it out or yelling it out or exclaiming it out.

So when a toddler is told they need to leave someplace where they are having fun; the way they think about; “is it time already” is by getting more active and scrambling around.

They express their emotions of “I’m really liking this; it’s very hard to go” by crying and rolling on the floor; compared to an adult who would think; “this was fun; we should do this more often”.

Two yr olds have a developmental need to understand in detail how things are going around them, they’re learning by living, hence they are so slow in letting things go; because they’re not sure yet. They don’t realize that this fun activity could always be done at another time, for them, it is like letting this fun thing go forever. While the object permanence has sunk into two yr olds, they don’t know that we can do more often of what we like.

The even more sad part is, their panic reaction kicks in the moment they realize they’ll have to drop what they are doing; and they’re not in a state to listen at all. On the other hand in the desperation of trying to make their kids feel better or understand the situation, we adults try to explain the current situation to them, while they’re clearly not listening.

Emphasizing with their feelings helps, instead of explaining to them what’s happening at the moment. It helps to reassure them and remind them that we are the masters of our actions, and we can always do more of what we like to do, be it visiting a park, or playing with the Lego set next morning.

So, while the constant crying to do more of what they’re doing is exhausting for adults. They are struggling to understand their desire to do more of the fun activity and the need to let go. It’s a part of their developmental process and natural for them.

Two Yr Olds have a partially developed language skills.

We’ve talked about this briefly in Psychology Behind why Toddlers don’t listen. But we need to talk about it in more detail; since this is the most major change that is happing with your two yr old.

With increased autonomy in the language they get a confidence that they can now express their thoughts, and to them, they are conveying them absolutely perfectly. But, unfortunately, to the adults, these are still unclear clusters of babbles.

(Update) An example of this just happened yesterday at the library; my son threw an unusually strong fit to not go home from the library. He asked me for 5 more mins and I obliged, but even after that he didn’t want to go, it was so bad that he was rolling on the floor and I was utterly embarrassed because almost everyone I passed by was giving me the “oh…” look. It was only after coming back home and waking from his nap, did my son tell me in his babbling language; that he cried in the library and he had to let go of cars. That’s when I realized he had just found a basket of cars in the library which was new to the play zone and he was checking it out when I forced him to come back home.

For two yr olds, thoughts are running way faster than their words are, and often times it gets frustrating to be not able to convey the amazing and exciting thoughts they are having or their desires to do more of something. Since they can’t express it explicitly the confusion and frustration kick in again, and they get upset and throw tantrums.

Two yr Olds want to do everything by themselves.

The increase in autonomy or at least its desire is obvious in two yr old. This can be frustrating for adults when there is a timeline on things to be done, especially in the mornings when everyone needs to get out of the house or the chores need to be taken care of.

As difficult it is for you to give them the autonomy in the time crunch; it’s equally important and rewarding for them to do it themselves; the feeling that their adult trusts them with that work on hand is ecstatic for them. For our home it’s a balance, sometimes my son gets to do what he wants with a time limit attached to it. If the time is up and the job isn’t done yet; I have to do it for him. Other times when there is no time at all; it’s a teary walk away from home.

At times when there is no time crunch; it often is a power struggle. All my mommy groups on Facebook are full of questions relating to power struggles; how do I stop my toddler from so and so. Parents are frustrated and confused.

In honesty so are the kids. They are confused because they don’t understand why is that mom and dad can’t trust them with something related to them. And I am going to the toddler advocate here; I really think adults trust their kids or any kid in general, only 20-30% of what they are capable of. Be it dressing themselves, helping with chores, feeding themselves, clean up, choosing their toys, food, bath times, at the park, playing “nicely” with other kids. Parents just don’t trust their kids with anything; I really think we need to work on this big time.

So now that you know the three primary changes your two yr old is going through. Every-time you get frustrated with their behavior; try to remind yourself your child is not trying to test you purposefully, he/she is struggling desperately and this is their way to let go of all that frustration; unlike you, they can’t keep calm and think straight when they are frustrated.

It’s tough and overwhelming on parents; and so is it on kids too. We are all in this together. Patience, letting-go, and forgiveness to kids and to yourself (when you lose patience) are going to be our best friends for the years to come!

Disagreement all the time is tough, but you know what that’s what their job is, and our job is to keep calm and carry on.


  1. April Lewin | 12th Jan 18

    Great article

    • Kay | 12th Jan 18

      Thanks, April.

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