Everything You Need to Know About the Terrible Twos

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The Terrible Twos approach quickly. One moment you’re teaching your baby how to fall asleep by themselves, and the next, they’re blowing out those two candles on their birthday cake. 

The Terrible Twos have a reputation, and I can tell you there’ll definitely be moments when you totally understand why. 

But they also get a bit of a bad rap, and I can guarantee you’ll also have many hilarious, joyful, proud, and just plain wonderful moments during this year of your baby’s life.

With that said, let’s get down to business. Here’s everything you need to know about the Terrible Twos.

Characteristics of the Terrible Twos 

Firstly, you must understand that the Terrible Twos won’t be likely to hit like a hurricane the moment your little one turns two. They’re more of a developmental stage than an age thing. 

So how do you know when it’s starting? Here are some telltale signs of the Terrible Twos phenomenon: 


What’s Happening to Your Toddler During the Twos? 

If your toddler has started showing some of the Terrible Twos signs, you may be worrying about what’s ahead. But have you ever thought about what your child is going through during this time? 

There’s a reason this particular age range is so notorious. Your kiddie has been developing into a tiny human with a mind of their own, and with that comes plenty of frustrations. 

Here are some things that are happening in your toddler’s life around this time: 

They’re Developing a Sense of Self 

This is the point where your baby starts becoming a real little person, with opinions and ideas of their own. Their personality is beginning to shine through.

They’re also beginning to understand things like rules and expectations. It’s likely that they won’t be able to wrap their heads around why rules are there and start questioning things. 

The biggest problem with this is that their mental development often outstrips their physical development—meaning that they understand far more than we realize, but they can’t yet communicate effectively with us. 

As you can imagine, this causes plenty of frustration, which can lead to acting out. 

They’re Expending More Energy 

Your child has developed from a tiny, helpless baby into a whirlwind of a human who seems to have boundless energy… until they don’t. Physically, they’re able to do new and exciting things now, like kick a ball, swing higher and faster, and run around the yard chasing the dog. 

But exploring their world takes effort and energy. We as parents often don’t realize that our kiddies need to be well fueled—and sometimes we simply aren’t feeding them enough.

Toddlers need between 1000 and 1400 calories a day, depending on how active they are. If they aren’t getting enough, they can get hangry! That’s when temper tantrums come out. 

They’re Growing Rapidly (Physically and Mentally) 

It’s a hard job being a two-year-old. Growing as much as they do and using all that energy to explore their world is exhausting for their little bodies. If they aren’t frustrated or hungry, they could simply be overtired

This is an especially likely problem if their routine has been disrupted or they aren’t at home, where they’d be able to just have a safe, comfortable nap. 

They’re Learning 

Your child is not only developing physically but also mentally and socially. They’re beginning to understand how to interact with others, how the world around them works, and concepts like critical thinking and hand-eye coordination. 

Two of the things that come with this learning phase are curiosity and boredom. Children need a chance to be bored, because that’s when their imaginations come out to play—which is an essential part of development. 

But while they’re learning all these exciting things, frustration can come into play too. Sometimes we treat them like babies, when they’re opinionated little people. Sometimes we treat them like six-year-olds, and they get frustrated that they can’t yet do what we expect of them. 

They’re Testing Boundaries 

While they’re learning about their universe and how to be a mini human, they’re trying to juggle their newly-discovered independence with their reliance on their parents. 

It’s natural for a toddler to push the boundaries, and it’s actually quite necessary. This is how they learn the difference between right and wrong, what’s socially acceptable and what isn’t, and just how far they can go to get what they want. 

This testing of the waters can come across as your little one simply being defiant. While it can be annoying for us parents, it’s a valuable learning opportunity for your two-year-old. 

Next time they’re being defiant, remember this and respond with love and patience.

toddler crying

How to Deal With the Terrible Twos 

Parents, we’re the adults here. We’re the ones with rational thinking abilities, so it’s really up to us to look at the Terrible Twos situation with logic and understanding

It’s not your munchkin’s fault that they’re acting up. Maybe they’re in tears because there were only two raisins in their muffin, or perhaps they’re throwing a tantrum because you said they couldn’t have a sip of dad’s beer. 

These may seem like silly reasons to us, but to your baby, they’re bigger things. Consider what’s behind their behavior—not just the surface of things. 

Here are some ways to survive and thrive during these times. 

Consider the Root of the Problem 

Has your toddler missed their nap? Do they need a snack? Are they feeling insecure or worried or embarrassed about something? 

Take a moment to consider the possible reasons behind an outburst before simply assuming they’re being a naughty and demanding kid. If you can fix the root of the problem, the tantrum should stop. 

Make Sure They’re Well Fed 

It’s not enough to just make sure that your toddler is eating a whole bunch to prevent them from getting hangry. They need to be eating the right amount and the right stuff. 

Sugary food and drinks are only going to fuel tantrums. Make sure your child eats and drinks healthy things, and make sure they have snacks in between mealtimes to keep them going. 

Make Sure They’re Getting Enough Rest 

If you know your toddler didn’t get enough rest the night before, expect the Terrible Twos to come out in full force. 

Things that can disrupt their sleep include: 

  • Noise during the night. 
  • Being in an unfamiliar place. 
  • Sickness. 
  • A change of routine. 
  • Night terrors.

If they’ve missed out on some sleep, try and get them to catch up as soon as possible to prevent bad tired behavior. 

Stick to a Routine as Much as Possible 

If you know you’re going to be out the following day, try and make a plan to stick to regular nap times and food times. 

A change of routine can throw your little one out—even if they’re so excited, they don’t want to nap. That excitement can quickly change into grumpiness when they start getting overtired. 

Use Positive Reinforcement 

As tempting as it might be to scream back while they’re screaming in the shopping aisle, the best way to teach your child what’s acceptable and what’s not is to use positive reinforcement (yes, it’s not just for training dogs!). 

Positive reinforcement can be used in any situation—visiting friends, taking a road trip, or going to the store. Here are some examples: 

  • If they behave, they can choose a candy bar or toy at the end of the shopping trip (not to be done every time you go to the store!).
  • If they’re polite when you visit friends, they can watch an episode of their favorite TV show later. 
  • No moaning on road trips means they get to have a swim when you get there. 

It’s not all about bribing them with candy or toys. Simply figure out what your little one loves, and offer to let them do more of it, or do things when they wouldn’t usually be able to. 


Other Tips and Tricks 

As well as the above, keep these bits and pieces in mind: 

  • Figure out trigger situations and avoid them or prepare for them. 
  • Redirect their attention when you can. 
  • Give brief explanations for rules to help your child understand. 
  • Allow your kiddie some control over choices for breakfast, outfits, and activities. 
  • Do not punish your child by hitting or spanking. 
  • Stand your ground—if you give in when your child is pushing boundaries, they won’t learn. 
  • Stay calm! 


When you start to consider things from your toddler’s perspective, it’s easier to see that the Terrible Twos aren’t so terrible after all—in fact, they’re probably infinitely more frustrating for your little one than they are for you.

These months can be one of two things—a horrible ordeal, or a learning experience. Your toddler is learning how to be independent, and you’re learning some of the very first parenthood lessons—conflict resolution and allowing your little one to be their own person. 

The Terrible Twos can be just that, or they can be a wonderful time of getting to know this little person and watching them develop and navigate the world around them. It’s all about perspective and how you deal with it—and as always, patience and love are the way to go.

Cristin is a co-founder of Smart Parent Advice, and the loving mother of two wonderful children. In her free time, she can often be found in a yoga studio or catching up on her favorite shows.