If you landed on this page dear mama, it means that you are as frustrated (not to mention desperate) as we all are. The day has come: your toddler is officially in her Terrible Twos. I hear you!
But don’t worry and keep reading, because I’m about to share the secret that will help you go through this and other difficult times with more positivity and less stress.
Understanding is the key to success!
Yep! Because they’re called Terrible for good reasons. It can be tough sometimes to see your former angel-child suddenly transform into this little monster that only says NO and kicks or bites everyone. Not to mention the screams! I totally get it!!
As it weren’t enough, here’s also something else that makes this particular time frustrating as hell.
I’m talking about the potential regression typical of some specific steps of the terrible twos. The fact that your baby, as in her real nature, is still trapped inside her and swaps back and forth with this whole new attitude can be disarming.
In other words, a minute she’s all love and cuddles and a minute later she wants to tear all your hair off, one by one and then again, give you a kiss there where she gave you the boo-boo. AaaaAaAAAaAAArgh! Doesn’t it drive you nuts?
But all these changes and swaps and switches drive her nuts in first place, not just you!
And it’s important to remember that so that you can deeply understand what I’m about to tell you, ok?
So let’s step back for a second and try to not lose our sh*t ok? There are a couple of very important things to consider before breaking into a million pieces.
Let me explain to you what we’re talking about.
What is the Terrible Twos phase?
A big pain in the butt! That’s what it is! A very important and natural phase for every child, sure, but nonetheless a gigantic, Guinness book of records kinda of struggle!
It’s the phase in which:
- She wants to affirm her own identity without even knowing what or how it actually is, as long as it’s different from mama and daddy. Which translates into saying NO to everything you say or suggest. Even to things that she might actually want or need in that specific moment. But she has to say no, or the entire universe will crumble beneath her feet.
- She’s learning a gazillion of new things all at the same time desperately trying to not melt her own brain down. Which means that she’ll certainly have frustration breakdowns. And the only way she knows to get rid of it is to vent it all on you by crying or screaming, rolling on the floor and so on.
- She could also show the above mentioned regression. Meaning that you will lose that very little freedom you gained when, for example, she started sleeping in her own bed or other things. The regression usually happens when something is too overwhelming to overcome (or traumatic in some cases) and it’s easier for her to just temporarily give up and go back to what feels “tried and safe”. Things such as need of more physical contact, wanting to sleep in bed with you, cry when she doesn’t see you, etc. All things that you thought were gone when and instead… But no worries, we’ll get to how to manage that too!
In short, it’s a real full time job for her in which she wants to show who’s the boss but, at the same time, she has no idea how to be the manager in charge and seeks your help and support in every moment.
If it’s a huge effort for her, for you it translates in overtime, both physically and mentally.
Terrible twos are you first Hercules labor. To the point that you’ll kinda miss baby colic.
But DO NOT DESPAIR MAMA!!
I’ll help you face this phase. There are ton of useful tips on the web and I’m here to share mine.
These 3 important things really helped me keep it cool and I’m sure it’ll do the same for you.
3 Things to keep in mind to survive
- Terrible Twos are tougher on her rather than on you (believe it or not)
- It’s a natural development phase, so the fact that she’s going through it, is actually a good thing (you should worry otherwise)
- Every single thing she does has its own specific reason (even if sometimes it’s hard to identify)
Sound slightly crazy or too hard to keep in mind in a moment of frustration?
I promise they are not! And I’ll show you why.
Let’s go deeper in each one of them, shall we?
Terrible Twos are tougher on her rather than on you
I know it’s hard to believe since you’re seriously considering head-butting the wall right now. I totally understand.
But think about it.
Your beautiful baby hasn’t been suddenly possessed by the devil. All she’s doing is displaying her emotional stress in the only way she knows, which means screams, hits and bites.
This doesn’t mean that you just have to accept it, give up and embrace the fact that she’ll kick the hell out of you all day long. No way.
But understanding why she’s acting like that, will help you figure out how to solve it. As in what kind of solution and what kind of attitude is more appropriate in a given situation.
Therefore it’s your job to keep in mind that she’s not just being mean to you, she’s displaying a discomfort of some sort.
For example, when her screams nail a note so high that only whales can actually respond the call, I suggest to:
- take a deep breath
- set boundaries depending on what caused the crisis
- don’t take her nos personally
In other words, “nos” are just part of her conversation and the more you take it personally, the more she’ll notice how much attention she gets just by saying that magic word, becoming a motivation to say it even more in the future.
If instead you accept it and include it in the conversation, listen and suggest positive alternatives, you’ll be able to flip the whole situation at your advantage.
This doesn’t happen overnight, but with patience and consistency. Soon you’ll find your own way to compromise and ease up on this whole terrible twos crap.
Also, remember that the more you say “no” the more she’ll internalize it as a normal thing to say, mirroring and repeating what she hears.
After all, if you can say it why can’t she, right?
So train yourself to say “can you please use the fork?” instead of “no baby, don’t use your hands to eat”. Every “no” you say, for how sweet it could sound, gets registered and sent back to the sender with interests.
So try to use absolute nos only when strictly necessary, such as an imminent danger. It personally took me some time, and still comes natural to say no a lot of times, but with a little determination we can do this.
On a side note, saying no it’s not a horrible thing to do. Don’t beat yourself up when it happens and stay firm on what you said. She’ll eventually have to learn to deal with it.
When nos are not necessary
It’s important to distinguish when you can handle things differently and when a straight and blunt NO is really necessary.
For example, it can be irritating when it takes her 2 hours to eat because she’d clearly rather play with the food. But sometimes you gotta let her be. Ultimately, she’s not doing any harm (rather than testing your patience) and it’s just her way to explore and learn. Even when she grabs the food and throws it on the floor.
I usually look at the spaghetti on the floor and say “bye bye pasta! Now it’s gone and you can’t eat it anymore” and then change the subject. Even if inside the idea of the waste and the floor to clean burns, I’m the adult and I’m the one that knows how to handle emotions. So I won’t let my kid win or I’ll just give him a reason to do it again and again because he got the attention he wanted.
Believe it or not, after a couple of days (and a lot of eaten frogs) my son actually stopped throwing food on the floor. He just lost any interest in it.
So this a clear example of when nos are not necessary and you can be smarter than that.
Then there are moments in which you just can’t compromise
If her tantrum is caused by her curiosity to stick her fingers in the electrical outlet to see what happens, or because she wants to hang from the chandelier after climbing six bookshelves, well…. In this case it doesn’t matter how much she screams or rolls on the floor. No means no, period.
Here you can’t compromise obviously and shouldn’t absolutely feel bad about it, even if it ends up in her being frustrated or sad. If prohibitions are limited only to very important things, she’ll eventually learn that what’s right or wrong.
Moreover, most her “crisis” (and you’ll learn to recognize them) are actually her way to test you. To see up to which point she can push before being stopped by you.
Ultimately, it’s good to let her free to experiment, but she also needs to understand that mommy and daddy do not compromise on specific things. These boundaries are good for her and for you. Believe it or not, that’s actually exactly what she’s looking for when she tests your patience.
The presence of rules, for how temporarily disappointing, in reality give her certainty and make her feel safe.
Even during the damn terrible twos.
Let’s say she slaps you in the face. For you, as an adult, a slap is a mean thing to do, a clear will to hurt or humiliate someone, right?
In her case it’s none of the above.
She doesn’t know what “being mean” means yet, has no idea how much pain she can cause and certainly she doesn’t want to humiliate you as she doesn’t even have that concept in her dictionary. She’s simply looking for attention or displaying some sort of stress.
Does this mean it’s right for her to do it? Absolutely not! So how do we make her stop?
I personally use two different methods, depending if the gesture was triggered by anger or request of attention:
- Anger. In this case I stop everything we’re doing. Then, if not already there, I put my eyes at his own eye level, look at him straight in the eyes and, without any sign of anger or resentment, I calmly explain to him that the slap hurt mama. The very first couple of times I only got confused and uncertain reactions. Then it became regret for what he has done and came to kiss me on the boo-boo. Now he’s officially stopped hitting mama. I can tell the thought still crosses his mind, but he restrains himself from doing it. Which is, in my opinion, pretty amazing, right? If you consider that there are many adults who don’t know how to do that… But this is another story.
- Attention. In this case, well… He’ll get the exact opposite result of what he’s looking for. Still with no anger or resentment, I put him down and I literally ignore him for few minutes. I have to admit that the first attempts were tough because his regretful cry was really heartbreaking. But in time, sticking to what my goal was, I managed to make this awful gesture disappear from his habits. It just become another of his “tried and failed” experiments. Now, when he seeks for attention he calls for “Mummyyyyyyy”, even a trillion time in 3 seconds, but still better than a slap, right? And lately, we also got a “please”, which is a great personal win. The light at the end of the tunnel.
This way I can downsize his temporary sense of omnipotence typical of the terrible twos, while teaching him that every action has a consequence.
All this without humiliating or telling him that “he’s been a bad boy”. In my opinion there’s no good outcome in compromising his confidence just for trying something that came instinctively.
Bites can represent both the above mentioned instances (anger and seek of attention), as well as a simple way to explore the world. Remember that babies put new things in their mouth to explore them. So do toddler, but now they have teeth and strength. It’s up to you to distinguish what she’s trying to do and act in consequence.
Terrible twos are a natural development stage
I’m not a child psychologist and I’m not going to copy and paste theories of what the terrible twos represent in your own child’s development.
But I do know that it’s a phase that all children experience. So the fact that my kid landed on the damn “middle earth” makes me think that it’s all good.
Is it tough? Hell yeah! We already covered that, right? But that’s how it needs to be.
For what concerns me, the hardest goals are achieved only through sweat and effort. So I strongly believe that it’s only fair for such an important stage to be tough. Or we wouldn’t give it importance, right?
Can you imagine if all the humongous (I love this word) efforts that your kid is going through to:
- discover herself
- learn how to talk (if she’s also bilingual, double the effort)
- test her own strength and weaknesses
- learn how to control her bladder (ergo potty training)
- and so much more
If all these things get unnoticed by her own parents? What kind of relationship are we trying to build if we are not willing to share her successes, pain, failure and victories with her?
I’m gonna leave it at that and move on to the last important thing to remember when little Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is giving her best show of multiple personalities.
All she does has its own specific reason
She doesn’t know that and you don’t either. But there’s always a reason and keeping this in mind is extremely important.
Observe everything so that you can learn how to identify it for her and help her understand it.
Try as best as you can to keep your emotions at bay. Sometimes it’s hard, I know, but you can’t help her if you don’t keep it cool in first place, ok?
It could be, as mentioned above, anger, frustration, seek of attention or not knowing where’s the line between playing and being aggressive. Or again, testing to discover the rules or seeking assurance and comfort.
The first times you could feel confused and it’s normal (they’re not call terrible twos for nothin’). After all for two entire years you got used to think that her cries and screams were expression of a primary physiological need such as hunger, tiredness, belly pain and so on.
So now you hear her shout her throat out and you’ll immediately think “Holy moly, I wonder what’s wrong with her!”.
Step back anxiety!! The trick is to not panic and observe your child.
You’ll then realize that she has absolutely nothing deadly and you’ll seriously swear in every language you know for how useless this torture seems to be. (“Seems” is the keyword, remember).
The turning point
The turning point arrives when you’ll learn how to recognize the difference between all the different “calls of the wild” (as I like to call them). Do you remember when you started recognizing if your baby was crying out of hunger or colic or else? It’s the same logic. Tantrums will sound different than actual fear or pain.
But as widely specified above, the torture is definitely not useless.
It’s exactly as it needs to be.
She learned how to express her physiological needs in a different way rather than crying and now it’s time for her emotional needs. Which are definitely just as important.
Even the famous regression is completely normal (if not cause by a trauma. In that case consult an expert).
The basic concept is that at every major development leap is followed by a “break” to internalize all the changes and back up for a running start towards the next big jump.
And it’s necessary that you, mama, do the same. Take all the time you need to get used to it and use this pause to slow down with your child.
When she’s a little mommy’s girl, indulge her and try to enjoy her show of affection, even if holding a 30 lbs baby-bufalo is not as easy peasy as it used to be. Hang in there, it’s just temporary.
My advice is to mentally pretend that your kid IS NOT in her terrible twos, but in her very first year of life, from an emotional standpoint.
Take a step back and imagine that your baby was born 2 weeks ago. She doesn’t need to be fed every two hours but, with the same regularity, she needs to learn and handle her emotions.
You don’t need to teach her to distinguish day from night, but she needs to distinguish good from bad.
Ultimately, she doesn’t need to be spoon-fed, but she’ll need to experiment and push her own limits.
And so on.
For some strange reason, it’s almost easier and natural to adjust to her physiological needs than to the emotional ones. At least so it was for me.
Because when my son acts like a runaway horse he definitely has the power to drive me crazy to exhaustion.
But we will be able to get through this and be positively part of this essential process.
I believe that the terrible twos’ biggest challenge is the speed with which they descent both on you and your child.
While mommy has 9 full months to get ready to what to expect after she’s expecting (where everything is still relative anyway), in this case, it really seems like you’re deep into it before you can even realize it. It literally shows up out of nowhere, one day with another.
It comes natural to think about growth as a physical thing (eat, sleep, pee, poop, walk, talk, etc), but development is also, and most importantly, related to intelligence and emotions.
If you keep these 3 things in mind you can literally put yourself into your child’s shoes and transform these Terrible Twos into an experience that will forge his growth as a person. Where you are her guidance.
So keep it up mama! You can do this!
P.S.= if you read it all, high five to you mama!! I strongly invite you to write me in the comments below your personal experience or ask any questions.
P.P.S.= if you like this article, or think it could help someone you know, don’t forget to share it 🙂