Understanding the Terrible Twos: A Parent’s Guide

From the newborn days to approximately 18 months, being a parent is mostly sunshine and rainbows. Unfortunately, there will be a day your child will wake up and choose chaos. The terrible twos are a reality parents have to take head-on. This parent’s guide for understanding the terrible twos can hopefully shed some light on the situation to get you through it.

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a parent's guide to understanding the terrible twos

Have a Consistent Meal Schedule

As the child develops, they begin to understand their daily routine, and they can become increasingly impatient if there is a disruption. A growing little one should have three meals a day before curling up on the mattress at night. Following a basic eating schedule is the best strategy for ensuring they meet their nutritional needs without issue.

Many of your baby’s cries occur because of a grumbling tummy, specifically if their internal clock alerts them that it’s chow time. Staying consistent with their meal times may keep their blowups in check.

Pro Tip: Their needs for meals may not always align with yours. Snacks (preferably with at least 2-3 food groups represented) can be a great way to tide them over. And remember, their tummies are small, so they may need to eat smaller quantities but more frequently.

Stay Active To Fight Through Boredom

Although they may have loved their toy collection for a long time, toddlers can grow bored with things quickly. One way to cure boredom is to remain active and try new things so that they don’t even realize they were bored in the first place.

Going on walks, letting them run outside, and playing games are all things that do wonders for keeping them happy and giggling throughout the day.

Pro Tip: We like to rotate toys and books. Some get put away for a while and different ones are brought back out. This can help keep them stimulated and with each fresh look at some toys or books, being at a different development stage, they often see and learn something new!

Redirect Their Attention

If going on a neighborhood stroll isn’t an option, you can try to redirect their frustration toward something that brings them joy. Even if you articulate why their behavior is inappropriate, they likely can’t understand yet. The only thing they know is that they aren’t getting their way.

By redirecting their attention from what caused the outburst, they might quickly forget about the candy bar you didn’t give or the toy you didn’t buy. What you use as redirection is up to you and what draws your child’s interest.

Pro Tip: When Sam was little, I carried a tote bag in the car filled with some things that I knew would be a great distraction for her. Things like bubbles, a soft squishy ball, paper, colored pencils, a couple of books (especially I Spy type books or something that covered a bigger topic like those First 100 words books which would allow us to explore and talk about them), worked well for this. This gave us options when out and about, including some items we could take into a restaurant or doctor’s office with us (obviously not the ball or bubbles). I made something similar at home with a bin filled with some items I could quickly grab when needed.

Don’t Mess With Their Nap

We touched on the importance of sticking to a schedule regarding mealtimes, but nothing is more vital than consistency with their nap schedule. It can be frustrating for a parent to rearrange their schedule around their child’s nap; however, it’s an absolute must.

A tired toddler can wreak havoc by throwing tantrums over random things. On the other hand, a well-rested little one will have more patience. If skipping or extending the nap time is the only option, you may have to take a rain check on the activity for the time being – or, you’ll need to be prepared for the potential meltdown.

Stay Calm and Don’t Cave to Their Demands

It may seem easier to throw on a Disney movie or let them snack on something sweet to get them to calm down. However, it’s critical that you stay strong, remain calm, and don’t cave to their defiant behavior. The short-term benefits of silencing their blood-curdling screams will bring you relief, but it will only worsen it the next time it happens. You also want to do your best to control your anger and have a calm voice. Raising your voice and demonstrating your frustrations can be like throwing gasoline on a fire.

Pro Tip: No, we aren’t perfect parents. Have there been times we gave in to those demands? Yes, as a matter of survival. We have always tried our best to find other strategies for dealing with these moments, and yes, at times that means letting them know that we are there for them, while also just letting them have their meltdown. But on occasion, your own mental health needs to be taken into consideration and there are times when Sam and I had a bad day when she was a child and I said, let’s climb into Mommy’s bed, watch movies, and eat ice cream (before dinner).

This parent’s guide for understanding the terrible twos gives you a fighting chance to endure this tumultuous period with your bundle of joy. Just remember that you’re not the only one fighting this fight, and it’s a very common stage in a child’s development. If you fear their behavior is worsening, don’t hesitate to consult their pediatrician for advice.

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