Parents have been anything but terrible in asking me what they can do to help their toddler through the “terrible twos”. Let me ease everyone’s frustration about this period in a child’s life and provide some information on this topic.

It’s Terribly Normal

The terrible twos is a normal phase of a toddler’s behavior that is often marked by tantrums, oppositional behavioral issues, and lots of frustration and mood swings.

Studies suggest that tantrums occur in at least 75% of children aged 18 to 60 months, but do decrease by the time your child is 4 or 5 years of age.

Because a toddler’s verbal, physical, and emotional abilities are not yet well-developed, frustration can easily occur. This is a time when toddlers are striving for independence and autonomy yet still have difficulty indicating what they want with their limited language or hand-eye coordination skills. This sense of frustration, combined with a toddler having no sense of time, results in a loss of patience for that child, their acting out, and thus their becoming associated with the terrible twos.

Fortunately, I have some suggestions that will turn the word “terrible” into “terrific”!

Seven Tips to Reduce “Terrible” Behavior

  1. First avoid some common triggers like having your child stay up too late or running errands with your child in tow to the point where hunger sets in for that child. 
  2. Keep regular meal and sleep schedules in place.
  3. Praise the behaviors you want to see and ignore the ones you do not.
  4. Please do not spank, hit or yell at your young child – not just when they are having a frustrating moment, but at any time.
  5. Offer choices to give your toddler some autonomy and control. 
  6. Keep the home environment safe so toddlers are less apt to get into something that will make you angry or frustrated. 
  7. Finally, stay calm. When you do so, your child will stay calmer and be less apt to feed off your stress.

Hopefully, tips like these will temper any tantrums or concerns you have when it comes to knowing how to better deal with the “terrible twos”.

Lewis First, MD, is Chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5.

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