the “terrible twos”, when they begin and tips to cope



Is your toddler going through the “terrible twos”? You’ll know this phase by its characteristically defiant toddler behavior. Toddlers in this stage have tantrums, love saying “no”, and can disagree with you over anything! All sorts of bad behaviors can crop up during this stage including hitting, biting, throwing toys, and even the toddler throwing himself/herself down on the floor!

When Do The “Terrible Twos” Begin And How Long Does This Stage Last?

Can the “terrible twos” start early? Actually, this developmental phase can begin any time after the first birthday, usually beginning months before a toddler turns 2! It’s very normal to have an 18-20 month old displaying the resistant behaviors of this stage.

Generally a toddler will graduate from this phase around 3 years old.

Why Does the Defiant Behavior Begin?

It’s important to understand why a toddler begins this stage of defiant behavior. First, young children begin seeking for ways to be more independent during the toddler years. They crave the opportunity to make their own decisions and express their likes and dislikes. Defiant behavior is actually a developmental milestone for them.

Second, many toddlers still have a hard time expressing their feelings verbally. Because of this, they can easily succumb to a tantrum when they feel misunderstood.

Third, there are many changes that take place during the toddler years like giving up a bottle, transitioning to a bed, beginning potty training, and more. This age can seem uncertain. Toddlers like to have some certainty too. Without it they are more likely to have a meltdown.

How to Make the “Twos” Less “Terrible”!

Once you understand why toddlers experience the “terrible twos”, you can understand what to do to make this phase the “terrific twos” instead!

  • Give your toddler a few acceptable options to choose from: This helps fulfill your toddler’s growing need for independence without starting a fight. Instead of asking open ended questions like “What do you want for a snack?”, ask specific questions like “Would you like a banana or some yogurt?”.
  • When it doesn’t really matter, let your toddler choose: A toddler doesn’t get to choose what’s for dinner, when bedtime will be, and other important daily decisions. Let your toddler make decisions in less important categories when you can. Choices to let your toddler decide may include what book to read at bedtime, what plate to eat off of at dinner, whether or not to have bubbles in the bathtub, what color washcloth to use, etc.
  • Help your toddler express his/her feelings: Give words to your toddler’s emotions. As a parent you can likely tell when your toddler is feeling happy, sad, scared, surprised, or frustrated. Take these moments to sit down with your toddler and talk about how your toddler feels. Soon, you may begin to notice your toddler labeling his/her own emotions for you. Learning to express emotions through words will help your toddler move through this stage more smoothly.
  • Keep some consistency: Toddlers love consistency, it helps them predict what will happen next. During these toddler years of change, try to keep some things the same. Sticking to a basic daily routine and having a bedtime routine can help, as well as staying consistent with rules.
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