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The Myth of the Terrible Twos

We’ve all heard about it.  New moms live in fear of it.  The terrible twos!  Is it really that bad?  Does it live down to the hype?

The terrible twos are actually a normal part of child development.  Children in the terrible twos have become self-aware, and they are not fully socialized yet so they do not grasp our society’s rules about interpersonal interactions (i.e., how to balance getting your wants and wishes met while also respecting your relationships with others).  Furthermore, kids in the terrible twos have not yet mastered emotional control, so tantrums and other displays of anger are stereotypical.  The net result of this is kids who, according to lore, want what they want and will stop at nothing (or at least that’s how it seems) to get what they want.

Some kids pass through the terrible twos more quickly and with less intensity than other kids do.  Some of this has to do with the temperament of the kids involved.  Some of this has to do with the conditions of the environment in which the kids are raised.  Parental responses and other factors are also afoot.

Many parents and nannies today are using communication and behavior redirection techniques that minimize many of the storied aspects of the terrible twos.  Remaining calm, recognizing when the child is using logic and when emotion has taken over, validating emotion, and maintaining a position of loving authority (among other tips) has helped well-informed parents make it through the terrible twos with less trauma.

In sum, the terrible twos are a normal part of child development that not all children will experience with equal intensity.  Parents often can minimize the intensity of the terrible twos.  Therefore, for most parents, the terrible twos can be periodically challenging, but not as horrific as rumors hold. 

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1 comment to The Myth of the Terrible Twos

  • Carolyn

    Developmentally the child is recognizing his autonomy and exercising his will. If you squelch it too harshly, you are asking for trouble later on. The child’s determination to assert his own will (contrary to yours) is a GOOD sign. This issue arises again at 4 years old and, of course, in adolescence.
    I watched my son and his friends grow through this. The ones who were allowed to have some self-determination and were not not punished for their “rebelliousness” at 2 or 4 years old, were MUCH less rebellious as teenagers. This stage is not simply an inconvenience, but a terribly important learning experience. (I have a MA in Counseling and have worked as a psychotherapist so I have some credentials to back this up.)

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