terrible twos

Toddlerhood is tough, there’s no question about it. Our children are finally able to verbalize what they want and need, they’re able to get around and explore. As parents, we are figuring out how to manage the new independence our toddlers have found while setting limits and boundaries. 

Two-year-olds get a bad rap. They didn’t create this bad rap for themselves. There was never a two-year-old who had a meltdown and said “well, it’s the terrible twos”– it was parents, and grandparents, and strangers who labeled this age as terrible. Every time my daughter gets upset and I hear someone say that phrase, I cringe.

Imagine For a Moment You’re Two…

At two years old, you’re finally grasping the language. You’re able to get across what you want and when you want it. This also means you’re beginning to find out you can’t have what you want when you want it. Your parents are setting limits and saying no to requests they think are crazy but you think are totally normal. Why can’t you wear a winter jacket in 100-degree weather? Why can’t you eat candy for breakfast?

This morning my daughter had a meltdown because the dog got a treat and she didn’t. While it seems obvious in the parent brain that treats for dogs and treats for children are not equal, in the toddler brain alarm bells were going off. My daughter was likely thinking because the dog got a treat and she didn’t, I was showing the dog more affection than her. She doesn’t yet have the capacity to balance her logical brain and emotional brain so her emotions and logic get mixed up ending in an epic meltdown over no treats at breakfast time.  

Meltdowns may look “terrible” to outsiders but a meltdown is really the toddler’s brain becoming overwhelmed. The child is unable to sort out their emotions and logic. During toddlerhood, they are also figuring out how to self-soothe. With limited measures for self-soothing, it is important to stay by your child’s side to ride out the meltdown. We can let them know we are there while giving them the space they need to get through it.

Perpetuating the Terrible

Labeling this stage of toddlerhood may be making the stage worse. Giving this stage a name that provokes feelings of dread may cause us to hold expectations that make the stage worse. When we see the first glimpse of tantrum that looks similar to what others have warned of “the terrible twos,” it may warp our perception. Thinking of the stage and tantrums as a symbol of “the terrible twos” may cause us to roll our eyes rather than show our children compassion and understanding. Instead of viewing the child’s experience as difficult because of their stage in brain development, we may view our children as giving us a hard time. 

The Wonderful Twos

I’m living age two every day. While we have meltdowns over seemingly ridiculous things and my daughter now says phrases such as “I don’t want to listen,” age two has been the most fun. Each day, I get to learn more about my child’s personality. She picks her own crazy outfits and sings to me while playing her “guitar.” She adds unicorns to Old McDonald’s farm and gives me daily pearls of wisdom like “you don’t have to eat dirt.” Each day, she discovers something new as she pieces together the ways in which the world makes sense to her. 

Perhaps if we pick out the wonderful and change the meaning of the “terrible,” the twos won’t seem so bad. 



  1. Great article! And I have always felt of this mindset. I think so much of it is to do with communication. So I taught my daughter early sign language and it helped soooooo much and she didn’t go through the “terrible twos” (I always cringe at that phrase), and she rarely had meltdowns. I always followed the word “no” with an explanation. Why you can’t do this or that. Not just a “because I said so”.

    I have shared this article with other new moms I know. I have two children my daughter is now 11 and my son is 1, so he will be hitting those “wonderful twos”, and I dread hearing that phrase from people. I’m teaching him early signing too and he has picked up a couple signs so far.

  2. Thanks for sharing
    Yeah my son’s grandmother keeps referring to the terrible twos each time he has a meltdown but I see it more as something he’s struggling to communicate. I don’t like the term. They’re doing exactly what they’re meant to be doing for their age.
    We’ve got pretty good at reading the signs now and helping him, or letting him help himself before the meltdowns happen
    So far, we’ve actually really enjoyed the twos and haven’t had any crazy behavior like everyone was warning us about.


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