How to Survive the Terrible Twos—Plus Help Your Child Thrive
“Is he teething?” she asked.
We were in the elevator heading up to our apartment after running two quick errands. My son was crying – again. Every day after we get home, he does this thing where he wants to pretend to drive the car. And then he wants to run around the parking lot like a wild horse in an open field.
I wrangled him, walked inside, and got on the elevator.
And he was crying his eyes out in a full-on meltdown. The woman with us in the elevator repeated, “Is he teething? You must be getting some teeth there, huh?”
I can’t keep track of how many times I get this question. When it happens, I think, Here we go again. But instead, I say, “No, he’s just two.”
“Oh, the terrible twos! I remember those days,” she said.
The conversation feels like the movie Groundhog Day. It’s the same thing every day, just with a different stranger each time.
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It Was Starting to Get to Me
Is my son out of the ordinary for a 2-year-old? Why is a little tantrum all that terrible of a thing? And seriously, please stop asking if he’s teething. He’s had a full set of teeth for more than a year now. I’m sure at some point he’ll get his 2-year molars, but odds are if a 2-year-old is crying, it’s not because of teething.
A friend once shared a quote from parenting author Peggy O’Mara† with me:
“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.”Peggy O’Mara
That quote stuck with me over the past year. Is labeling my toddler as “terrible” helping me in the long run? And is this the parenting mindset I want embrace throughout the next year?
I don’t have the answers.
I’m a first-time mom, and I often find myself falling down and making mistakes each and every day. I’m learning to be a mom in the same way my son is learning to be a little boy. But this quote got me thinking: What if we labeled mothers as “terrible” for all their misgivings and lessons learned along this tumultuous journey of motherhood?
Then I Read This Book
A friend hooked me up with a copy of The Danish Way. I love parenting books, so of course I was game. After reading it a bit, I got to a part about how the Danes approach the toddler years.
Apparently, the Danes don’t use a phrase like “the terrible twos” in their parenting of toddlers.
Doesn’t exist in their language.
Instead, they call it The Boundary Stage.
It isn’t teething, and it isn’t terrible. This is simply a phase of life when children incessantly test boundaries to learn about the world.
Free Cheat Sheet: 5 Things to Do During a Tantrum – and 5 Things Not to Do
What Every Parent Should Know About the Terrible Twos
Turns out, there isn’t anything terrible about a 2-year-old. During this stage, young children learn what they can and cannot do. Testing boundaries, tantrums, crying, whining – all of the above – are normal toddler behavior and signs of a healthy developing child.
As parents, we sometimes feel guilty about our children crying. We feel this need to fix it or stop the crying because that’s what mothers do: We make the tears go away. But many times, we’re doing an amazing job as parents by allowing the tears to flow.
- You set a boundary.
- Your child learns the boundary exists.
- You create consistent limits.
- Over time, your child learns consistent limits and that boundaries are firm.
- You set a strong foundation for behavior.
- As your child matures with a strong foundation beneath them, things get easier.
Related: The Magic Phrase to Stop Kids Asking Why 70 Million Times a Day
Crying in the Elevator Again
So much of my life right now is the repetition of setting a boundary. The protesting is often less as time goes on, but today my son is especially interested in testing the limits. I can only imagine he wants to know for sure – again – that he cannot run around the grocery store parking lot like a wild horse in an open field.
And today, I’m letting him know that for sure he cannot. I’m taking a deep breath to stay calm and letting him know that the boundary is firm.
And today, he’s crying about it. He’s gone from wild horse to flailing fish on the floor of the elevator in 2.4 seconds flat.
And today, another stranger in the elevator asks, “Is he teething?”
And today, I smile and say something different. “Nope, he’s in the boundary stage.”
I’m not sure she even knows what I’m talking about because she cocks her head to one side. The elevator dings, and we walk off together. To be more exact, I walk off carrying my crying toddler like a giant sausage under my arm. But I’m still smiling – just barely, but I am – because I know he’s not a terrible kid, and I’m not a terrible mom.
This is a normal stage of a child’s development. He’s just testing boundaries.
And I’m here to enforce them.
Related: How to Handle Your Kid’s Temper Tantrum Like a Ninja Mom
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- Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
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Pinterest photo of smiling girl on swing by Donnie Ray Jones.
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How do you cope with the terrible twos – er, The Boundary Stage? Share in a comment below!
Note: All information on this site is for educational purposes only. Happy You, Happy Family does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician.
Love this. When my son was 2, lots of people used to tell me it is the 3’s that are terrible age and to just wait it gets worse. I have enjoyed every age my son has been and like to say that he just gets better with age (he is 3 now). There are definite pros and cons of each age, but I try to focus on the positive. Thank you for being encouraging and uplifting!
Same it was very.helpful
This is just what I needed to read… my youngest is 20 months and hitting that stage of testing boundaries. Some days I wonder where my precious, sweet, affectionate little girl is beneath that screaming banshee. And then it’s over and she’s giving me a hug, or laughing over something.
Just what I needed to read ?? and I have done the sausage carry many times. ?
Ah! the good o days, when ours started crying we let them cry until they figured out we didn’t seem to care. We did care of course but we had to make a point. Even though they are young they are smart, yes yours is too.
it annoys me when you see an interesting article like this on facebook which leads to someone trying to flog you a book , as**oles
I don’t get it. She isn’t saying you have to have the book, she’s just saying she read it & is sharing a tidbit of what she learned from it. You don’t have to buy it. Yeesh.
It drives me batty when people refer to a two-year-old’s behaviour as terrible. Navigating new experiences and emotions isn’t easy for anyone, let alone someone who doesn’t communicate effectively. Guiding them with love is so important!
Love this! Will definitely be checking out the book now. I have learned, sometimes multiple times!, that it doesn’t really matter what other people think and as long as you are firm & consistent, they will learn things eventually, and crying, whining, pouting, etc. isn’t going to change my mind. They can be grumpy or feel angry or whatever, but as long as they actually follow the instructions they can be as mad as they want to be. I’ve definitely learned that lesson w/my teenager multiple times, and now that I have two littles again (5 and 3) I’m going through it again haha
“The Boundary Stage”—I love that Lauren! That’s all it really is, isn’t it? We need to remind ourselves that this is all normal. Not to say we’re supposed to love tantrums, but it’s vital that kids learn to test their boundaries, know what’s safe and isn’t, and lean on us to guide them.
While obviously I don’t know how it might apply to other kids, with my two kids, I did my best to help them explain what they wanted when they were 2 and along with boundary setting, the result was relatively few meltdowns. That made me wonder if much of the problem isn’t related to stress arising from the inability to communicate well at that age.
Great read. Mom of a 2yr old and a 4yr old. It was rejuvenating to read this article this morning. :) Favorite parts:
“It isn’t teething and it isn’t terrible. This is simply a phase of life when children incessantly test boundaries to learn about the world.”
“I know he’s not a terrible kid, and I’m not a terrible mom.”
<3 <3 <3
Absolute bullshit. Guess what; your noisy little turd lying on the floor and throwing a tantrum is another boundary, and your pathetic ass is letting him cross it. The reason people call your little monster terrible is because that is clearly terrible behavior. It’s garbage parents like you that cause restaurants to have “no children” policies and make shopping a misery. It’s so nice that you feel good about yourself. It’s a shame you’re too stupid and selfish to care about the people who have to endure your spoiled little shit against their wills.
clearly you are a miserable person and I truly hope you don’t have kids to endure your misery.
U must be a child-less individual who does not get laid very often keep ur opinions to yourself . Grow up.
I think you’re correct, it is another boundary. But I also cannot help but sense that you missed some lessons along the way too. .
The CHILD on the floor, or in the restaurant (who is learning how to behave in public), is still highly likely of becoming a positive member in society as an ADULT… I’m not too sure what your comment really offered here. However you just made a big scene in Kelly’s “restaurant”.
Please don’t come back till you’ve learned to adult.
And this little tantrum of yours is no different? Why would you even say that? You think it’s funny? You think it gives you power? Or do you feel guilty because you mishandled parenting and it’s too late for your little ones? This kind of communication is unacceptable. There are real moms reading this going through hard times and it’s hard because they are great moms who really care about parenting the best way. Powerful communication does not have to be aggressive or mean. A clear point and an alternative choice in your opinion would have been enough.
I think the point of the article is to remind moms that they are not terrible human beings nor are their children terrible when the child (as a toddler) has a tantrum. It is not saying that you should allow your child to throw a tantrum in a public place and allow the child to ruin the dinner experiences of other people. The article is also saying that when a child throws a tantrum, he or she is pushing boundaries, and it is our job to teach reinforce those boundaries. It isn’t saying to do that at a restaurant and torture others eating or working there. It is unfortunate that in her example, it happened in an elevator. If that happened to me, I would get off as soon as possible and remove my child. It sounds like she did the same. My husband and I always remove our girl from the public area if she is making too much noise, much less having a tantrum. Then we take care of the tantrum in as private of place as we can find. For a little toddler, that often means allowing the child to calm down (while staying calm ourselves) without giving in OR losing control ourselves. It’s really important to remain calm because the whole point is to teach the child how to control her own emotions.
Coming from a new dad of a just turned 2 yr old daughter with tantrums and 37 of age, you sound like trailer trash who consumes Burger King and smokes Marlboro reds on the regular. Its 1000 percent normal to have a boy or girl at the age of 2 going ballistic for no apparent reason, other than exploring the desires and boundaries of life. You sound like a jealous clown who maybe wishes they had lil shits running around
Thanks for this! My son is going on 19 months and we have already hit this stage! I am so glad to hear another term the. Boundary stage . It doesn’t make us moms terrible or our children!
My Nephew use to get down and bang his head until there was a goose egg, his mom asked the Dr. and he said it wouldn’t do any harm.. He works at the G.S.C. Centre, been there since he grad.uated from grade 12. It didn’t do him any harm, plus he has red hair
I had to do the ‘sausage carry’ when my two year old kept trying to hurl himself in the sea. It felt so embarrassing at the time but articles like this make you feel so much better!
You are my new parenting guru. I can easily relate to you and your situation above. My husband and I refused to call it the ‘terrible twos’ because words have power, similar to the quote above about becoming our child’s inner voice. We call them the ‘trying twos’ but now it will be the ‘boundary stage’ from here on out.
Jillian, you are so right! Words have immense power. <3 Thank you for your sweet comments this morning!
p.s. On the topic of words having power, this is another post you might like: The 3-Letter Word That Will Overhaul the Way You Discipline Your Kid :)
I’m laughing and crying while I read this! Thank you very much! I understand now. This morning he tested his boundaries so much I spanked him. He cried a different then stopped abruptly and started counting and looking for validation when he got the numbers right. Just like that, as if the tantrum from 2 minutes before didn’t happen. I felt so guilty! He was the ‘perfect kid’ after that. I’m at work and I still feel guilty and miss him terribly!
Thanks for this! As a mom to a very Wonderful 2year old with a full set of teeth (haha), she thoroughly tests boundaries multiple times daily. Today daddy witnessed for the first time a screaming tantrum from the middle of the mall, (because she wanted shoes she doesn’t need, (why are there $63 children’s shoes anyways!?)), and he was in shock moments like that happen. I just normally smile and carry my 2yr old as quickly to the car as possible, but today I needed reassurance that I’m not also “terrible”. I love “The Boundary Stage” much better and loved reading this. Thanks for the pep talk today!
Thanks a lot for this article. It helped me a lot to understand this stage my son is going through. Today it really got to me and then I found this gem.
I love how the Danish do not use terms like the “terrible twos.” I have never used these words to describe any of my children. I believe having an expectation that what’s coming is going to be “terrible” sets up our expectations to have to endure rather than thrive.
Our toddlers are just little people and are remarkably smart and WILL rise up to meet our expectations. We just need to shift our expectations from being ready for daily temper tantrums to being ready to help them learn to be happy, inquisitive, and well-behaved toddlers. It’s totally possible. Great post!
Love your comment about carrying a giant sausage under your arm! Been there!!
Love, love, love! Carried a sausage or two under my arm in my time!?
My little boy is 18months and he is already show the signs of the “terrible 2” and almost everyone I know with kids are telling me that I haven’t seen anything yet. But now that I have red your article and learning about “the boundary stage” gave me a whole new perspective to approach his behavior… thanks very much for the help.