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Terrible Two's? Tell Me This is Just a Phase!

Updated on February 27, 2013

I need advice please. My toddler is OUT OF CONTROL. She does not play well with other children. She does not share. She throws temper tantrums in public. If I leave her alone, anywhere, she gets into something (like when she goes to the potty she plays in the toilet paper and makes messes in the sink). I like to think she is a generally happy child.

Please, someone just tell me, "This too shall pass."

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This Too Shall Pass? BS

I have to be honest, I sort of hate when people say this.

Yes, phases pass.

But behavioral issues do not go away if they are not dealt with, they simply evolve with the child. In this case, the acting out will only get smarter, sneakier, and come with a higher vocabulary level.

You need to set some tighter boundaries and catch the behaviors while they are really small, or before they begin. You need to let the child know that you already know what she's about to do, and what will happen if she does it. Then follow through with punishment or consequences.

My kids started "the terrible two's" right when they turned three. This was the age that they wanted the most independence, threw the most temper tantrums when they didn't get what they wanted, and seemed to act out just for the sake of acting out.

Put it into Practice

Here's what to do: lay out the expectations and consequences for EVERY. SINGLE. ACTIVITY.

Keep the expectations short and simple. Three is the maximum number of directions most humans can handle at one time. Three is an okay number, but with some things I just hone in on one thing.

You mentioned the bathroom. Yes, we've had the same problem.

After multiple instances of walking in on my three year old (and a similar mess), screaming my head off, and then cleaning it up myself, I finally decided to tackle the problem before it started. Every time mine would go to the potty I'd say, "When you are done going potty you may use three pieces of toilet paper. How many pieces of toilet paper can you take?" (She'd answer three, and at first we'd count out three together.) "If you pull off more than three pieces of toilet paper, you will get a spanking. How many pieces do you get again? (Three.) And what will happen if you take more than three? (Get a spanking.)"

Once she mastered the 3P-TP rule, we started working on hand-washing and playing in the sink.

With every activity (or area with major behavioral problems), as each boundary is introduced, I wait nearby to test them. Then, I gradually back off. In the bathroom example, sure, there were still days when she decided to start unrolling all the paper again (usually when she's already in a funk), and I would come in and calmly say, "This is more than three pieces of toilet paper. Now you are going to have a spanking." (Who am I kidding? Many times I would not be calm. I'd fly off the handle and go nuts, but then gather myself before spanking her. Hah.)

But eventually, a positive behavioral habit forms and repeating the expectations every time becomes less and less necessary. In fact, you will eventually get to a point where your child is exiting the bathroom and announcing that she "didn't make a mess!" or "only used three pieces of toilet paper!"

Let the praise and rewarding be over the top when this happens.

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That Sounds A Lot More Time Consuming Than Just Cleaning up the Mess

I'm telling you, it is only time and energy consuming at the very beginning. The behavior changes so much more quickly than you think it will if you fight things relentlessly at the very beginning and while they are very small. A magical trick is that when you fight all the battles, and fight them small, kids run out of energy to attempt bigger problems. I'm totally serious. (Works with high school kids too, by the way.)

To me, "picking your battles" doesn't mean picking which ones to fight and which ones not to fight. It means figuring out which order to fight them in, because I fight all the battles, eventually. And, again, as I tackle the small things, I find that big things just don't seem to arise.

And, let me reiterate, if you think this is time and energy consuming, try dealing with raw defiance and outright disrespect from your eleven year old because she never learned to obey when she was young. That, I can assure you, is tiresome.

One Final Idea

Two is the right age to begin socializing your child away from you. You will benefit (perhaps the most) and so will she. Preschool has been one of the best things we've ever done for our children. The structure, the clear expectations, the peer pressure... all of it. They thrive, and mature, and even bring some of that newfound goodness home.

You might want to start with one or two mornings a week and build up from there.

Hang in there Mama! It won't pass if you stick your head in the sand and wait for spontaneous maturity to develop with time. You have to be the one who creates the environment and teaches the attitude you hope them to one day have.

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    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 4 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      I absolutely love this hub! I am having this problem right now. My 5 yr old screams when we are in public area, the shopping mall and dine in restaurant. I am completely dismay yet I couldn't spank him in the public. He knew it and he did it! Voted funny, interesting.

    • clairewait profile image
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      clairewait 4 years ago from North Carolina

      I have to respectfully disagree. Perhaps a public spanking is EXACTLY what he needs. There's pretty vast difference between two/early-three and FIVE. But this is exactly what I'm talking about when I say problems don't just "pass," they morph with maturity. Your child has definitely learned his area of control. You need to figure out a way to reclaim your domain in public. (Perhaps I'll do an article on this... thank you.)

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