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Terrible Twos Toddlers Discipline

Updated on November 29, 2009


Swans are known for fiercely defending their chicks Photo by C.Borthwick all rights reserved
Swans are known for fiercely defending their chicks Photo by C.Borthwick all rights reserved
Children are like clouds; ever changing, always different Photo by C.Borthwick all rights reserved
Children are like clouds; ever changing, always different Photo by C.Borthwick all rights reserved

Terrible twos, parenting tips

As a child nears the stage of what some refer to, not-so-affectionately, as the ‘terrible twos’ many parents want to run for the hills yelling retreat, pull back, the enemy is about to attack. Now really, it’s just a little kid, not Atilla the Hun! How much chaos can he create? That depends on your tactics. Do you want to wage a full scale battle or be a peacemaker?

Two is an age when a child begins to express his independence, which often manifests into what parents conceive to be a ‘tantrum’. Chances are the conceived ‘tantrum’ is merely a child’s reaction to the parent’s frustration of not knowing how to deal with the main issue. It’s a natural progression in a child’s development for him to become assertive, put out feelers to test his environment and quite often a parents’ patience. This behaviour can rear its ugly head anytime between 18 months and four years of age. The fact is he is simply attempting to define his boundaries, not get back at you for not letting him have another cookie before dinner!

Being a developmental stage, certain behaviour may be encountered that is unavoidable. One way to abate a substantial number of power struggles, however, is to give a child tons of small choices that will encourage his independence while maintaining parental control.

At two a child’s world begins to open up because he has more mobility. With each day come new experiences, he becomes more observant and in-tune to his surroundings. If it’s shiny he wants to touch it, when he sees something new he wants to rush to investigate, his curiosity is peaked by new sounds and smells, and his taste buds are heightened. So if he doesn’t like the spinach he will express himself with a newly acquired voice. An adamant NO may frequently resound with a voice that is strongly opinionated, but has yet to develop the skills to communicate his thoughts clearly.

Recognizing the change in behaviour is usually easy and can range from a passive ‘no’ to a stubborn ‘no, I do it mineself’ to dropping to the ground in a flailing, screaming heap. Coping with it, on the other hand, can be challenging for some parents more-so than others.

With adults we have a tendency to read between the lines, whereas with a toddler we must endeavour to read beyond the word(s). To a developing two year olds mind, ‘no’ may not be a refusal to comply. For example, when uttered to a parent attempting to put a sock on a fidgety foot, it’s not necessarily that the child objects to wearing the sock, it could be he just wants to try putting it on for himself.

Try to remember that this stage of growing and learning is as frustrating to a toddler as it may be to parents. The only difference being that as parents we possess the ability to find strategies to deal with frustration, his and ours, effectually.

One sure-fire way to avoid frequent use of the word ‘no’ is by always asking open-ended questions. Offer toddlers a choice of responses to specific questions. If a child is prone to making a fuss when being dressed ask if he wants to wear the blue shirt or the green shirt. If he’s a picky eater ask him to choose between two favourite foods, a piece of cheese or an apple at snack time.

Speaking of putting up a fuss, getting a child to cooperate at bedtime can pose a major problem, sometimes more than occasionally. Asking if he’s ready to go to bed, unless he’s been completely, totally, unequivocally run ragged through the course of the day, will usually be answered with a resounding NO. On the other hand, asking what story he would like to hear when he goes to bed gives him the power to project his independence by making a conscious choice while you maintain control.

For some parents taking a toddler shopping is worse than having a root canal without anaesthetic. Just the thought of a trip to the grocery store can instil fear in even the bravest of parents. To insure cooperation, as well as appropriate behaviour, let a youngster choose three or four toys that are specifically set aside for outings, something he doesn’t get to play with any other time. Give him choices that will be certain to keep him occupied and entertained. A tried and true option is music. When my sons were toddlers they inevitably opted for a Fisher Price, battery operated, tape recorder to listen to their favourite performers. They actually arrived at a point in time when they looked forward to going along on the trip to the supermarket.

Another tip for when you arrive at the check-out (you know what I’m talking about) is to have ‘special’ treats at home for your child to choose from. Again, it should be something other than the norm. I used to keep Kinder Surprises on hand. The deal I made with my sons was this… I would shop as fast as I could, they would be as patient as they could and listen to their music (it wasn’t always quietly, but it was happy noise). Then while I paid for groceries they could have their treat… one condition… no asking for anything else at the check-out or no treat. As long as you’re consistent and never give in this will work every time.

Making a ‘deal’ with a toddler could be construed as bribery by some, but there is a distinct difference. It’s an agreement of action between parent and child. A deal agreed to by the toddler should have a result that is advantageous to him. It doesn’t take long for a very young child to comprehend being rewarded for acceptable behaviour. I explained that making a deal meant doing something nice for each other, to show how much you love and respect each other.

By offering your child independence and allowing him to take part in decisions that directly involve him, you may not experience any difficult age at all. Provide him with the necessary skills by teaching him with hands-on methods. For example; when it comes to nutritious food choices explain why certain ingredients found in food (especially cereal) are bad for him so that’s why you don’t buy that stuff with the Count on it. Then let him choose from the ‘better-for-you’ cereals. Show him how to choose the best apples, tomatoes or whatever it is you want him to eat and let him pick out the good ones. Explain why certain behaviours are not acceptable through example. ‘If I broke your favourite toy would that be nice?’ No. ‘If I fixed the toy that you broke would that be nice?’ Yes. When he does something wonderful praise him for it and when he does something not-so-wonderful explain why and give him a time-out. Time-out when my kids were little was to sit on the couch, think about their actions/behaviour for a few minutes and then to ‘coax’ them through why it was not acceptable. Let’s face it, they probably didn’t think about much except getting off the couch and back to whatever they had been doing, so it has to be coached and coaxed from their wandering mind. Either way it’s a lesson learned.

No two children are alike, which is a good thing, but as parents it’s our responsibility to encourage their independence, to teach them right from wrong, what’s good and what’s bad so they grow to be strong, self-sufficient adults that can reflect back on childhood as a memorable event!

Tips and tricks

Tip 1: Never tell your child he’s bad, it sets a negative attitude. It’s the action or reaction

that’s bad, not the child.

Tip 2: Don’t move all objects, ornaments etc, from your child’s reach. He needs to

learn what he’s allowed to touch (unbreakable/safe) in order to learn what is

acceptable to touch or not touch when visiting other places.

Tip 3: Kids love to play so take advantage and make a game out of putting toys away,

getting ready for bed or anything that the child perceives to be tedious.

Tip 4: I began using this method early on when my kids got frustrated or angry over

little things. I’d smile and say, ‘Whatever you do, don’t smile. No smiling

allowed, I mean it, don’t you dare smile. No laughing either, don’t do it.” After

chanting these words repeatedly for a for maybe a minute a smile appeared

and the frustration or anger melted away. It still works, even on my husband.

Seriously, only now they say I hate it when you do that while they’re laughing.

Tip 5: If or when your toddler looks at you, stomps his feet and says ‘I hate you’,

look him straight in the eyes, tell him that’s not a nice thing to say, that its

hurtful and that you love him. This turns a negative into a positive.


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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Yup, that'll do it. You have my aprtceiapion.

    • Carmen Borthwick profile imageAUTHOR

      Carmen Borthwick 

      9 years ago from Maple Ridge, B.C.

      Good for you and your husband. We raised three... the two are still questionable, just kidding, they are all wonderful! I am proud of the friends they have chosen [for the most part] and the lives they lead. They could call a bit more often, but most of us were guilty of the same thing when we were their age.LOL

    • fastfreta profile image

      Alfreta Sailor 

      9 years ago from Southern California

      I was an old school mother from the south and that indicated a different kind of rearing. I can say that we did implement the four tips that you gave and a lot more. My husband was a lot stricter than I was, but working together we managed to raise five, happy, healthy, and stable adults. Well I say that, at this point they are, but who knows the future, (smile). This is a very good hub, one to pass on to those rearing children these days.

    • Carmen Borthwick profile imageAUTHOR

      Carmen Borthwick 

      9 years ago from Maple Ridge, B.C.

      Hi Paul. We have so many similar ideas, I thought you might like to read it. Thanks and keep up the good work.

    • Paul Marshall profile image

      Paul Marshall 

      9 years ago from Australia

      Hey, good stuff Carmen. I do a lot of this but never really knew how to put it into words as well as you have done.

      I get Ed to help me with tasks around the house, giving him a sense of independance. He helps me cook, so he tends to want to eat the food that he cooked.

      He has only had a few tantrums, and never while we are out in public. I think he has too much fun when we are out.

    • Carmen Borthwick profile imageAUTHOR

      Carmen Borthwick 

      9 years ago from Maple Ridge, B.C.

      Yes, I walked away a couple of times. I was fortunate, my kids never really went through any stages. My youngest son had anger issues at one point, those were not fun to deal with.

    • Ms Chievous profile image


      9 years ago from Wv

      What great advice. My child missed the terrible twos and had terrible threes instead. I usually walked away from a tantrum if I couldn't redirect him. he would either stop hi stantrum or follow me to continue the tantrum.

    • Carmen Borthwick profile imageAUTHOR

      Carmen Borthwick 

      9 years ago from Maple Ridge, B.C.

      No, you're not bad, just human. Thank you for reading emievil, I'm glad you enjoyed it and found it useful. It's never too late to change.

    • emievil profile image


      9 years ago from Philippines

      Ooooopppp, my bad. I tend to tell my niece that she's bad when she's doing something bad. Now she tells me I'm bad when I try to discipline her. Sheeesh, maybe I should start reading hubs / the internet / blogs / books about how to bring up a kid. Your hub is great. Very useful practical down-to-earth advices. Certainly a must-read for those bringing up kids who are in their terrible-twos or even terrible-threes phase.

    • jesusmyjoy profile image

      Betty Bolden 

      9 years ago from Bucyrus Ohio

      thank you so much

    • Carmen Borthwick profile imageAUTHOR

      Carmen Borthwick 

      9 years ago from Maple Ridge, B.C.

      Hey AllMom, thanks for the read!

    • AllMomNeeds2know profile image


      9 years ago

      Great article. It's important to know that the 'terrible twos' is a toddler just trying to gain some independence and giving them choices does help.

    • Carmen Borthwick profile imageAUTHOR

      Carmen Borthwick 

      9 years ago from Maple Ridge, B.C.

      Thanks Mother Earth, I think a lot of parents are choosing, more and more, for one of them to stay-at-home at least until primary grades. It makes parenting a lot more consistent and it is more advantageous for the kids in the long run.


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