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The Terrible Twos

Updated on July 13, 2011

Fussy Baby at 14 Months

Okay, so the "Know-it-all" Mummy confesses that she doesn't "know it all". Since Saturday past, Gavin's crankiness has went up a whole new level I never thought possible. He now wakes up from naps crying - in fact, he cries a lot more lately and it's not the normal kind of crying but the hysterical type that seems inconsolable. Sometimes even offering the magic breast doesn't help at all. He just shakes his head and screams more angrily as if to say I don't understand him - which is exactly how I feel at those times.

I did an online search for possible causes of fussiness in 14 month old babies and only came up with a few other Mums complaining of the same problem - fussy baby, cries a lot, won't eat, always wants what you are holding, always wants you to play with him - in other words, very difficult. Although I didn't find the solution to my problem, at least I know I'm not alone, but just to be sure, I checked in with my three best Mummy pals to reconfirm that I'm still a good Mummy and I haven't done anything wrong.

Well it would seem my health science training is still quite ingrained in me because I started making a list of possible causes for Gavin's crankiness - my differential diagnosis - and started working through the list on a process of elimination. So here are the possible causes for Gavin's recent crankiness:

  • dietary - too much MSG and sugar
  • environmental - too much excitement and play
  • teething - Gav's upper left central incisor is taking forever to break through
  • sleep - shifting from two naps to one
  • constipation - he went three days without pooping (quite a long time since he's now on solids)
  • milestones - he just started walking unaided
  • developmental - the Terrible Twos

There's also a possibility that it is just a combination of all of these factors. For instance, he had nightmares on Saturday night when he went out for a birthday party and ate food with a lot of MSG. On Monday night, hubby and I took him shopping at KLCC where he had New Zealand ice cream's Chocolate Ecstasy and my Starbucks hot chocolate. Needless to say he slept poorly that night. On Tuesday, he went swimming in the morning so I foolishly tried to shift him to a single afternoon nap for my convenience. Instead of sleeping two to three hours like I expected when I put him down for a single nap, he woke up after an hour and refused to go back to sleep.

He cried after waking up from his afternoon naps which could be due to his teething because he would shove a finger into his mouth and rub his gums while howling. I did attempt to resolve the problem with some Bonjela only to stir up a whole new burst of crying because Gavin couldn't stand the taste of Bonjela. Frankly, I'm not sure I'm all that keen on it either since it has a rather distinct aniseed flavour. I don't know if I imagined it but Gavin did seem to calm down a little after getting over the horrid taste of Bonjela so perhaps he was starting to feel some relief in his gums?

Then yesterday, Gavin started walking unaided. I've read that when babies hit a particularly big milestone, there can be a tendency for increased fussiness, so that seems to coincide. Then again, it could also be the stomach discomfort he was experiencing from not having pooped for three days in a row. After pooping yesterday afternoon, Gavin napped for 45 minutes in the evening and it was the first time in days that he actually woke up without bursting immediately into tears.

Last but not least, it could just be as my friend PL said - that Gavin is going through a phase. When you've tried everything and nothing seems to resolve the problem, put it down to the Terrible Twos, which, according to Dr Greene, even ideal parents would have to experience no matter how well they raised their toddler. Basically, the Terrible Twos is a phase every toddler goes through where they are starting to discover their autonomy and in order to exert this new found self, they have to oppose what their parents say. It is a part of discovering their own identity.

What is the Terrible Twos

The Terrible Twos is marked by a strong tendency to oppose everything Mummy and Daddy says, no matter how reasonable the request might be. For instance, "don't touch the plug points" is met with a howl of frustration, "don't play with the drawers" is met with an angry barrage of throwing objects from the drawer, and my all-time worst - "it's time to sleep" is met with an arched back and a scream of fury like you've never heard. Naturally, this is a very trying time for a parent, trying to be understanding of your child's apparent disregard of your commands.

If it is a difficult time for a parent, it is an equally troubling time for a toddler. Having just come from babyhood where your toddler's every desire was to please Mummy and Daddy, being at odds with their most favourite people in the world can be emotionally tumultuous. Their desire to be approved by Mummy and Daddy is at war with their need for autonomy. Dr Greene's depiction of the Terrible Twos as being the first adolescence is indeed an apt description of this phase.

So if you understand the turmoil your child is experiencing, suddenly the unexplained crying, poor sleeping habits and fussiness is starting to make sense again. If you were at odds with a loved one, wouldn't you feel upset, too?

Surviving the Terrible Twos

Well, understanding the cause of the crying doesn't make it any easier to deal with at 5am in the morning. Having spent the large part of the previous night pacifying Gavin who refused to be calmed down by anything, I wasn't ready to be deal with more crying at 5am. I wanted to hide under the covers and pretend it didn't exist - as rotten a Mum as that made me feel. It certainly made me understand how "shaken baby syndrome" occurs, not that it makes it any more acceptable nor do I think I would ever resort to such extreme measures to silence a baby's cry. At any rate, it also reinforced the importance of taking a break from your toddler especially if you're a SAHM.

So this hub is designed to reinforce two points:

  • No matter what anyone says about their well-behaved baby who slept well through the night and hardly ever cried, your difficult, snappy, cranky, crying baby is not a result of bad parenting. Take an example of a parent I know whose first daughter was really "good", while her second daughter gave her a real run for her money. Every toddler is different, and naturally so because every toddler is a little person with his or her own personality.
  • Don't feel bad if your child's crying is making you angry - this just shows you're human - as long as you recognise your limits and make sure you take yourself out of the picture before you snap. Don't be afraid ask a friend or a family member to mind your toddler for a couple of hours so you can have some R&R or "me" time. Dads, recognise that Mums, even Super Mums, need a break from time to time so she can regain some sanity.

So how when does the Terrible Twos begin and how long do we have to endure it? Well, contrary to popular belief that the Terrible Twos begins when a toddler turns two years of age, it can begin at any time after the first birthday (and sometimes even before). The average age that the Terrible Twos begin is around 18 months, and it can last until 3 years of age. Unfortunately for me, I already started noticing the early beginnings of the Terrible Twos in Gavin since he turned 1, although his moods and emotions are steadily getting worse. I almost dread to think what they will be like at their peak.

What can you do to ease the Terrible Twos? Well, I read a little book by Harvey Karp called "The Happiest Toddler on the Block". I've applied his suggestions with mixed results. I don't know if I'm imagining it, but I do feel Gavin is making more progress the more I used it. I'm hoping that as he gets older and understands more, the tactics in the book will have even more effect on him. All parents are welcome to contribute their secret tips and advice on dealing with the Terrible Twos.

About the Author

If you like this hub, you can find more articles about my parenting research and experiences on my blog Babylicious.


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    • HealthyHanna profile image


      8 years ago from Utah

      This is a stage that is hard to understand. Thank you.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Thank you i will definitely try those ideas!

    • figur8 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      My son is the same. Usually, I just either hold him and tell him firmly but calmly (usually into his ear because he's making too much noise to be heard otherwise) that I'm just going to hold him until he calms down. Alternatively, I'll lie down on the floor with him. If I know he's just doing it to get his own way, I ignore him for a while then come back and ask if he's ready to talk. Which tack I take depends on the situation.

      The important thing is to be calm yourself. Children feel your emotions so if you feel agitated, they will too. Sometimes it's hard but it gets easier with practice. Just remind yourself that it isn't personal. Children behave this way and it's normal. Sometimes they are testing their boundaries, other times, it's because they haven't learned how to cope with the little disappointments in life.

      I've also written about toddler tantrums which you might be interested to read here:

      There are a lot of things involved with toddler tantrums and many aspects to consider. For instance, children usually behave worse when tired. I've noticed my son throws more tantrums near bedtime than any other time. Sometimes your child just wants to win a battle so let her win the small ones. Give her options instead of an out-right "no". e.g. You can have either A or B but not C. Or you can't climb onto the table but we can go outside and ride your bike.

      They say that children usually act the worst around their parents - the people they are most comfortable with. In a very ironic way, I guess that's a compliment to you because your daughter feels comfortable enough with you to show you her worst.

      I've also learned a long time ago to stop caring what other people think about me as a parent. As long as I know I'm doing the best that I can.

      Something else you should remember - it isn't the parents of the well-behaved kids that are necessarily the great parents. Sometimes it's the parents of the kids who are the most difficult that are the great ones. It is easy for an outsider to criticise a parent for being a lousy parent but until they get into your shoes and deal with your child, they have no right to comment. Children are just like adults - they have different personalities and different temperaments. Some children are just easy going and others are different. Your daughter is spirited. In time to come that spirit will be good for her. You may find her persevering through tasks that others have long given up on because of her spirit.

      Anyway, I hope that helps.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I have a 3 year old little girl and the word "NO" is like death to her. She will throw herself on the floor, stomp on her own feet, slap herself, bite herself, or just scream bloody murder. This happens at least everyday if not multiple times a day unless she is with someone other then me, then she is an angel. I've tried talking to her and placing her in timeout but nothing seems to work. I'm at the point that i don't know what to do anymore. I don't want to be looked at like I'm a bad mother but how she acts makes people really look at me bad. Do you have any ideas about how to control these outbursts?

    • profile image

      Chris Thompson 

      10 years ago

      Nice hub page. Check out my audio course for parents who are dealing with the Terrible Twos. It's at

      Once kids get to about the age of two, the language that they use and understand is a lot more advanced than a 14 month old's language, so you can take advantage of many tricks and techniques that involve the clever use of language. For me, the toddler years were a lot more fun because of these tools.

    • figur8 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Marisue - yes, it is amazing what experience can do for you isn't it? I know so much more now that I wish I had known when my son was born. Thanks for the encouragement!

      Princessa - yes, it is a really interesting book! They also have a DVD which actually shows you how to apply the principles of the book which I thought was extremely useful. I've used it on older children before and found it worked a charm. Well, I'm sure it does get better, the only question being "when?" For now, I guess, take heart that you're in good company - not that it's much of a consolation at 5am in the morning.

    • Princessa profile image

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      10 years ago from France

      I need to read that book... I had the terrible 2s, the 3s and now I am in my terrible 4s... Does it get better?

    • marisuewrites profile image


      10 years ago from USA

      Great information! I raised 3 sons, and 250 foster kids, and I wish I had known then what I know now. Keep writing....Marisue


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