Must 2s Be Terrible?

I’ve read my fair share of parenting books at this point. Many of them defend those so-called “terrible twos” saying they really can be terrific twos! And I remember reading their words when Skylar was an angelic 14-month-old and nodding my head, thinking “Yep, that’s gonna be my girl”.

But Skylar’s 2nd birthday is in two weeks and something is happening. Tantrums are becoming more frequent. Potty training no longer in session because it’s yet another thing to rebel against. Nothing tastes good anymore. Mom cannot snuggle away every discomfort. Mom is actually public enemy no. 1 many times each day. I had heard this might happen. I’m not saying I don’t like 2, but I don’t like the month before 2. It scares me.

When I pictured parenthood, I never pictured discipline. Matt and I both remember righteously thinking, “Oh, we’ll lay down the law and they will obey.” Oh, but we hadn’t spent any real quality one-on-one time with a 2-year-old. “Obey” is a word we fight our entire lives and I’m watching the fight begin inside my precious little one. She’s not the problem– we’re all born with a problem festering in us. We’re wild at heart.

I’ve heard my brother and sister-in-law say to their kids, “Obey right away with a happy heart.” I like that. But everything inside my Skylar writhes in the face of that sentence. I’m trying to praise all her positives like crazy, and that definitely works, but then what to do when those negatives roar?

I recently read “Happiest Toddler on the Block“. I believe in the sort of nutty dude (Dr. Harvey Karp) who wrote it because he wrote “Happiest Baby on the Block” and some of his methods worked wonders during the insane newborn weeks. One of his methods for talking toddlers through tantrums was enlightening to me.

Skylar’s vocabulary is probably .001 percent of ours, more or less (and I’m not giving Matt’s and my vocabularies high praise here). So to “talk her out of a tantrum” with lots of soothing words she doesn’t understand doesn’t work.

I’m not comforted when someone calmly tries to subdue my anger, softly saying “you’re being irrational, just stop”. No, I listen best when someone says, “Wow, that is upsetting! I understand how frustrating that must be.” So why do we not automatically try this reflective psychology on toddlers? Dr. Karp says to try to speak their language by saying, “You’re mad, mad, mad! No snack so you’re mad.” Then apparently they’ll stop screaming and realize you understand them, just a little.

I say “they” because I have only remembered to do this with Skylar once or twice (and it was effective one of those times). Typically, I ignore the tantrum because I just can’t. But even if Skylar’s being irrational, I think I should try not to be apathetic. Maybe more experienced toddler parents can counter me here and say, “No, no, it’s best to just let them wind down and get no attention from you.” I’d welcome your feedback because Dr. Karp doesn’t know everything.

Honestly, parenthood is more eye-opening and patience-stretching every week. You get something down pat then your kid grows into a new stage. There is no truly set routine, ever. But that’s true for most of us, right? I get upset with myself sometimes because I’ll be super gung-ho about a new project then a month later I wonder how I was so motivated a few weeks ago. We crave steady, but life’s unsteady. We’re unsteady.

My stationary bike (shoutout Peloton) is my friend, sometimes. Like any grueling workout, it’s an excellent metaphor for life. When I’m riding (imaginary) hills, I love, love the adrenaline rush after reaching the top and enjoying the reward of that effortless cruise downhill. Sometimes my life feels like one big downhill– I don’t remember the work I put in to make it up the mountain…then my almost two year old walks in and l realize I’m at the base of Mt. Everest.

I’m hoping this is the highest-grade incline piece of the toddler climb, but who knows? Wiser parents have said we will make it to the top and look back at some of the spectacular moments on that treacherous trail, even the base camp jitters. Bon voyage, toddler parents….three-nage parents, teenage parents, grown-adult parents!

P.S. If you give me advice, it’s not unsolicited. I’m soliciting right now.


  1. Anna Wallace

    Our oldest daughter, who is a lovely young woman, was our worst toddler. I suspect it was because she was frustrated and could not communicate well( she had recurrent ear infections that affected her hearing). She could throw some doozy temper tantrums. On day I was feeling very sorry for myself , and I decided to videotape one of her tantrums to prove to my dear husband how much I suffered in his absence. As I was videotaping, Cristina stopped her screaming; she heard herself as I was taping and it scared her. She said to me why is the baby crying. I responded it wasn’t a baby that was her, and showed her what I had recorded. She insisted “ that not me”. The miracle was that she stopped her tantrum. So hence forth, if I could grab the video recorder when she threw a tantrum, I would; and she would stop every time. It became our weird game. I am not saying not to scold your little one when she acts out, I’m saying sometimes you have to get creative to redirect her attention. Good luck.

  2. Peg Wheeler

    Hey Annie, my brother who is a family therapist gave me a suggestion that worked for his 2 girls and I used on Todd, Chad and my grandkids. Put them somewhere within sight of you and turn your back and ignore her. She just wants your attention and reaction. When she is done (or worn out) ask her if she is done crying/yelling then say well now let’s color together or read a book, etc. If she starts in again, close the book and walk away.
    Good luck and know it will get better.

  3. Honor Christensen

    I think that one thing you could do is to try not to be emotional about it, and remember that this exact type of thing comes back at the teenaged years. My mother-in-law once said that the only difference between a toddler and a teenager was that you could still pick up the toddler! What I mean by emotional is that we tend to take our children’s behavior personally. We thnk that what they do is a reflection of what we have done/not done, and that’s not true. They just ARE and we have to deal with what’s happening at the moment. So being calm and unaffected (at least on the outside) is very helpful. They aren’t getting a reaction from you which is a component of the situation. If you have the time, just ride it out. If you’re someplace public, do what you have to do escape and know that one of those people staring at you is staring at you with compassion and a little “go mama” in their head. (I always think that at least) And if you’re public enemy no 1 from time to time, you’re doing a fabulous job. My kids really quickly stopped saying “You’re the meanest mom ever” because I would reply with, “I had a mean mom, so you should too”! (I think they hated that)

    I always hated it when people would say “Oh, 3 is so much better than 2 or 4 is so much better than 3” because it wasn’t true for me. Enjoy the fun moments of 2, brace yourself for more Mt. Everests, and hang in there because you are doing a terrific job, mom.

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