The Terrible Twos Explained

  • By: Beth Morrisey
  • Time to read: 3 min.

The ‘Terrible Twos’ is so named because it is a period of child development in which children initially begin to make their own choices. At this age a toddler begins to realise that (s)he does not need to constantly want what her caregiver wants but instead can make up his or her own mind about things.

During the terrible twos, children often assert this ability by simply disagreeing with their caregivers. This can be hard for parents and other adults, but it is just a phase and it really will pass.

Oppositional Behaviour & the Terrible Twos

Oppositional behaviour is when an individual does the exact opposite of what another individual wants. This type of Behavioural Problem is often seen in adolescents, but it is also a hallmark of the terrible twos. For this reason, the terrible twos are sometimes also referred to as a ‘first adolescence’.

During the terrible twos, however, children may not truly know their own mind. They may engage in oppositional behaviour only because they understand that they don’t have to agree with someone else.

Surviving the Terrible Twos

Surviving the terrible twos boils down to remembering that children at this age are not logical and rational. They are very young and often motivated only to show that they are independent. This means that they may make a decision simply to show that they can, not because they really want the outcome or because they are trying to frustrate someone else.

To best survive the terrible twos, adults can offer children limited choices. Asking if a child wants to wear a red shirt or a blue shirt will allow him or her to make a choice, but it will also allow adults to stay in control and only offer what will not adversely affect their plans and/or schedules.

Allowing children to make small choices will help them gain the decision-making skills that they will need for the rest of the lives, and it will also teach them how to live with decisions that they may not have enjoyed making or that did not turn out how they wanted them to.

Learning from the Terrible Twos

There is much that both adults and children can learn from the terrible twos. Children will not only learn decision-making skills and how to live with their decisions, but what to do when they don’t like their choices and how to disagree without throwing a temper tantrum.

Adults will learn how to deal with oppositional behaviour, and how to stay in charge while ceding decision making power. Though parents of toddlers will not necessarily want to think ahead a decade, the terrible twos can also teach them more about what to expect when their children do become adolescents.

The terrible twos is a time marked by oppositional behaviour, but it does not necessarily need to be a time that causes anger, tears, temper tantrums or cracks in close relationships. By understanding the terrible twos and using them as a teachable time, parents can help their children navigate this phase of child development.

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