How to Survive the Terrible Twos: Practical Tips

“No! No! No!” Your screaming two-year-old is yet again in tantrum mode.

By the time your sweet baby turns two, if your child is like most, they’ll have discovered the joy of expressing their independence and emotions in strong displays. So infamous is this period of childhood that it’s earned its own name: the terrible twos.

How are you to survive this period of childhood development? While it does have it’s joys, the struggle of toddlerhood is real. However, with some key parenting strategies and tricks, you can make the most of this exciting time in you and your child’s life. Here are 7 practical tips to follow that will make your passage through the terrible twos a little bit easier:

Set and Keep Limits

Young children need boundaries to feel secure. Despite their protests when enforced, having limits is very important for your child’s mental health, and your sanity! How can you set limits? Give your child clear timelines and consequences. For example, you might say, “It’s time to put the toys away.” Your child refuses. You then say, “I’ll count to three. If you don’t help me start putting the toys away by the count of three, then I’ll store them in the closet for the rest of the day.” You must follow through, no matter how much your child cries.

When setting limits, you can help prepare your child ahead of time in some cases. For example, give your child 5-minute and 2-minute warnings before it’s time to change activities such as leave the park. This will help your child prepare for the change.

Encourage Independence

Two-year-olds are learning all about doing things “all by myself!” Independence is an important part of their development at this age. You can help them by enabling them to be more and more independent. This will avoid power struggles and frustrations, while also making your life easier.

Some ways you can encourage and enable independence are:

  • Add step stools around the house in key areas such as sinks so your child can reach to wash hands
  • Provide choices to your child. For example, offer two choices of t-shirts to wear or cups to drink from.
  • Involve your child in food and snack preparation (spreading peanut butter, slicing a banana with a butter knife, etc.)
  • Purchase shoes your child can put on and take off on their own (velcro and slip-ons are great choices).

Use Routines

If your two-year-old knows what to expect, things will run more smoothly. Try to create a general routine your child can grow accustomed to on most days. For example, have your child take a nap or some quiet time every day after lunch. Or, always read 2 books before bed after brushing teeth and getting into pajamas. These events should occur around the same time every day.

Limit Screen Time

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ages 2-5 should only have an hour or less of screen time daily. In fact, one study shows that limiting screen time, in combination with other factors, helps improve cognition. While you shouldn’t feel guilty about allowing your child some screen time, excessive screen time often results in a grouchy child. Also, screen time should be avoided just before bedtime as it can result in poor quality sleep.

Nip Picky Eating in the Bud

One common complaint parents have about their 2-year-olds is picky eating. However, with a few strategies, you can avoid having picky eating take over all of your meals. Here is how you can avoid this struggle:

  • Make one meal for everyone in the family (no special meals for your 2-year-old!)
  • Include at least one item in each meal that you know your child will eat (apple slices, bread, carrot sticks, yogurt, macaroni and cheese, etc.)
  • Eat together as a family.
  • Your child is allowed to eat however much they want of everything on their plate and have seconds if there’s enough. However, they aren’t forced to eat anything they don’t want.
  • Set specific times for snacks. This will teach your child to eat at mealtimes or risk being hungry before snack time rolls around.

With these strategies, your child will learn to try new foods simply by being exposed to them and watching other family members enjoy them. Your child will also learn that you aren’t their personal chef, and what’s served is what there is to eat.

Enjoy Quality Time Together

Your 2-year-old craves connection and quality time with you, their parent. By ensuring that your child enjoys positive connections with you on a regular basis, you can foster a positive relationship with your child. This positive relationship encourages cooperation and respect. So, whether you spend some time every day reading books, playing pretend, or kicking the soccer ball around together, make sure you get that quality time in.

Get Plenty of Exercise

Toddlers need to be on the move. If they don’t get enough exercise, toddlers may be cranky and disagreeable. So, make visits to local parks and playgrounds a part of your regular routine. During colder months or bad weather, you can turn up the radio and enjoy a dance party or try visiting indoor play areas at your local community center, or similar.

The terrible twos can be an exciting time of developing independence, growth, and learning. However, this same growth is often marked by testing limits and the struggle of learning to express emotions and asserting independence. With love, patience, and the above tips and strategies, you can safely make to the other side of this exciting, but challenging age.

Do you have tips and tricks for navigating the terrible twos? Tell us about them in the comments below.

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