Your 2-Year-Old Child

You have to take your child to daycare and then get to work—and you’re late. Your 2-year-old suddenly decides she doesn’t want to go. The more you try to put her into her car seat, the more she fights and screams. In a few moments she’s crying and you’re frustrated.

These tantrums, as well as other unwanted behaviors, seem to be happening a lot lately. Is this the “terrible twos?”

Remember that this phase also can be the “terrific twos.” Watching your children grow and learn is a wonderful and challenging experience. They are finding out about the world. Their language is expanding. They may start to say their ABCs or 123s—they may even say, "I love you."

But it’s also normal for them to begin making their wishes known by voicing their opinions and saying “no.” Be prepared. Give yourself a lot of extra time to deal with possible delays.

Tantrums

When children have tantrums, it may look like they have lost control and will never stop kicking and screaming. As long as they are safe, walk away or put them in a “time out” until they are calm. Time out should be 2 minutes or less for 2-year-olds. If it happens in a public place, try to pick them up, hold them close, and rock them. Talk soothingly—say, “I love you, it’s OK,” or “take a deep breath: In, out, in, out”—until they are calm. Try to find a restroom for privacy until the crying stops.

It’s possible the tantrum isn’t over, especially if you told them “no” to a certain item in the store, and then they spot it again. Don’t give in, but once in a while a compromise is OK.

What else you can do

These tips may be helpful to ward off tantrums:

  • Use humor. When the most unwanted behaviors like tantrums occur, find funny, positive ways to distract your toddler. Trying to stop them early is far better than trying to control them once they get worse.

  • Let them choose—sometimes. Allow children to make unimportant, nonconsequential decisions. For example, let them choose what to wear to preschool or what to drink for dinner. 

  • Encourage good behavior. Notice good behavior and respond positively. Don’t just notice things they do wrong.  

  • Limit choices. Too many choices may cause confusion and problems. For example, you might say, “Do you want milk or water to drink for dinner?” rather than, “What would you like to drink?” Or “Do you want to watch ‘A’ cartoon or ‘B’ cartoon?” rather than, “What do you want to do?”

  • Establish routines. Routines help your children stay calm throughout the day. Try to have regular times for meals, snacks, naps, bedtime, and other activities. 

  • Make sure your children get enough sleep. Tired children are usually easily upset and cranky. Set a reasonable bedtime and then stick to it. Introduce quiet activities shortly before bedtime to help them relax for sleep.  

  • Talk with other parents. They can tell you about what worked and what didn’t work for them. 

  • Talk with your child’s healthcare provider. If you need help with tantrums or other behaviors, your child’s healthcare provider can help.