How To Survive The Terrible 2s

If you’re like a lot of other parents, somewhere around your toddler’s 2nd birthday (maybe even earlier), you may wonder whatever happened to your sweet, adorable child. Instead of wide-eyed smiles and happy giggles, you’re now witnessing:

  • screaming
  • temper tantrums
  • kicking and biting
  • grabbing toys
  • fighting with siblings
  • every word is “No”
  • total meltdowns

What is going on? Is this normal behavior for a 2-year-old? Sadly, yes.

Welcome to the terrible 2s!

Mason Gomberg-001R WEB72

Mason Gomberg, MD

What’s behind all the negative behavior? Basically, your toddler’s need for independence is bumping up against his/her frustration at not being in control all the time. They want to be a dictator but they don’t have the physical skill and intellectual wherewithal to pull it off or the language skills to express what they want and need. The perfect recipe for multiple meltdowns! Also, children who don’t express themselves well will have more temper tantrums.

The good news? This too shall pass. The bad news? Not for a while.

At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we’ve helped thousands of parents shepherd their 2-year-olds through these “terrible” years, and we’re ready to help you with yours, with information, advice and maybe most of all, a listening ear.

From our experience working with parents and toddlers, we’ve come up with these tried-and-true, parent-tested tips to help you survive this “terrible” phase in your child’s development:

1) Make sure your child has enough to eat

Three meals a day aren’t always enough to satisfy a hungry toddler, especially a picky eater. Your growing child needs 1,000-1,200 calories a day, which translates into 3 meals and 1-2 snacks. We suggest offering healthy snacks throughout the day and evening so that his/her tummy never gets too empty, which as you probably know, can lead to meltdowns.

Foods high in fiber and protein will help keep your toddler full and hopefully keep the temper tantrums at bay.

Here are some healthy snack ideas:

  • Sliced strawberries or apples
  • Whole wheat crackers
  • Small pieces of cheese
  • Applesauce
  • Yogurt
  • Milk

Helpful things to remember:

  • Many 2-year-olds eat one good meal per day, which is perfectly ok.
  • Make sure your child isn’t drinking too much milk (more than 16 oz per day) or other fluids.
  • Don’t make mealtime a battle.
  • Never make food a control issue or punishment.
  • Save an uneaten meal for later when your child is hungry.
  • If needed, give your child a multivitamin after discussing with your doctor.

2) Keep your cool

No matter how bad a tantrum gets, try not to lose it yourself, too. Take a deep breath, leave the scene if necessary (and if possible), and regroup so you can calmly deal with the behavior. Trust us: This stage is temporary and things will get better!

3) Pay attention to naptime when scheduling outings and playdates

Try not to plan activities at times when you know your child is most likely to fall apart, usually near nap time or meal time. If it’s unavoidable, plan ahead and take along snacks, drinks and maybe some favorite books or toys in case things start to go south.

4) Try to prevent a tantrum before it starts

Temper tantrums often happen when your child is hungry, tired, bored or feeling overwhelmed. Try to anticipate outbursts by picking up on your child’s nonverbal cues and typical reactions to various situations. When you sense an explosion building, quickly redirect: change the environment, give him/her a snack, sing a song, start preparations for a nap, put on soft music, read a book or play a quiet game. When a full-blown temper tantrum does occur: if you can’t distract your child, walk away and let him/her come to you in a different room when he/she is done. Your pediatrician can help you and your child with time-outs, if needed.

5) Give your toddler some control

Letting your 2-year-old have a say in some aspects of his/her life will work wonders in diffusing the “terrible 2s” attitude. Let your child choose what to wear today, or whether he/she would like pretzels or an apple for snack.

6) Teach your child healthy ways to vent anger

When your toddler wants to react to a frustrating situation by yelling and screaming, help him/her find an acceptable outlet for the anger instead, like running around outside, bouncing a ball or singing really loudly. Just make sure the alternate behavior does not encourage violence that can be acted out later on others, like punching a pillow or hitting a doll. Remember, teaching your toddler how to deal with negative emotions now will pay off in the future.

And once you’ve survived the terrible 2s, here come the terrible 3s

A lot of our parents tell us that the “terrible 3s” are as bad, or worse, than the “terrible 2s.” The source of the terrible-ness one year later is similar to what was going on when your child was a 2-year-old: He/she wants to be independent and control their environment but lack the tools to do so. Consequently, they get frustrated, angry and combative.

Our advice for the terrible 3s? Much the same as for the terrible 2s: Keep calm, understand the source of the tantrums, and practice the 6 guidelines above. This too shall pass!

At the end of your rope with your toddler? Come see us.

If you’re finding it hard (or impossible!) dealing with your 2-year and would like some advice and guidance, or if you have questions about any aspects of your child’s health and well-being, please make an appointment to come in to see one of our Westchester Health Pediatrics pediatricians. Together, we’ll figure out a way forward that works for everyone and helps relieve the stress of these very trying years. Our #1 goal is to help you raise a happy, healthy young child and for you to feel confident as a parent. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

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By Mason Gomberg, MD, Pediatric Physician with Westchester Health Pediatrics, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners

by WHA-Admin