Cincinnati Family Magazine

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November 30, 2022

What’s So Terrible About Being 2?

Everyone’s heard of the “terrible 2s,” but don’t get caught up in the cliche. Take some simple steps to ensure that everyone’s life will be a little more pleasant for the second year and beyond.

So what’s up when a kid reaches age 2? Many parents are ready to pull their hair out when their kids reach this age – and it continues for about a year to a year-and-a-half.

Parents of younger infants are lulled into a sense of ease when their son or daughter reaches about 6 months. By this time infants are usually sleeping well through the night, able to sit in a high chair, can amuse themselves in a playpen and are enthralled with Mom and Dad’s gaze and smile. To many, parenting at this stage appears easy and there is no way of truly knowing what lies ahead.

By 24 months however, toddlers may be bored with routines and are generally quite mobile – able to walk at a brisk pace for multiple steps and highly explorative. Herein lies the set-up for the “terrible 2s,” unless prepared.

Two-year-olds have this marvelously inquisitive mind, but absolutely no experience from prior learning to understand “safe or harmful,” “good or bad,” and “right or wrong.” As such, they simply set out to explore the world as it is available to them. Until they learn or experience otherwise, all objects are neutral. Objects have no inherent worth and are not yet known for causing either pleasure or pain.

It’s only when the child experiences the object can they determine its value. Value to the 2-year-old is usually a function of the pleasure an object can bring to the child. Pleasure is derived from touch, taste, sight, sound and scent. Some things are pleasurable and “fun,” while others offer neither amusement nor any particular pleasure. Other items still – like the taste of a sour lemon – may cause displeasure, and children soon learn to avoid these.

A Parent’s Tendency

Knowing this about normal childhood development, the challenge facing parents is to pre-empt negative outcomes from their child’s exploration and learning while maximizing the opportunity for positive outcomes. To reduce frustration and maximize the opportunity for your child’s learning and pleasure consider the following:

  1. By this stage of life, if you haven’t already baby-proofed the home, do so. It is reasonable to put away the fancy glass and china that adorns the coffee table, have safety latches on cupboard doors and gates on the stairs. Your child will explore, which is normal and healthy, so get on your knees, look at your home from your child’s point of view and fix anything that can cause harm. You will be more relaxed if you are less concerned about household safety hazards.
  2. Telling 2-year-olds what not to do doesn’t mean they will know what to do. As such, they may stop doing what you have told them, but go on to another equally disturbing activity. It’s reasonable to tell a child to stop doing something, but it’s not sufficient. Every time you tell a child what not to do, follow it up by redirecting the child to what he can do, and be specific. If you say, “Go play,” this gives the child permission to do almost anything, whereas if you tell the child, “You can play with the blocks,” this more clearly directs the child to approved activities.
  3. Children do need to learn safe from harmful, right from wrong and good from bad. When your child does do something you deem inappropriate, tell him so in a firm voice. However, don’t stop there. Next direct him to other approved activities and soon after let him know how well he is playing.
  4. Self-esteem grows the more children gain mastery over their environment and self. While some areas may be off-limits, other areas should be structured to allow exploration and play. A lower drawer in the kitchen filled with plastic bowls and utensils offers the child a safe and inviting area to learn and have fun. Consider what other places and activities are acceptable for your child and make them available.

So often parents of 2-year-olds feel like all they say is “No.” Use the above suggestions and you may find yourself saying “Yes” more often and those “terrible 2s” may just be a little easier. By the time your child is 42 to 48 months, he will have learned much and will better understand what is safe or dangerous, right or wrong. It will be easier. Use the suggestions and give it time.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, is a child behavior expert, social worker and author of Raising Kids Without Raising Cane (Secrets of the Trade).

Remedies For Tantrums

Have you ever wondered why “terrible,” “two” and “tantrums” all start with the same letter? It’s not coincidence. With the “2s” also come tantrums. If you’re finding yourself in the midst of daily tantrum tornadoes, try some of these diversion tactics:

DISTRACTION – When you see a tantrum looming on the horizon, divert the emotions by preoccupying your child with soft music or a calming video.

SEPARATION – If the scene is heating up, don’t say a word. Just remove your child from the room, situation or group of children that is causing distress.

COMPROMISE – You’ve heard it before: pick your battles. By occasionally letting your child win the smaller arguments, your odds of winning the bigger ones increase.


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