Parents and Coping and the Terrible Twos

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Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Caveat: Just prior to sitting down to write this article, I noticed that a friend of the family, who happens to have a two-year-old, writes that her little boy has repeatedly said, “No, no, no, no; two thousand and eighty five times in the last two hours.” Yup, he’s right on the path of normal development!

Parenting involves dealing with and helping children to separate and individuate in healthy ways. To do this requires patience, creativity and self control. While separation from parents begins with birth, it increases rapidly from age two and onwards. Please understand that these are average ages and are not absolute for all youngsters.


At approximately age two, children are walking, talking and getting themselves into situations that worry their parents or caretakers. Also, in every way possible, they test their parents. At home, they climb into places they do not belong and can be hurt. Once they see something they want, they might not take “no” for an answer. They get into power struggles with mom and dad and, as a last resort, throw temper tantrums. Frustrated and angry, parents, some adults, especially the ones who are depressed, lose self control and hit their children. Even healthy parents may reach a point where they might want to do this but control those impulses.

What are some strategies parents can learn and use to defuse and avoid these situations?

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According to Dr. Jay L. Hoecker, M.D., Mayo Clinic and child expert, there are many things parents can do to encourage good behavior in even the youngest children:

1. Consistency is important in the form of having a daily routine and, as much as possible, not varying from it.

2. Set reasonable limits and follow them consistently.

3. When going out, bring a toy that will occupy the child’s attention while you shop.

4. Encourage the child to use words. The more they use words, the more they will be able to express their feelings rather than throwing tantrums.

5. Give the child a sense of control by allowing them to make appropriate choices. For example, “Would you like to wear your red shirt or your blue shirt?” Etc. Would you like to eat strawberries or bananas? 

6. Then compliment the child on the choices that are made.

7 Compliment good behavior. Praise good behavior.

8. If the parent senses trouble brewing, it’s a good idea to distract the child by holding, joking, doing silly things.

All of us have seen parents in stores, supermarkets and other places react to a screaming, crying child, by screaming back at them, while also threatening terrible punishment. There is no way that a child in the midst of a tantrum will do well while being screamed at. This only increases their frustration and fear.

It’s perfectly all right to take a child who is that upset home, but without telling them this is their punishment. It’s simply a way to help them calm down by being taken away from the source of the problem.

I remember one parent who told me how her son threw temper tantrums whenever they entered a toy store because there were so many things he wanted. While he had plenty of toys at home, she had to do shopping for gifts for family members. When she understood that she needed to shop while he was at home with his dad or grandparents, the entire situation subsided. Simple? Sometimes we miss the obvious.

At home, it’s perfectly acceptable to use a time out if the child is out of control. The mistake that many people make with this is that it lasts too long. Kids at a young age have short attention spans and the timeout loses its effectiveness. One or two minutes are enough. The time out can be a chair in a corner of the room. If the youngster gets up, simply lead him back to the chair.

Finally, it’s important for parents to pick their battles. It is not necessary to say no to everything or to put limits on everything. Some things are important and others aren’t and can be ignored.

Please share your experiences with your toddlers, children and older children. Please discuss the coping strategies that did and didn’t work for you. The above list is by no means the only thing parents can do. Your wisdom needs to be shared with others.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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