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The baby of our family recently turned two years old.  I suppose that means that I am not really supposed to be calling him a baby anymore.  (But I’ll still call him “the baby” for a long time to come anyway!)

It also marks the fifth time our family has navigated the “terrible twos”.

Two year olds are something else!  You’re so proud of the many things they have learned to do on their own.  They are really starting to grow up.

But then, just as you are marveling at their ability to walk, run, and speak (it seems like they were just born!) you hear a terrible sound.

What was that sound?  It’s coming from the baby!  He must be hurt or in terrible trouble!

You frantically run to his side to discover that there is no danger.  It’s just time to mark down a new “baby’s first” in the baby book.

Baby’s first fit!

Now what do you do?

Here’s how to handle the terrible twos.

How to Handle the Terrible Twos

It’s crazy how a small child can turn into a champion fit thrower in a short time.  Maybe he can’t get his toy to move just so, or the cat ran away when she wanted to pet it.  Or maybe Mom or Dad used the worst word in the dictionary… “No!”

Fit throwing in 2 year olds is frustrating for everyone.  Obviously the child is feeling frustrated or angry (hence the temper tantrum).  But honestly, it’s probably even harder on Mom and Dad than it is the child.

For two long years, each cry and strange sound from your baby meant something was wrong.  You immediately ran to their side to help in whatever way you needed to.  Food, diapers, sleep…by now you have most of his different cries figured out.

Your baby has classically conditioned you.

Like Pavlov’s dog, you have learned to react a certain way to every sound your baby makes.

It’s hard to realize that you’ve now hit a point where it’s no longer your job to give your child whatever they think they need.  This crying is another teachable moment.

Except that while the earlier crying was teaching Mom and Dad…now the crying will begin to teach the child.

It’s natural that you want to make the crying stop at all costs.  But sometimes it’s more important to stand firm and allow the child to cry.

Stop Trying So Hard

Acknowledge that the child wants something. Then redirect. “Oh, you want a cookie?  Sorry buddy, no cookies right now.  Do you want to play cars instead?”

Use as few words as possible.  Repeat as necessary.  “Yes, you want a cookie.  No cookies right now.  Show me a toy you want to play with.”

If you are unable to redirect the child, remove them from the room that holds their temptation.  In this case, I’d close my kitchen door and move him to the room with his toys.

I will not let him back in the kitchen, and will give him a couple of things to do instead.  Playing with a toy, looking at a book, dancing to music, or maybe tickle time.  (Do not give more than 2 or 3 options or you will overwhelm them.)

If they refuse to do any of those things and keep crying and screaming, leave them alone.  You don’t have to leave the room, but do not attempt to bargain with them or try to convince them to stop crying.

If your child wants to be held while they sort out their emotions, hold them.  If necessary, keep repeating your mantra.  (“Sorry, no cookies.  Let me know when you’re ready to play with your blocks.”)

That Cookie Is Really a Gavel!

The first few times you do this, there will likely be a lot of crying.  The child will sob and maybe scream.  They will try anything to bother you into giving in to them.

Do not give in.

The first time you give in and allow them to have that cookie, they will very quickly learn that all they have to do is cry for 3 minutes straight.  After that, they can get whatever they want.

On the other hand, if you stand firm, it will only take a few times before the child learns that no means no.  While they will still feel disappointed, they will slowly spend less time throwing a fit.  They’ve figured out that it won’t work anyway.

Eventually, the certainty that no means no will make your child feel a lot less conflicted.  They still won’t like the “no”, but they will know what to expect from their parents.  And it makes the “yeses” even more fun!

What are the odds this will work?

Some children will require more practice than others.  Stand firm each time, and be as consistent as possible.

Don’t try something new, hoping that it will make them happier.  Be boring!  You want the 2 year old to know what to expect.  Kids of this age love routine and knowing what is coming next.

This isn’t a perfect system, but as you use it you will learn some tweaks that work best for your own little family.

Before long, you will be a pro at how to handle the terrible twos!

Have you found a trick that helps your 2 year old avoid fits?