Age two has a reputation for being one of the most challenging ages prior to the teenage years (shudder). If you’re not there yet, you might be wondering why the Terrible Twos are terrible for parents. After successfully navigating this stage with my oldest daughter, I can tell you that it all comes down to two incredibly frustrating challenges: potty-training and temper tantrums.
If you haven’t experienced potty training yet, then I strongly suggest you mentally prepare in advance. There are some things you need to anticipate and accept before you begin. (Note: I have no real potty training tips here. This is just to reaffirm that it is super-frustrating.)
Patience, please. It’s not going to happen in one day. It’s not going to happen in one week. If it does, then you are the EXCEPTION to the rule. Odds are it’s going to take several months for your child to truly be potty-trained without accidents.
Accidents happen. Your child WILL have accidents—and lots of them—over the course of the next year. Accidents will happen in every room of your house. Sometimes the accidents happen on the way to the bathroom when their feet are on the floor (fingers crossed for hardwood, tile, or laminate). However, you will also have accidents on the carpet, the couch, in chairs, booster seats, car seats, bed, and out in public. Sigh. You’ll handle it better if you just accept that that’s the way it is for a while. This too shall pass.
You are going to get peed on. Here’s the scene: Your child waits until the very last minute to tell you they have to pee. You grab your child and begin to run through the house at break-neck speed to the bathroom, but alas, it is too late. There’s now pee all over you, pee all over them, and pee all over the floor. Great.
Ugh. Temper tantrums. They truly are a parenting challenge for a few reasons. First, they are extremely annoying. Second, it can be difficult to control your emotions during a long temper tantrum or an extremely unreasonable one. Third, there’s lots of opinions out there for how to handle a temper tantrum. But which one is best? Which one works for your child? Which one matches your core belief systems and values?
Here are some categories of temper tantrums you can expect around this age and beyond.
The Language Barrier Temper Tantrum
At age two, your child is still acquiring language. That means there is still a lot they cannot communicate to you through words. This can be very frustrating for them and for you. They are trying to tell you something, but they don’t know the words to say. You aren’t getting it. They get frustrated, throw themselves down on the floor, and cry. (Note: I would consider this a reasonable temper tantrum. It’s logical to be frustrated in this situation.)
The “No” Temper Tantrum
Sometimes, your two-year-old will ask for something they cannot have, cannot have right now, or cannot do. The answer is, “No.” Begin the epic temper tantrum of devastating loss and unbearable disappointment. In my experience, this type of temper tantrum really is the biggest kind, especially if it is combined with the Tired Temper Tantrum. However, I find this temper tantrum also to be in the reasonable category. I’m not saying it’s not frustrating; it is. I just understand why it’s happening. Your child is learning how to appropriately deal with disappointment. In the beginning, their emotions reign. They are living their feelings. You will teach them how to deal with the word “no” constructively over the next several years. It’s something that takes time to learn.
The Tired Temper Tantrum
Here’s the scene: It’s the 4th of July. Fireworks start at dark and last at least 20 minutes. Dark in the summer is around 9:30, so even the start of fireworks is past bedtime by an hour or more. You are now entering The Tired Temper Tantrum zone. Odds are your child has been playing hard with siblings, cousins, or family friends right up until fireworks time. They are super-tired. Anything could send them into a tantrum, and it’s only because they are exhausted.
This isn’t the only example of a Tired Temper Tantrum scenario. This could happen around nap or anytime your child has been playing hard for an extended period of time. For me, this is another reasonable temper tantrum. I, as a parent, have stretched my child’s physical limits as far as they would go. I am now experiencing the consequences. The good news is that these temper tantrums are often short and end in sleeping.
The Mutiny Temper Tantrum
Sometimes, your two-year old will like to test their limits and your resolve. They start acting upon thoughts like, “When you say I have to wear underwear to bed, do you really mean that I have to wear underwear to bed? When you say that it’s bath time, how negotiable is that? How much of my dinner do I have to eat before I can eat a cookie for dessert?” In the Mutiny Temper Tantrum, your child tells you, “no.”
This type of temper tantrum is unreasonable and therefore difficult to handle with patience and kindness. For example, when Big C was two, she decided that she no longer liked baths. She told us she wasn’t going to take them. As a result, we literally drug her kicking and screaming to the bathtub, one of us held her in the bathtub, and the other gave her a bath. By the end of the bath, everyone was furious. This happened every other night for a month and a half until she realized that bath was happening regardless of her opinion. Ever since that time, she goes to bath cheerfully and plays like crazy. Mutiny squelched.
The Unreasonable Request Temper Tantrum
This is the second type of temper tantrum over which I almost lose my mind because it’s so unreasonable. In this type of temper tantrum, your child throws a fit because they have asked for something you don’t have. It’s different from a No Temper Tantrum because you would gladly give your child what they want if only you had it with you. For example, one day Big C asked me for her favorite blanket while we were driving to the grocery store. We don’t take her lovey or her favorite blanket to the grocery store, so I told her, “I’m sorry Big C, but I don’t have it with me.”
The argument went as follows:
“Mommy, I want my blanket.”
“I’m sorry Big C, but I don’t have it with me.”
“Mommy, I want my blanket!”
“I’m sorry Big C, but I don’t have it with me. You’ll have to wait until we get home.”
The Unreasonable Temper Tantrum ensues. (I think at some point in this argument I said, “I’m sorry Big C! If I lived in the magical wizarding world of Harry Potter, I would use my magic wand to get your blanket, but since I don’t have a magic wand, I can’t get your blanket right now!” She had no idea what I was talking about, but it felt better to say it!)
The Terrible Twos can be challenging for parents. Two-year-olds didn’t get that reputation for nothing. Your child WILL eventually be potty trained, and the frequency of temper tantrums will lessen with time and parenting consistency.
Q: What did you find most frustrating about age 2?