How to get through the Terrible Twos alive

Hello from the depths of the Terrible Twos!  Misery loves company wtf.

So Fighter just turned two and a half and we’re firmly entrenched in what they aptly call the Terrible Twos.

I’ve been battling tantrums and meltdowns and whining which have actually intensified within the past one or two months.  In desperation, I turned to books for a solution.  And I’m actually really glad I did because it’s been very enlightening.

It helps me understand why Fighter does the things he does and how he thinks.  And why some things I do seem to work while others don’t.

And because of that I can empathize with him more and deal with him accordingly, making things (and our days) go by easier.

Anyway this is the book I’m reading.  It’s really very good and I recommend getting a read!

But if you haven’t the time, here’s what I learned (from the book and based on my own experience).

Toddlers are monsters more like teenagers.

They’re going through a huge, rapid development, socially, mentally and emotionally.

Imagine being a baby and thinking of yourself as an extension of mommy.  Then one day, you realize you’re actually your own person!  That’s what being a toddler is like.  You are trying to discover your own person – what you like or dislike, your relationship with the people around you.  That sounds like major upheaval and it’s no wonder toddlers have emotional meltdowns.

And then there are the emotions!  Suddenly toddlers are realizing they are filled with emotions.  Positive ones are fine and dandy of course, but what about the negative ones?  Anger, sadness, frustration, shame.  There’s no control switch in a toddler’s brain yet so when emotions happen, it floods them and they react accordingly.  Tears, rage, screaming fits etc.

On top of that, toddlers have not figured out how to express themselves yet in what we adults see as socially acceptable ways.  Heck, their verbal skills are only just developing – even some adults have trouble defining their feelings, what more little kids aged 2-5?  If they’re upset and they cannot convey it, they get even more frustrated.  Cue meltdown.

What else?  What drives toddlers? Control.

Toddlers are figuring themselves and the world out, and it can be scary.  They desire control over their surroundings and the most common ways of exerting control are during – you guessed it – mealtime, bathtime, bedtime and choosing their own clothes.  Which is why most fights occur during these times.

We as parents have to remember that toddlers don’t have the same logic that we do.  They see things in an entirely different way, which seems illogical to us but makes perfect sense to them.  One of the examples in the book was something that Fighter would totally do; a toddler is rocking himself on a chair, and balancing on the back legs of the chair, while holding on to the table.   He’s feeling strong and proud of himself.  Dad sees and freaks out and yells, “Fighter! Sit down properly or else you’ll fall!”  Instantly Fighter’s pride and happiness in his achievement is erased by his dad scolding and what he sees as shaming him.

The dad was actually trying to save his son from hurt but the toddler sees it as the dad scolding him for no reason and he feels shamed and sad.  It goes on like this – toddler’s logics and view clashes with adults.  And that’s why the clashes of the Terrible Twos (and beyond) occur – because the parents’ needs and wishes differ from the toddler’s.

So how to get through the Terrible Twos alive?

  1. Put yourself in the Toddler Point of View

Now that you sort of know what’s going on when your toddler has a melt down, instead of breathing fire back in their face, take a step back and try to empathize.  Put yourself in the toddler POV (TPOV wtf).  They’re probably not doing it just to piss you off but cos they’re genuinely upset. If you can figure out their unhappiness, it makes it easier to comfort them and solve the issue.

2. Acknowledge their feelings and needs

Everyone needs acknowledgement, even toddlers.  Or especially toddlers.  Their concern may be trivial to us (“Mommy cut my bread into two and now it’s broken”) but to them it could a huge stressor.  Listen to them, talk them through it and don’t belittle their worries or thoughts.

For example, when Fighter has a tantrum he’s too emotional to even talk.  So I start by reassuring him it’s okay if he’s upset and that Mommy is here for him. Then I ask him are you sad or angry? He can’t say it but prodding him with words makes it easier for him to define what he’s feeling.  Then I ask him why. Is it because of this or that?  Normally by now he would have calmed down enough to say although sometimes he doesn’t make sense wtf.

That’s fine because the important thing is to show him that his feelings are valid and we understand.  And the toddler will also understand that even if he’s been “bad” – being angry or screaming – we still love them and will be there for them regardless.

3. Be honest

Toddlers are smarter than we realize sometimes.  They will know when we tell them little white lies and nobody likes being lied to!  I try my best to always be honest with Fighter and Penny and not lie to soothe their feelings.  If they know you’re lying, your word may not be accepted again and it’s going to be even more difficult managing them.  Worse, it tells them that lying is okay.

4. Be there

I’m not talking about quitting your job so you can stay home and see your toddler 24/7.  Toddlers are stuck in a paradox.  They’re driven by a desire for independence (I can eat by myself! I can put on my own shoes!) …. at the same time they’re scared and want to run back to mommy and daddy for comfort or security.

It’s this push and pull within the toddler that culminates in a meltdown. :X So what we can do is accept that, and be there for them when they’re struggling to sort through their feelings.

5. Let them vent

I’ve been guilty of yelling at Fighter or punishing him when he’s in a tantrum. 🙁 Yesterday I told him to stop watching Youtube and in anger, he threw my phone on the floor. I lost my temper.  I shouted at him in a voice I didn’t even know I had wtf and threw him in naughty corner.

The thing is though, when kids melt down they can’t actually control themselves anymore.  They’re not thinking and naughty corner isn’t the right way to fix things.  I was mad at him for deliberately throwing my phone but when he’s losing it I have to be the adult that he can rely on.

Instead of naughty corner, the book indicated I should have let him vent his anger and aggression in a safe way, like giving him a pillow to punch wtf.  Which really makes sense because stifling his emotions just teaches him that it’s bad to have negative emotions which is not a healthy idea obviously.

But when I gave him a pillow to punch, he tossed it aside and smacked my knee. FML.

4. Stick to a routine / Be consistent

Toddlers have no grasp on time yet.  Tomorrow or next week don’t mean anything to them and they literally live in the moment.  There’s science to this but not gonna bore you with the details.

Lacking a sense of time can be disorienting to say the least.  How would you know what happens next if you don’t know the time?  That’s why it’s so important to put babies and toddlers on a schedule.  They feel more secure, in control, knowing what happens next.  For example, that after bath time, comes snack time and nap.  Apparently it’s why some preschools have songs for everything – songs for cleanup, songs for goodbye and hello.  It’s to signal to the kids that a transition is occuring and it’s comforting knowing what to expect.

Ironically, routines  set the foundation for managing on their won.  To quote the book:

The more structure and routines are in place, the freer the child is to develop the internal control to manage his or her own feelings, thoughts, and behaviors – all of what enables him to mature, grow, and learn.  In other words, regular routines enable flexibility.

5. Don’t shame

OK I think this is something Asian parents especially are super guilty of. Have you ever talked about your toddler to your husband or to his teacher as though he’s not there when he is?  How about saying “Don’t take your pacifier anymore lah. You see mei mei also not eating hers.”

I am super guilty of this please!

Even well intentioned remarks like “nobody dresses like this. How about you wear this shirt instead?” or “that’s now how you do it” can shame and frustrate a toddler. When we step in to “help” or “fix” a problem, we take away their opportunity to learn from experience.  They don’t get the chance to manage their own frustration; it interferes with their attitude towards learning and making mistakes.  And it keeps them from figuring out the person they’re becoming.

Toddlers see it as “I’m wrong” or “Mommy doesn’t think I can do it myself”.

Every day I struggle with Fighter because he wants to wear the same damn ABCD shirt.  And I don’t even know what ABCD shirt means!  I think it’s shirts with writing on them but not all shirts with writing also he will accept.  It’s a super narrow range and every day it’s a battle to convince him to wear what I want him to wear.  Sometimes I force it over his head and he’ll break down in rage and tears.  Sometimes I can distract him enough to wear, but other times he cries until I change his shirt.

Fighter is not trying to piss me off or being nuts; he’s just following toddler logic.  Toddler logic says that he wants to be independent and decide on his own outfit.  And that he feels secure wearing the same few shirts.

So instead of criticizing his choice, I will just give in and buy more black tshirts for him.  Until he gets over it and lets me style him again hahahaha.


And that’s what I’ve gleaned so far.

I think the real key is to really just take yourself out of your own frustration and try to get in the Toddler POV.  Trying to understand matters from their perspective will make a vast difference in the way we interact and raise them.

Hope this helped!

  • UmmiBee’s Blog

    This is incredibly informative Audrey! I have a two year old and even though she doesn’t talk yet, she’s very self aware and independent. I’ll apply these rules and we’ll see how it goes. Thanks! Fighter and penny are adorable.

  • Natalie

    I really loved this! Thanks for sharing and for giving a very detailed summary of the book. It will help me greatly!

  • fourfeetnine

    You’re welcome! Hope it helps you 🙂

  • fourfeetnine

    It’s probably even more necessary cos she’s probably very frustrated she cannot communicate verbally with you yet hehe

  • Min

    Just bought this ebook too! Hoping to gain some insights to toddlers behaviour. My personality course instructor introduced me to a book “nuture by nature”, u might wish to consider reading too!