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The "Terrible Twos"

You have to take your child to daycare and then get to work—and you're late. Your 2-year-old suddenly decides she doesn't want to go. The more you try to put her into her car seat, the more she fights and screams. In a few moments she’s crying and you’re frustrated.

These tantrums, as well as other unwanted behaviors, seem to be happening a lot lately. Uh-oh—has she hit the "terrible twos?"

Remember that this phase of a child's life also can be the "terrific twos." Watching your children grow and learn is an enriching experience. They're finding out about the world. Their language is expanding. They may start to say their ABCs or 123s—they may even say, "I love you."

But it's also normal for children to begin voicing their opinions and saying "no," and some children will be very extreme, says James MacIntyre, M.D., spokesman for the American Academy of Child Psychiatry.

This stage shouldn't last very long, but be prepared. Give yourself lots of extra time to deal with problems.


When children throw a tantrum, it may look like they have lost control of their bodies and will never stop kicking and screaming. Walk away or put them in "time out"—two minutes or less for 2-year-olds—until they are calm. If it happens in a public place, pick them up, hold them close and rock them. Talk soothingly—say, "I love you, it's okay," or "Take a deep breath: In, out, in, out"—until they are calm. Try to find a restroom for privacy until the crying stops.

It's possible the tantrum isn't over, especially if you told them "no" to a certain item in the store, and they spot it again.

Don't give in, but once in a while a compromise is okay: If they wanted an expensive toy, think about something small instead.

Use humor

When confronted with most unwanted behavior including tantrums, find a funny, positive way to distract your toddler. Short-circuiting a tantrum before it starts is far better than trying to control it once it’s in full swing.

Let them choose—sometimes

Allow your child to make non-consequential decisions: After all, how vital is it that his/her clothes match or that he/she has Cheerios instead of Corn Flakes?

Play up the good

Notice good behavior and respond positively. Don’t just notice things they do wrong. Children respond well to positive reinforcement. As a quick reminder of this advice remember that one of the first words a child learns is “no.”

Limit the choices

Remember that children operate in a perceptually small world. Expanding that world and its multiple choices too soon may cause problems. So limit their choices. Say, "Do you want to watch 'Barney' or 'Sesame Street," not, "What do you want to do?" Giving a child an open-ended choice is asking for chaos. Asking a child to choose between two well thought-out options makes much more sense.


Make sure your child gets enough sleep: A tired child can be cranky. Set a reasonable bedtime and then stick to it. After a while, that schedule will become ingrained and the child will become sleepy at the appropriate time. Routine helps not only with bedtime but many other aspects of child-rearing.

Avoid bedtime battles

Introduce quiet activities shortly before bedtime. This allows time for the child to unwind from the day’s activities. Bedtime is a good time to read or tell the child a peaceful story.