Are the Terrible Twos Inevitable?

Are the Terrible Twos Inevitable?

A common misperception is that the “terrible twos” are natural and inevitable. The fact is that dealing with a two-year-old who regularly engages in tantrums is easily avoidable. The key is dealing effectively with something that is natural and inevitable a few months earlier.

At about 18 months of age, children realize that they have the power to control social interactions; that is, they can make others dance to their tune. When that occurs, they are psychologically compelled to test the extent of their newfound power. This manifests itself in what is referred to as “negativism,” the tendency to say “no” to any request, to defy any instruction, and to ignore any admonition.

Unfortunately, many mothers and fathers are caught off guard. Their happy and delightful little one has suddenly become difficult and defiant. Consequently, they attempt to appease her. But appeasing someone who is power hungry only emboldens her and encourages continued bad behavior.

As the months go by, the child’s behavior eventually becomes intolerable and the parents decide to crack down. But now they are dealing with an older, stronger, smarter child who has become accustomed to getting her way. The result is frequent and ferocious tantrums as the child strives to regain her position of power.

So when your toddler starts exhibiting negativism, make sure you let her know that she is respected and that she has input, but she is not the boss. Whenever possible, give her choices instead of issuing direct requests or instructions. But do not be afraid to set rules and limits, and be vigilant about enforcing them consistently and persistently. You may experience a bit of unpleasantness for a while, but you will be saving yourself from a lot of grief later on.

Dr. Mike

Michael K. Meyerhoff, Ed.D. (a.k.a. “Dr. Mike”) is a member of the management team at Romp n’ Roll. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Columbia University, he earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in human development from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he also held a position as a researcher with the Harvard Preschool Project. He may be contacted via e-mail at

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