Surviving the Terrible Twos

You look over and your once smiling infant is now a small child glaring at you with hands on hips. Your perfect eater has become one who refuses all but buttered noodles and toast. You live in fear of your next trip to Target, wondering if you will make it out without carrying a screaming, writhing bundle of tears underneath your arm. If any of these situations sound familiar, you may be living with an unpredictable little person who has entered into the trying times known as the Terrible Twos. (This stage also includes the Terrible Threes. Yes, three can be worse than two-sorry!)


I am currently working my way through raising my third two-year-old. With my first child I tried to read every parenting book and article I could find that would help me make sense of the toddler my son had turned into. I found many articles that discussed his developmental milestones, but I longed for something that would explain to me how I was supposed to navigate through this time with a sense of humor and my sanity intact. Here are some ways I made that happen.

Create Opportunities to Say Yes: It’s no wonder our toddlers enjoy saying no so often when it sometimes seems as a parent to be our only response.

“No, you cannot play in the street.”
“No, you really can’t wear a swimsuit outside in January.”
“No! Don’t stick that bean up your nose!”

Toddlers long to feel some sense of control in their world. We are so used to doing everything for them when they are babies, and it can be hard to give over some of that control as they grow. Giving them a safe place to explore and saying yes to doing things on their own can make a huge difference. Put milk into a small cup so they can pour it on their cereal. Let them choose their own clothing and put it on backwards or inside out. Invite them to dust or sort laundry. Your daily routine may take longer but it will be worth it.

Set Limits and Be Consistent: Now that you have given your toddler some space to be themselves by saying yes, another key factor in surviving these early years is to set clear limits. Keep in mind that they can now remember more and they will definitely begin to remember what you let them do. If you let them squeeze the butter packets at the diner once, they will want to do it every time you go. If you laugh at them blowing bubbles in their milk, you can probably expect this to become your nightly background noise for many dinners to come. (Trust me, I know!) While saying no and setting limits in the first place may get you a tantrum, it will save you from multiple meltdowns over trying to change your rules later on down the road. Work with your spouse to come up with limits you can both agree on and be sure to let other caregivers know of your expectations.

Take It Slow: Anyone with a toddler knows that the essence of time is of no importance to them. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sighed while looking at the clock as I wait for my two-year-old daughter to do something. Sometimes I think she may think her name is Hurry Up, Let’s Go, or Come On. We are all busy but it is an amazing experience once you start looking at things through the eyes of your toddler. Look at the way they crouch down to watch a bug crawl. Relish in the concentration as they put on a sock. Listen to the dialog they create with their toys. These truly are moments to remember.


Adopt a Mantra: This may seem silly but it really worked me for me. My son used to wake up from naps and throw a huge tantrum while kicking the wall. He was probably just hungry, but any attempt to ask him what was wrong would lead to more waterworks (for him and for me!) and I had no idea what to do. I found it best to walk away and say one of these things to myself: “This too shall pass” or “Within me there is a place of peace.” You could also use “Let It Go” since we are all singing this in our heads anyway! I didn’t always believe these things were true but saying them kept me from going over the edge. (If you are ever experiencing parental stress you cannot handle, Madison offers a Parent Stressline that can help.)

Forgive Yourself: Motherhood can come with a lot of guilt. I find I have the most guilt when my children are going through the Terrible Twos. I go to bed every night feeling upset for losing my temper or guilty that I said no to playing a third round of Candy Land. I wonder why I still haven’t gotten around to making all of those toddler crafts and homemade snack foods I pinned on Pinterest The truth is that your child forgives you way more than you forgive yourself. Learning to let go of perfection and forgiving yourself for your mistakes in an invaluable part of surviving this stage of motherhood.

Do you have any tips for surviving the Terrible Twos? We’d love to hear them!

Jessica is a DONA International trained postpartum doula and owner of Fourth Trimester Madison, She has been married for over 10 years to someone who makes her laugh every day and reminds her not to take herself too seriously. Together they have three children- Logan (2006), Liam (2008) and Kate (2011). She grew up in northern Wisconsin but has called the Madison area home since college. She can be found reading cookbooks but not cooking, saying yes to more volunteer work than she has time for (and loving it), on a Netflix binge, or with her nose in a book.


  1. Greetings from the New Orleans moms blog! I feel like you read my mind with this post. I literally cried myself to sleep last night over feelings of failing as a toddler parent. My sweet happy baby who once greeted me with a toothless grin and open arms has turned into a fiercely independent two year old who tells me she doesn’t like me more than she says she loves me. And it is breaking my heart. I just keep telling myself that this is a phase. It helps to know I’m not alone in the experience of raising a two year old.

    • It really can be a tough time. My first was the hardest and my third is (so far) the easiest. Trust me, they say things but still adore you at the end of the day. You are not alone!

  2. Love the “take it slow” point. Kids take their own sweet time to absorb everything in, and relish in the beauty of the nature around them. We need to give them space to live the moments, that are passing us by so fast. Beautifully written.

  3. I literally JUST published a status on Facebook about how my daughter is most certainly in the terrible two’s!! OY VEY!! Good timing, great tips–it’s so nice to be reassured we are doing the right things 🙂

  4. Love the book “1-2-3 Magic” to help through disciplining the terrible twos. We’ve been having a hard time with our 2 year old being jealous over our 8 month old- hitting, pushing, throwing things at her- at any chance she gets. This book has really helped us to understand her and set limits by eliminating the explaining, bargaining, yelling etc. My pediatrician recommended to us and it has been helpful! Still a work in progress but we feel we are getting a handle on things!


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