7 Tips for Surviving the Terrible Twos

If you've ever raised a toddler, you already know what the "terrible twos" are. If your once-sweet little baby is approaching the toddler years, you're about to be "in the know" with those parents who have gone before you. Even though the "terrible twos" are notorious for difficult behaviors in your child, you can survive it.

During the "terrible twos" years (which actually can run between the ages of 18 months and 3 years old), your child is undergoing a number of developmental changes - emotionally and physically. Kids learn their autonomy and independence at this age, favoring "power" words like "no" and "mine." Those who dare to cross them during this willful stage can prepare to incur their wrath.

Mood swings are a daily (even hourly) occurrence for kids going through the "terrible twos," usually stemming from frustration or misbehavior. Kicking, writhing, screaming, biting, hitting and more are all part of the way your toddler will express herself - and it's normal. That's not to say, however, that it is appropriate. As the parent, you'll need to teach your toddler what is and is not acceptable. She or he won't learn it overnight, but if you're consistent in setting guidelines, your child will learn the appropriate boundaries of good behavior.

Here are seven tips to help you survive the terrible twos:

  1. Ignore - As hard as it may be, sometimes you'll need to pick your battles. Many "terrible twos" tantrums will simply go away on their own if your toddler doesn't have an audience. Ignore it or walk away. Eventually, your toddler will get tired of repeating a behavior if it's getting her nowhere. However, if there is hitting, biting or physical aggression, you will need to step in and discipline that behavior. This helps to teach a child that it's okay to express emotion, but not to harm the safety of others in the process.

  2. Stay calm - Your toddler is going to learn many of his emotional cues from watching you and your responses. In the throes of a full blown meltdown, don't yell, cry, hit your toddler in anger or laugh at her behavior. As mad as you may feel, or as funny as it seems at the time, keep a neutral tone in your voice and a neutral look on your face. Speak calmly and don't try to talk over the screaming. Your toddler is young, not stupid - if she knows she can push your buttons, she will continue to do so.

  3. Root out the cause - Even though emotional meltdowns are a normal part of this stage, many tantrums can be analyzed to find a root cause. Is she tired, hungry, bored, or over-stimulated? Outside of plain and simple bratty behavior, take a moment to think about what may have set her off. Finding the root cause will help you avoid a similar scenario in the future.

  4. Redirect - Even though toddlers may seem bound and determined to continue their tantrum, they can also be distracted or redirected. Take your fussy toddler outside to splash in water, or dig in dirt - find something he doesn't get to do every day and redirect his attention and energy. Don't use candy or things that would encourage a bad habit. Simply store up some fun activity ideas to pull out when you need them to settle things down.

  5. Time things wisely - Toddlers seem to have an intuition to act up when you're busy. Try to time your errands for when your toddler doesn't need a nap, isn't hungry or feeling ill. Before you leave, pack some fun or interesting things for your little one to look at or play with. Discuss where you will go and what you expect of them--before you go inside your destination. If you'd like to give your child a very small reward at the end for good behavior, do it. When parents are dealing with a misbehaving child in public, many of them worry about the looks they get from other people. If this is you, you will need to adopt an attitude of "who cares?" The choice is yours: You can stay and tough it out, getting your errands done despite a screaming child (and ignoring the looks you get) or simply drop what you have and leave so you can deal with your child outside. You will likely not be judged by parents who have been there, too.

  6. Words of praise - Make sure you use the quieter, 'teachable moments' to talk to your toddler about how proud you are of them when they have good behavior or modify their bad behavior. Even on bad days, find something good to say. Reinforce good behavior with your approval and words of affirmation. Praise is like emotional plant food for little ones. They thrive on it.

  7. When it's over, let it be over - When the tantrum is over, let it be over. Your toddler will most likely get up and move on like nothing happened, while your nerves are frazzled. However, remember that their emotional makeup is very moment-to-moment. A long, drawn out punishment or rejection aren't appropriate responses to a toddler's bad behavior. Talk to your toddler about what happened as soon as possible and ask for an apology. Once you have dealt with bad behavior in the moment, then you should move on, too.