The Terrible Twos: Navigating the Toddler Years

Understanding the Terrible Twos

The phrase “the terrible twos” strikes fear into the hearts of many parents, especially first-timers who have heard stories from friends and family about their sweet little angels turning into tiny demons. This legendary phase of child development, typically spanning from age two to six, is real and characteristic of the growing process. However, it often instills concern and fear in parents who may feel unprepared to handle situations they once had under control.

What Defines the Terrible Twos?

“The terrible twos are a somewhat challenging stage because children begin to become more autonomous, both in terms of psychomotor skills and intellect,” explains Carmen Romero, child psychologist, infant sleep coach, and certified positive discipline educator. “Additionally, it often coincides with the time when they are weaned off pacifiers or diapers, causing them to enter an adaptation phase because they are no longer babies but are becoming little children.” Parents, she adds, also stop automatically doing what they did before: “The child cried, we fed them, for example. From the age of two, this type of relationship matures, and adults begin to realize that their behavior does not have to be so focused on the child’s survival.”

Changing Dynamics in Parent-Child Relationships

Miriam Tirado, journalist, author, and parenting consultant, offers a different perspective on the “terrible twos” label: “I don’t like to call them that because this age is wonderful.” She explains that for adults accustomed to caring for a baby from zero to two years old, who more or less complies with instructions due to their young age and lack of awareness, having a child who begins to mature and form their own opinions can be unsettling for some parents. Tirado emphasizes that these two years signify the opposite: it indicates that the child is healthy, doing what they should be doing, and developing well. She also notes that this change does not always occur precisely at the age of two; it varies from child to child, with some starting around 20 months while others may not exhibit these behaviors until they are three years old. Marta Guerra Corral, a licensed general psychologist at the Cláritas Institute, a psychological practice based in Madrid, adds that this phase’s duration can vary from one child to another, influenced by factors such as temperament, family environment, and cognitive and emotional development.

“At the age of two, children begin to detach from their attachment figures, exploring the environment around them,” adds Rafa Guerrero, writer and child psychologist. “These are the so-called terrible twos, a stage where the child needs to differentiate themselves from the adults they look up to.” “From time to time, they look at their mother or father to make sure they are still there. It’s not that the child is autonomous, but around this age, they have their first moments of doing things for themselves,” he continues. “It’s a moment when the child starts to want to control many aspects of their life, to impose their criteria, demanding things that, given their age, they are not yet entitled to,” Romero adds.

Handling Toddler Tantrums and Opposition

“When children get angry or start screaming, and parents do the same, they are activating a spiral of disrespect,” Tirado warns. “Parents must remember that children know very well what they want but may not understand what they truly need. It is up to us to guide them, which often leads to conflicts,” adds Romero. Tirado suggests that parents inform themselves well and manage the situation through play and imagination. “For example, make leaving for the car fun and enjoyable. The child will surely be happier if they think of the car as a ship than if they are told, ‘Come on, get in now.’ When we play with emotions and imagination, children connect more with us and are more willing to cooperate.”

Strategies for Managing Toddler Behavior

Managing toddler behavior requires patience and understanding. “The main problem in controlling a tantrum is the lack of time,” Tirado emphasizes. She recommends that parents first acknowledge that they are the adults and cannot act as if they were three or four years old. Taking a deep breath to think clearly is crucial. “Realize that our child is young and it is normal for them to have a tantrum. Look for an alternative through play before persuading them to do what we want,” she suggests. “We have to treat them well. If I know they will cause trouble in the morning, I wake them up earlier, for example,” Tirado continues, “I anticipate what I know will happen.”

“Parents, especially, need to understand that the child needs to do things for themselves and differentiate from them,” adds Guerrero. He advises parents to avoid criticizing or hindering their child’s development, such as forcing them to stick close to their mother or father at all times. “Navigating this stage is a challenge for parents, but there are several strategies that can help make it more manageable,” adds Guerra. She recommends that parents offer limited choices to the child, use praise and positive attention to reinforce desirable behaviors, and foster a positive relationship. “Above all, know when to pick your battles: not all situations require an immediate response or correction,” Guerra concludes.

Embracing the Wonderful Side of the Terrible Twos

“The age of two is a wonderful stage,” asserts Romero. She encourages parents to recognize that their child’s desire to participate in decision-making is a sign of healthy development. “Now, their child is beginning to raise their finger because they also want to decide. And they want to be part of decisions and the family team, and that’s what we have to do, take it into account and talk to them and negotiate, but from a place of calm and support,” she explains. “Despite the challenges posed by this stage, two-year-olds can be incredibly fun,” adds Guerra. She advises parents to always

find humor in everyday situations and laugh with their child, dedicating time to create special memories and enjoy moments of tenderness. Guerrero agrees, stating that all stages are beautiful, including the terrible twos: “It’s not personal against us but an evolutionary phase all children go through.”


The “terrible twos” may present challenges, but they also offer opportunities for growth and bonding between parents and children. Understanding the developmental milestones and employing effective strategies can help parents navigate this phase with confidence and patience. By embracing the wonder of their child’s emerging autonomy and creativity, parents can foster a positive environment that supports healthy development and strengthens the parent-child relationship.