The terrible twos seem to arrive without fail when a child reaches that age. This is a challenging stage in their development that sees even the most famously angelic children somehow start growing little baby demon horns.
It isn’t easy to simply bite our tongues and roll our eyes at the sight of a two-year-old, who is still in diapers, acting like an angry motorist in a fit of road rage.
Even though you keep telling yourself, “This too shall pass,” at some point we start to lose our resolve to stay calm and keep our boundaries. Teaching patience to a cranky two-year-old isn’t easy when your own blood pressure is boiling over.
To understand your toddler’s all-day cranky mood and help her/him, you should first look for possible causes of their mood shift.
Causes of a two-year old’s anger and whining
When two-year-olds start to explore their surroundings, they want to do things their own way. When they face the restraints of rules and physical limitations, it is hard for their immature emotions to accept the disappointment.
Two-year-olds are growing rapidly, both physically and mentally. A growth spurt can make them quickly exhausted and hungry, as well as cause so much physical discomfort as to disrupt their sleep.
Frustration due to lack of motor skills
When toddlers are stimulated by new experiences and objects, they are eager to try things independently. They soon realize that their motor skills often hinder them from doing many activities freely, which leads to tantrum explosions.
As much as two-year-olds have a more defined will to do things their own way as they explore their surroundings further, expressing their needs clearly in words can be a big challenge.
Especially when they are overwhelmed with negative emotions, physical reactions like throwing, screaming and kicking are a much faster and more direct way to express their discomfort.
So, how can you help a cranky, moody two-year-old without losing your own sanity?
Even if your two-year-old is one of those toddlers who drop their nap earlier than other children his age, they might still need extra sleep, as they can easily get tired with all the increasing activity and physical growth.
Try putting them down half an hour earlier at bedtime, or see if they need a short nap during the day.
Healthy additional calories and nutrition
Rapidly developing brains and bodies require extra calories. Look for signs of hunger and make sure you keep snacks handy to offer them, if you hope to avoid that hungry whine that they never express verbally.
Give options rather than saying no
Two-year-olds do not take any denial well. If they demand something that is out of bounds and can cause harm, offer them alternatives to choose from.
It is better to say, “I see that is what you want, but it’s too dangerous to play with. How about if you pick from this one or that one?”
They might still react negatively and protest not getting what they want, but teaching them boundaries at this age is important.
As long as we as parents show them that we accept their frustration and offer ways for them to be flexible, they will get past the momentary crisis much more easily and quickly.
Give them as many independent activities as possible
Help toddlers experience a sense of accomplishment by offering easy and simple crafting activities, to encourage their motor skill and ego development.
For example, letting two-year-olds fill a page with color, stickers, and taped-on pieces of paper might sound simple, but it allows them to handle new materials, which can make them feel accomplished and experience fulfillment.
The important thing in helping your toddler is allowing them to finish the project from beginning to end by themselves.
Two years is one of the most important ages for children to benefit from outdoor play. They have mastered walking and running to the point of being comfortable in all sorts of terrain, and they have started to notice that there are some things they should not put in their mouths.
Let them touch and get messy, explore nature with all five senses, and enrich their development naturally.
Question and answer
One of a two-year-old’s favourite words, “why,” will start coming out of their mouths more frequently – and they also love to answer questions.
Start with simple questions you know they can answer, to boost their confidence, and work up to questions that have you genuinely wondering about their answers.
It is always a surprise to find out how many new words and expressions they have accumulated without you noticing.
Accept the negative emotions and share more cuddle time
It is no doubt a difficult time for two-year-olds, as they step out of your protective embrace to explore more of the world around them, pulled by their growing curiosity to face the challenges and the rules that restrain them.
Let your two-year-old know you understand how frustrating it can be, and that you are there for them. Give them more cuddles and help them feel safe and enormously loved.
To summarize, two-year-olds are at a very important time for them as humans, experiencing an explosion of mental and physical growth and development. But their immature toddlers’ emotions and clumsy motor skills can cause constant frustration.
Since their language and communication skills are still in the process of expanding, two-year-olds are quick to express their anger physically more than verbally. Try to look at your toddler’s situation through their eyes and show your understanding, while giving them your support.
You might also be interested in reading, How to stop being an angry mom as well as, What causes a child’s anger and tips for how to help your child.