Parenting Tips

Debunking the Phrase Terrible Twos (Threes, and Fours)

Dealing with a child during the so-called terrible twos stage can feel, well, terrible. However, a temper tantrum can strike anytime at any age. According to Dr. Ari Brown, “Most toddlers begin testing limits shortly after their first birthday and continue until about age four.” The term terrible two was first coined in the 1950s when mothers of cookie-cutter families didn’t know how to handle outrageous toddler behavior. However, it’s easy to debunk this phrase as a myth if you understand the developmental changes that are happening to your child.

Development of a Two-Year-Old

A two-year-old child is undergoing many developmental changes. For instance, he is now walking by himself, can climb onto and off of furniture alone, can build a block tower, is learning to speak, and is beginning to have a feeling of self-awareness.

However, climbing onto and off of furniture can still be a struggle and his vocabulary is limited. Additionally, his increased mobility means that he will inevitably get his hands on anything within his reach. This also means that mommy and daddy will be telling him no more than ever.

But it can be easy to avoid a temper tantrum associated developmental frustrations. Simply redirect your two-year-old to another toy or a more suitable area and always remember to praise him often. He will likely feel overwhelmed by hearing all of these nos, so remind him that you love him and that he is a good boy.

Development of a Three-Year-Old

Director of the Parenting Center at Yale University, Dr. Alan Kazdin , says that “research shows that age three is the peak of defiant behavior.” At this age, a three-year-old is able to ride a tricycle, follow simple instructions, show various emotions, identify friends by name, and  hold a conversation using two to three sentences at a time. She is also ready and willing to fight for what she wants.

To avoid a temper tantrum, you can give her options based on what you find appropriate. If she is preparing for an argument because she wants candy, you can offer her two healthy alternatives that will satisfy her sweet tooth — like strawberries or yogurt.

However, if she does throw a temper tantrum, the best advice would be to ignore her as long as she isn’t hurting anyone. Eventually, she will learn that her bad behavior doesn’t get her any attention. Continue to praise your three-year-old often so she can associate the attention she wants and needs with her good behavior.

Development of a Four-Year-Old

The developmental stages of a four-year-old are quite similar to those of a three-year-old. However, think of a four-year-old developing on a much larger scale. A child at this age is typically starting preschool, which means he is learning new behaviors from children outside the home. These new behaviors will undoubtedly be the cause of at least one outrageous outburst at any given point in time.

Additional developmental changes for a four-year-old include increased self-control, a more expansive vocabulary, the mental capacity to learn simple math and writing, and an increased attention span and sense of curiosity.

Since he has a wider range of emotions and an understanding of how you will react to him, it may be more difficult to avoid a temper tantrum. However, he can also understand simple advice you may offer him and even retain it. Explain to him that it is OK to feel upset and offer him your own tricks on how you keep your cool.

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