Many parents throw up their hands when
their two-year-old starts balking at everything and
refusing to do what is asked of them. If you understand
the phase your child is going through, you can save a
lot of head-butting (and headaches).
It's Just A Phase
It may be a phase, but it's a very important one that is
the foundation your child's life will be built on. In
phase one, your child depended on you for everything.
You fed him, you dressed him, you chose when he played
and when he slept. His mood matched your mood and he was
an extension of you. He did not think about the past and
had no sense of the future.
At about 19 months, he started moving into the second
phase of his life.
The Independent Phase
At about two years of age, children develop a need to
become independent. They begin to understand that they
are not an extension of their parent. They
start to realize that they are an individual.
This concept is a little scary for many two year olds --
and totally new to all two year olds. Some
children have more powerful urges to make their own
choices and can seem extremely contrary to parents who
are used to a cuddly bundle of joy.
Understand His Choices
You have company coming and you ask your two year old to
pick up his toys. He looks you right in the eye and says
"No!", or worse, he starts crying. It may or may not
develop into a full blown temper tantrum.
Understand that he must disagree with you in
order for the choice to be his own. He probably can't
tell you why he disagrees with you because this need for
independence is new to him. He doesn't understand it. He
might even be afraid of what he is feeling.
In the Independent Phase, he will even disagree with
himself. You might ask him what he wants for lunch and
he will tell you soup. But when you set the soup on the
table, he cries and says he doesn't want it.
Don't lose your cool. Understand that his mind is
developing and he is experiencing feelings that he has
no control over. Make the terrible two phase easier for
you and for him by learning how to guide him.
How To Help Him Through This Phase
Offer choices. It's scary to assert independence with no
boundaries. Instead simply offer two or three choices
and praise him when he makes a choice.
If (when) he balks, take a minute to get down on his
level and talk with him. I don't mean talk to him - I
mean talk with him. Make it a conversation. Tell him you
understand that it's hard to make a decision, but you
know he can do it. Ask him if he wants help making the
decision and then point out the pros and cons. Praise
him when he makes a choice.
If there are two things he needs to do, give him a
choice of which he will do first. Praise his choice.
"You chose to brush your teeth before you picked up
your toys. That's a very good choice. You should be
proud of yourself."
Tell Them Yes
One of the biggest breakthroughs I had with my son came
when I changed the way I answered his requests.
He would anxiously wait for dad to get
home so we could go play in the creek (his favorite
thing to do). When he would ask if we could go play in
the creek, my answer would be "As soon as dad gets
I was forgetting that children think "right now". There
is no past. There is no future. Everything is right now.
While I was thinking I was telling him "yes, we will go
play in the creek (later)", what he heard was "No". His
reaction varied from a pout to a full blown temper
One day I tried a different approach.
When he asked "Can we go play in the
creek?" My answer was "OK! We will go play in the creek!
I can't wait for daddy to get home so we can go play in
He looked at me. Then he smiled and said "I can't wait
for daddy to get home. We will go play in the creek."
From that day on, I thought twice before answering any
I learned to answer in a way that he could understand.
He learned that I wasn't telling him "no", I was
actually saying "yes".
Don't Deny His Feelings
He might be feeling angry or scared or jealous. These
are all feelings that he needs to learn to deal with.
Instead of telling him not to feel them,
explain that they are common feelings and help him deal
with them. You will be teaching him a lesson that will
mold him into an independent adult who is able to deal
Phrases like "Don't be mad", "You're not hurt", "Stop
crying", "Don't be afraid", deny the real feelings your
child is experiencing. Acknowledge those feelings and
teach him how to deal with them.
Help your child through the terrible two's and you will
be building a foundation that will be the base for a
solid, self assured adult.
The best part is - when he
reaches the next phase of independence (the teenage
years) he already trusts you to give him guidance
without putting him down. He will be more willing to
look to you for guidance through the teenage years.