The Terrible Twos

Tantrums, cries and yells are dreaded by every parent whose child is experiencing the terrible twos. But it is important to remind yourself that these moody outbursts are just ways for your child to express her independence. Find out what is going on with your child during this stage.




I’m sure we have all heard of the all too infamous stage that children go through known as the terrible twos. At this stage, your little one may transform from being your sweet angel to a tantrum-filled child who loves throwing the word “No!” out to you. Worry not, however, because this is a perfectly normal stage that most children will undergo. Maybe not exactly at the age of two; every child is different so this developmental stage may begin earlier or later than two years of age. Whatever age it is, the first step to handling your child who is dishing out her tantrums at top speed is to understand what exactly is going on in her development.


Autonomy vs. Dependence

Do you notice your child clinging to you one minute, and then struggling to get out of your grasp the next? According to Dr Vanessa von Auer, clinical psychologist at VA Psychology Center, the terrible twos involve the child having to “navigate between becoming more autonomous or independent from her parents but at the same time still relying heavily on them”. This conflict is happening because the child is undergoing major motor, intellectual, social and emotional changes. She is discovering and learning more about herself as well as her surrounding environment, and is eager to do things on her own. However, she may not necessarily have the skills and abilities yet to accomplish these things by herself. While this is an exciting and interesting journey for the child, the changes she is going through may be too overwhelming for her to handle.


Furthermore, the child may feel frustrated by her parents who are now beginning to impose rules and setting limits upon her activities. She also does not possess the language competency yet to express her feelings. “Speech is still developing and improving but still lacking so not getting what he or she wants can lead to anger and distress,” says Daniel Koh, psychologist from Insights Mind Centre. This can then lead to more frustration and misbehaviour – hence, the terrible twos.


What to Expect

There are certain behavioural changes that you may notice in your child during the terrible twos.


Hallmark behaviour is your child doing exactly what you have told her not to do. You may tell her to not pick up the dirty litter off the floor, and the next moment, she will be happily collecting whatever she can get her hands on. Or you may hear the word “No!” all day from your child whenever you tell her to do something.


According to Koh, temper tantrums can also be due to the child feeling embarrassed or being unable to express themselves. “[The child] is learning a lot of emotions and experiencing some of these emotions herself, or is responding to new situations and challenges. Trying to figure it out, learning on the spot and responding can be too much for a child to handle.”


Sudden mood changes is also another behavioural change you can expect in your child during this stage. Your child may be in a perfectly good mood one moment and then the next, she may be angry and frustrated. These frequent mood changes may be a reflection of your child wishing to display her independence but is unable to do so due to her lack of abilities and skills.


Should I be Worried about my Child’s Behaviour?

Some parents may be concerned about their child who is experiencing the terrible twos as certain behaviours during this stage are similar to those found in developmental disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).


“There is a huge range of what is normal and expected in human development and some ADHD behaviours such as hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention can certainly be seen in young children. But unless the ADHD symptoms are persistent in various environments, are hindering the toddler to learn, and are causing significant distress to the child and her caregivers, there is no need to panic,” says Dr von Auer.

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