I've heard a lot about the terrible twos. Why are 2-year-olds so difficult?

Answers from Jay L. Hoecker, M.D.

The terrible twos are a normal stage in a toddler's development characterized by mood changes, temper tantrums and use of the word "no." The terrible twos typically occur when toddlers begin to struggle between their reliance on adults and their desire for independence. One minute a child might be clinging to mom or dad, and the next he or she is running in the opposite direction.

While the terrible twos can be difficult for parents and caregivers to navigate, keep in mind that 2-year-olds are undergoing major motor, intellectual, social and emotional changes. Their vocabularies are growing, they're eager to do things on their own, and they're beginning to discover that they're expected to follow certain rules. However, most 2-year-olds still aren't able to move as swiftly as they'd like, clearly communicate their needs or control their feelings. This can lead to frustration and misbehavior — in other words, the terrible twos.

If your child is in the midst of the terrible twos, expect that you'll occasionally lose patience with each other. Try to stay calm, however. When your child has a temper tantrum, offer comfort or ignore the behavior. Try to limit your use of the word "no." Instead, use other forms of discipline, such as redirection or humor. Also, consider avoiding challenging situations — such as going shopping during your child's nap time — and be sure to praise your child for appropriate behavior.

By accepting the changes your child is going through and showing him or her love and respect, you'll help your child make it through this difficult stage with confidence.

March 09, 2013 See more Expert Answers