Hey parents: Whoever made up the term terrible twos wasn’t lying, except the fact that it should really be called “terrible ones-two-threes.”  Sometimes, the roller coaster ride begins as early as 17 monthsand some parents even report persistent “terribleness” in kids beyond three years old.

Other parents get lucky with angelic toddlers that decide to never give their parents trouble. Yes, tame toddlers do exist. But for most of us who aren’t so lucky, well, we are never fully prepared for the meltdowns and messes that lay ahead of us.

However, there must be an art to managing through this “terrible twos” thing. Take for instance the child care worker who tells Mom on a consistent basis, “Tommy had a great day today!” And Mom says to herself, “My Tommy? How is that even possible?” At home, Tommy is constantly bonking people on the head when he doesn’t get his way. He kicks, bites, and screams at the top of his lungs for no reason. And by the end of the day, both parents are spent trying to keep him calm.

So what is the daycare doing differently? What are the tricks they use to manage not just one but a full classroom of terrible twos? There are many lengthy books written about this particular stage of childhood, but here are some guidelines to get you started:

4 Terrific Tips to Curb the Terrible Twos

  • Activity: Toddlers are much like little cavemen. Think back to Paleolithic era, before there was TV, video games, or even predominantly indoor living. People spent most of their time active outdoors: hunting, gathering, working, and playing. Your toddler naturally needs outdoor activity. Sometimes when you bring them straight from daycare to home, they don’t have the opportunity to burn off pent-up energy and breathe fresh air. Take them outside, even for just 30 minutes before or after dinner to run and play.
  • Communicate with Respect: Just like cavemen, a toddler’s vocabulary is minimal. So talking in full adult sentences to a child going through the terrible twos may aggravate them because they cannot understand you. Respect their language by talking slowly and simply with words they recognize. Make eye contact with them to show them they have your full attention. If you don’t understand them, ask questions and point to things they may be talking about. Once you get them what they want, you’ll notice how happy it makes them. Instead of communicating like a boss or buddy, take a diplomatic approach that tells the child you respect them and expect respect in return.
  • Encourage Good Behavior, Kindly Ignore the Bad At this stage, you want to encourage good behavior without going overboard. Instead of applauding, subtle praise like a high-five for cleaning up toys is enough positive reinforcement. Too much praise can cause your child to seek validation every time they do something good. For bigger accomplishments, give verbal praise, but in a “matter-of-fact” way, without an extravagant or disproportionate response. On the other hand, when your child is acting up or throwing a tantrum to get what they want, tell them you will not talk to them until they use a “nice voice”. When the terrible twos behavior starts, don’t yell, lecture, comment, or make eye contact so they understand that their negative behavior has no control over you or the environment in any way. But also make sure you recognize them when they do use their “nice voice” or good behavior. Discouraging or ignoring bad behavior will work best when you also reinforce good behavior. As soon as your child begins acting appropriately, it’s important for you to notice and say, “Thank you for using your nice voice.”
  • Hugs Sometimes we forget that toddlers can have bad days just like us, but they don’t know how to express it. Sometimes they just need to know that everything is going to be okay. And sometimes when they’re throwing a fit, all they need is some tender loving care and attention. A big hug and some cuddle time with mommy and daddy might just do the trick.