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Have you ever asked yourself the question, Why is it that my beautiful baby became a monster when he turned two? There are very important psychological reasons for toddlers being ‘difficult’ and it’s worth knowing about them so that you can spare yourself - and your toddler - a lot of heartache and confusion.


The fight for independence

Although it’s an ongoing process from the early months of life onwards, at around two years of age children tend to take a big leap away - psychologically speaking - from their mothers (or their primary caregivers). At age two, they develop an intense need for independence and they try extremely hard to do things by themselves. In order to become independent beings, young children need to assert themselves. They are determined to eat what they want, go where they want, wear what they want, etc. Many of them hate being told what to do and will frequently say, “No” even out of context.


Two year olds often need to fight for their right to be separate and independent.  Often the toddlers who are very close to their mothers have to fight the hardest against their moms in order to assert their independence. For your tot, fighting with you is a bit like ‘breaking up’ with a lover. The more intense your bond is with your child, the harder he has to fight to break free and be his own person. Of-course having a close bond with your children is hugely beneficial for them. It just sometimes goes hand in hand with some hair-raising battles.


No words, only actions

Toddlers can’t easily tolerate frustration, so they are prone to losing their tempers. Because they have not yet learned the art of communicating by using speech, they don’t have the words to express how they are feeling. So they will often scream, dive onto the floor, kick their legs about, kick, bite, slap and throw things around. You have to keep reminding your toddler from as early as possible to ‘use your words’. Language is so helpful because it allows you to express your feelings clearly. Using speech to express frustration lessens the intensity of emotions. Children are better able to distance  themselves from strong emotions by using words. When a feeling gets put into words, it is usually easier to manage that feeling.


King - or queen - of the castle

Toddlers are extremely omnipotent. They like to be in charge and they prefer to make the rules rather than obey other peoples’ rules. Like babies, toddlers believe that the world revolves around them so they become indignant and outraged when they don’t get their own way. Your job as a parent of a toddler is to ease him gently down from his pedestal. Don’t make the mistake of forcefully pulling him off his ‘throne’, grabbing his ‘crown’ and taking all his power away. He needs you kindly but firmly to help him to learn that he isn’t actually the one in charge. It’s you who make the rules, not him. Remind him (and yourself) that you are the boss, not him. 


Temper tantrums

Temper tantrums are very common during the toddler years. It is natural and psychologically appropriate for toddlers to express their rage, but it’s not always easy for parents to handle.


How to handle your toddler’s temper tantrums

  • try to keep calm and not lose your own temper
  • keep him safe so that he does not hurt himself
  • allow him to express his rage
  • stay close-by but don’t interfere with his tantrum
  • try to distract him out of his tantrum after a while
  • once he is finished throwing a tantrum, try to contain his feelings by holding him close and talking to him in simple language about what happened
  • help him to feel understood by labeling his feelings
  • show that you understand that he’s furious, but stay firm with your limits. 
  • don’t give in to him


How to discipline a toddler

Toddlers, like babies, still need their parents a lot and they can be very clingy and demanding. Toddlers can be oppositional and defiant and this is not easy for some parents.  Setting limits and saying ‘no’ is crucial in order to help your toddler to feel safe and secure and to teach him about how to behave in the world. Don’t give him too much power, but give him enough so that he feels he has some control over his environment. Contact one of our practitioners to get help with the specific difficulties you are experiencing.


Toddlers respond well to positive reinforcement. That is, when you do something good, you get something nice. Offer a reward for getting dressed, brushing teeth or getting onto the car-seat. Rewards can easily become stale, so you have to vary the ones that you use.


Examples of rewards for toddlers

  • Picture stamps that you rub in ink and then stamp onto the back of your child’s hand
  • Stickers
  • Tasty treats
  • Raisin collection in a jar: 1 good deed = 1 raisin, once jar is full, child gets something special
  • Playing a game together
  • Reading a story
  • A hug

For more about handling your toddler, join us on Facebook where you can share your experiences with us, and sign up for our e-mail newsletter. If you are having difficulties with your toddler’s behaviour, please contact one of our licensed ‘Babies in Mind’ practitioners for a consultation.


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