Your Child: At 2 Years

You have to take your child to day care and then get to work — and you're late. Your 2-year-old suddenly decides she doesn't want to go. The more you try to put her into her car seat, the more she fights and screams. In a few moments she’s crying and you’re frustrated.

These tantrums, as well as other unwanted behaviors, seem to be happening a lot lately. Uh-oh — has she hit the "terrible twos?"

Remember that this phase of a child's life also can be the "terrific twos." Watching your children grow and learn is a wonderful and challenging experience. She's finding out about the world. Her language is expanding. She may start to say her ABCs or 123s — she may even say, "I love you."

But it's also normal for her to begin making her wishes known voicing her opinions and saying "no." Be prepared. Give yourself a lot of extra time to deal with possible delays.


When a child has a tantrum, it may look like she has lost control and will never stop kicking and screaming. As long as she is safe, walk away or put her in "time out" — 2 minutes or less for 2-year-olds — until she is calm. If it happens in a public place, try to pick her up, hold her close, and rock her. Talk soothingly — say, "I love you, it's OK," or "Take a deep breath: In, out, in, out" — until she is calm. Try to find a restroom for privacy until the crying stops.

It's possible the tantrum isn't over, especially if you told her "no" to a certain item in the store, and then she spots it again.

Don't give in, but once in a while a compromise is OK.

What else you can do

  • Use humor. When the most unwanted behaviors including tantrums occur, find a funny, positive way to distract your toddler. Trying to stop them early is far better than trying to control them once they get worse.

  • Let her choose — sometimes. Allow your child to make unimportant, nonconsequential decisions. For example, let her choose what to wear to preschool or what to drink for dinner. 

  • Encourage good behavior. Notice good behavior and respond positively. Don't just notice things she does wrong.  

  • Limit choices. Too many choices may cause confusion and problems. For example, you might say, "Do you want milk or water to drink for dinner?" rather than, "What would you like to drink?" or "Do you want to watch "A" cartoon or "B' cartoon?" rather than, "What do you want to do?" 

  • Establish routines. Routines help your child stay calm throughout the day. Try to have regular times for meals, snacks, naps, bedtime, and other activities. 

  • Make sure your child gets enough sleep. A tired child is usually easily upset and cranky. Set a reasonable bedtime and then stick to it. Introduce quiet activities shortly before bedtime to help your child relax for sleep.  

  • Talk with other parents. They can tell you about what worked and what didn't work for them. 

  • Talk to your child's health care provider. If you need help with tantrums or other behavior, your child's health care provider can help.