The Terrible Twos

The Terrible Twos, or What is Happening to My Child?!

The Terrible Twos, or What is Happening to My Child?!

Two years old – the time when your sweet angelic baby morphs into a defiant wild animal! Most parents ask me whether their child’s behaviour is the normal “terrible twos” or if they are dealing with something more extreme.

For the most part, their behaviour is completely normal.

And it’s a good thing. It shows us that our children are starting to get in touch with their own body. Children explore because they want to connect and this is when they begin to form their individual likes and dislikes. The terrible twos are a very important milestone in brain development.

This time of life comes with a predictable set of behaviours. There are three major changes that are occurring:

1. Increased mobility

2. Budding self-awareness, and

3. The onset of language

These three changes lead to your toddler becoming more independent. They will begin to test their boundaries and discover their limits. There is no other way a child can learn what their boundaries are without pushing against, trying, and experimenting with them.

An explosion of rapid brain development begins, on average, around 18 months of age and brings with it this awareness of self and the beginnings of understanding their independence (‘I am a separate person from mom/dad/caregiver’). Your child may be defiant, bite, kick and scream, or refuse to eat their dinner. In my household, my 2 year old’s favourite word is “NO!”. It is her current default and I’d be lying to you if I didn’t tell you it’s making me a little (no...a lot!) crazy! For the most part, this is due to a lack of impulse control coupled with a toddler’s limited language abilities. And it’s totally normal.

The development of the brain strongly predicts behaviour, and brain development is not a choice. Each time the brain reaches a new milestone, kids will test the limits of the adults in their lives – they are working to understand these changes and mold these new ideas and concepts into their worldview. As your toddler’s brain grows, their brain cells form elaborate connections between more and more areas of the brain. This increases their complexity of thought and kids must experiment to see if these changes are consistent and dependable before they can accept them as true. Children must test their limits and the limits of their parents!

It is this natural curiosity that becomes the basis of their risk-taking behaviour in the future. We should not teach our children to fear new experiences by giving them negative feedback due to their natural curiosity. This requires loads of patience from us as parents! Rather than losing your temper, try to work with your child and offer them choices (“do you want to use the pink cup or the Elmo cup?”), but do not allow their preferences to run your life. We must still provide structure for our children, so don’t be afraid to do just that! Kids usually develop better impulse control between the ages of three and four, but every child will develop at their own pace. While you wait for this control to kick in, and for their actions to catch up with their brain development, remind yourself regularly that your adorable maniac is doing exactly as they should.

Here’s to your patience and sanity,

Dr. Shaila

Shaila Callaghan is a prenatal and pediatric chiropractor and the owner of Vita Brain + Body KIDS, where Healthy Moms cardholders can receive an initial exam for $49 ($135 value) and 10% off ongoing appointments. Find out more here:


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