Tantrums In 2 Year Olds: Say No To The Terrible Twos!

Author Image By Paula McLaren BA (Hons) Early Years Development & Learning •  Updated: 09/28/22 •  Toddler » Toddler Behavior

So it’s happened. You’ve hit the dreaded terrible twos. 

But does it really have to be so… terrible?

Despite what everyone claims… tantrums in 2 year olds will not define your year.

Here are my top tips to prevent tantrums from happening and the steps to take to appropriately handle any stray tantrums that may occur.

What Is A Tantrum?

Is It Normal For 2 Year Old’s To Have Tantrums?

Yes, it is very normal for 2 year olds to have tantrums.

Also known as the terrible two’s

Tantrums in 2 year olds are emotional outbursts as a result of your child struggling to process their emotions and balance their growing independence desires.

Why Is My 2 Year Old Throwing Tantrums?

There are lots of triggers for tantrums in 2 year olds. If your little one is suddenly having tantrums check to see if they are feeling any of the following:

1. They are struggling to process their emotions and feelings. Your 2 year old is now experiencing a whole range of emotions that they are unfamiliar with, such as frustration, anxiety and anger.  These feelings can be very overwhelming and when allowed to escalate, they may result in a tantrum.

2. They have a new desire for independence. 2 year olds will now want to do more for themselves and have more control over their environment. However, if they are not offered opportunities to feel as if they have some control in their life, they may choose to stand their ground, become defiant and throw a tantrum to express their frustration.

3. They lack the language and social skills to express their wants. A 2 year old’s understanding of the world around them is far superior to their ability to express themselves. As a result, they can easily become frustrated by others not understanding what they want.

4. They are overtired. Overtiredness can be caused by an inconsistent nap schedule as well as a very busy day can easily trigger tantrums in 2 year olds.

5. They are hungry. We all know how irritable we can feel if we need food and a young toddler is no different! 2 year olds can easily feel cranky and short-tempered if they are hungry.

6. They are not getting their way. There are many occasions when tantrums in 2 year olds happen purely because they are not getting their own way. It is a young child’s default behaviour to express their frustration and anger.

7. It works. Finally, your 2 year old may be throwing tantrums because they work. If you give in to a tantrum, your child is more likely to use them to get the outcome they desire.

REMEMBER: While it is a normal part of your child’s development, there are things you can do to limit the number of tantrums your child has and it is very important that you deal with them consistently and in a rational manner.

How Do I Handle My 2 Year Old’s Tantrums

Most tantrums in 2 year olds are a result of frustration and the desire for independence but the lack of ability to self-regulate these emotions or communicate their wants and desires adequately or appropriately will have a big impact too.

If you find yourself in the middle of a 2 year old tantrum you need to:

Steps For Handling Tantrums In 2 Year Olds Anywhere

1. Stay calm. This is the hardest part of handling tantrums in 2 year olds. But taking a deep breath, staying calm and not shouting will be the key to preventing a tantrum from escalating.

2. Remove any dangers. If your 2 year old is thrashing about and you fear they may hurt themselves… either move them to a safer place or if that is not possible, remove any items they may hurt themselves with.

3. Remove the audience, if possible. Full-blown tantrums in 2 year olds in public can be a terrifying and mortifying thing for parents to handle. But your 2 year old will very quickly work out that you are more likely to give in if there is an audience around. Therefore, you must remain even more consistent during these tantrums and if you can, take your child to a place where there is no one to ‘perform’ to.

4. Don’t give in or negotiate. And I mean NEVER give in to a tantrum. Even if part way through you feel you may have denied them something that they could have had or done… Once you have said ‘no’ you must see it through. If you do end up giving in to tantrums in 2 year olds… you will reinforce to your child that this behaviour gets results.

5. Don’t leave them alone. While you may be tempted to walk away, do not leave your tantrum throwing 2 year old alone. If they will let you hold them until they have calmed down, but if this is not possible then be present at a distance without engaging and wait for the tantrum to pass.

6. Never punish. tantrums in 2 year olds should never be punished. Although you have to take a strong stance in dealing with a tantrum when they’re happening, you need to remember that your 2 year old cannot help feeling the way they do but they do need your understanding and love once the storm is over.

7. Comfort after the event. You cannot force a tantrum to come to an end. Nor can you expect your toddler to listen to you in the middle of a tantrum. Therefore, wait it out and once it’s over, cuddle your little one, look at a book together and have a calming and non-accusatory chat about what happened.

How To Prevent Tantrums In 2 Year Olds From Happening

Prevention is always better than reaction.

And having some tricks up your sleeve to prevent tantrums in 2 year olds from happening in the first place will be hugely beneficial for the whole family.

Ways To Prevent Tantrums In 2 Year Olds From Happening

1. Have a calm down corner. Create a calm-down corner. Having a safe space where your 2 year old can go when they feel things are getting too much can be hugely beneficial to help them reset their emotions. Having a canvas tent, cushions and a few cuddly toys is a great place to start.

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2. Practice teddy bear breathing. This is a fun way to get your little one to practice deep breathing. Balance a teddy bear on their tummy and give it a ride with the rising and falling of your child’s breath. It is a great idea to make this part of the bedtime routine when they are lying down in bed.

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3. Utilise emotional development toys, books and flashcards. These are excellent ways to get your little one to talk about their emotions in a healthy way. They will give you an insight into how your child is feeling and will give them the essential verbal tools to express themselves in a healthy way.

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REMEMBER: Your 2 year old’s comprehension is far beyond their ability to vocalise so you will need to do a lot of the talking for them while they listen and learn.

4. Lead by example by modelling good listening. Leading by example and listening to your child first will go a long way in avoiding unnecessary tantrums in 2 year olds.

5. Nail the transitions. Your little one will often not want to stop what they are doing in order to go out, get ready for bed, or go to nursery in the morning. Therefore, knowing how to handle a transition will be an essential parenting tool to prevent tantrums in 2 year olds from occurring.

6. Praise when they handle difficult emotions acceptably. When your 2 year old successfully navigates a situation that could have resulted in a tantrum ensure that you give them plenty of praise and encouragement. Reinforcing a good outcome will definitely help to reduce tantrums moving forward.

7. Create a happy and positive family atmosphere. 2 year olds are very sensitive to their environment and the happier and calmer their surroundings are… the fewer tantrums they will have.

8. Ensure they have a healthy sleep schedule and a regular bedtime. At this age, your child can experience a 2 year sleep regression. Sadly, sleep and emotional behaviour go hand-in-hand… So to help limit the possibility of overtiredness causing any tantrums, ensure your child has a healthy sleep schedule and a consistent bedtime routine.

9. Offer simple acceptable choices. As your little ones’ desire for independence grows offering them two simple, acceptable choices is a perfect way to diffuse frustration and to make them feel more in control eliminating an escalating tantrum.

What Is The Difference Between A Tantrum And A Meltdown?

The main difference between tantrums in 2 year olds and meltdowns is that:

Therefore, during a tantrum, your child will still have some element of control over their behaviour and the tantrum will usually end once they have got what they want.

But with an emotional meltdown, your child will struggle to calm down and will only do so once they have been removed from the situation that caused the meltdown in the first place. 

However, some tantrums can turn into meltdowns if they go on for a long time…

Characteristics Of A Tantrum:

Characteristics Of A Meltdown:

If you suspect that your 2 year old is experiencing meltdowns instead of tantrums, click here to get specific advice on how to handle emotional meltdowns in young children.

When Should I Worry About My 2 Year Old Tantrums?

In some cases, tantrums in 2 year olds can be an indication of an underlying condition linked to the child not being able to process emotions effectively. 

Whilst rare, if you notice any of the following signs, then I would advise having a chat with a medical professional to see if an emotional assessment would be useful:

Frequently Asked Questions About Tantrums In 2 Year Olds

Need more advice about tantrums in 2 year olds? Get the answers to the most common questions here:

What Is Normal “Terrible Two” Behaviour?

The terrible twos are a result of your child’s natural desire for independence and their inability to process and verbalise their strong emotions effectively.

Normal terrible two behaviours will include your little one being:

All this unpredictability can result in a temper tantrum where your 2 year old may:

How Do You Discipline A 2 Year Old Who Won’t Listen?

Disciplining a 2 year old who won’t listen will not work. 

They simply don’t understand what you need from them. 

Therefore, you need to teach your child how to listen by giving them the opportunities to actively listen and follow instructions.

Should You Ignore Temper Tantrums?

Yes and no… 

While you should never engage and negotiate with a toddler when they are having a tantrum… you should definitely stay physically present to ensure that they do not hurt themselves.

Your body language will do the ignoring for you.

Appearing to be seemingly engaged in doing something else like reading a magazine, looking at your phone, continuing with your shopping or preparing a meal, will give your 2 year old the vital message that you are not phased by the tantrum and that it will not get your attention.

When Do Tantrums Stop?

Toddler tantrums are common between the ages of 1 and 3 but can continue into the pre-school years in some children or in those where tantrum behaviour has gotten them what they want.

Tantrums will usually be at their peak between 2 and 3 years of age but they will have mostly ended by the time children turn 4.

Further Reading

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Author Image Bio
Paula McLaren - The founder of Teething to Tantrums has been in the childcare industry as a Norland Nanny and Childcare Expert since 1982. Her qualifications include a BA (Hons) in Early Years Development & Learning (0-6 Years) plus the highly prestigious Norland Diploma, recognized as the best early years practitioner qualification in the world. During her 40+ years of experience, she has worked as a night nanny (specializing in solving sleep issues), run a very successful daycare center in London, and raised almost 100 children, including her son, to be kind, healthy, and happy individuals with her tried and tested developmental and guidance methods.

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