The Terrible Twos: A Struggle for Independence

Learn how to meet your child's growing need for independence, while still providing the support, comfort, and babying that he needs.

In this article, you will find:

Your child's own will

The Terrible Twos: A Struggle for Independence

Your two-year-old persists in the struggle that began when he started walking: The struggle toward some degree of separation, autonomy, independence, and the ultimate issue—identity. This means that you will have to try to meet your child's growing need for independence, while at the same time offering him all the support, comfort, and even babying that he needs.

Your child's growing independence will show itself in a variety of contexts: eating, dressing, perhaps using the potty seat, playing with toys, drawing, and so on. On some days your toddler will want to do many of these things all by himself; on others, he will need your help for all of them. For this reason, any of these everyday adventures can become a furious battleground.

Despite your child's improving ability to dress or eat or play independently, he may resist if you pressure him or insist that he do them himself. This resistance also demonstrates your toddler's independence. To assert his own will, your child all too often opposes your own. And that's why they call it the "terrible twos." Two-year-olds often seem willful, contrary, and negative. And to top it all off, when they don't get their way, they throw a tantrum.

Tantrums also spring from your child's growing desire for independence. Despite your toddler's rapidly developing abilities, he no doubt still wants to do much more than he can handle physically and mentally. This frustrating incompetence will drive your two-year-old over the edge. When his frustration reaches a certain level, it explodes as a tantrum.

Though it hardly seems like it much of the time, your toddler is actually trying to control himself. And despite all the turbulence, your child will become increasingly self-aware throughout this year. By his third birthday, this self-awareness will probably awaken a previously unseen ability in your toddler: awareness of and identification with the feelings of others. So in the end, your child's sometimes painful journey toward self-awareness will give birth to a degree of empathy.

Dressing Independently


Here's a good trick for toddlers. Lay your child's coat on the floor. Have her stand at the neck or hood of the coat (so that it's upside down from her perspective). If your child then sticks her arms in the sleeves and flips the coat over her head, it will be on. Most toddlers find this trick enchanting proof that they are big kids now.

By about two-and-a-half your child will begin to express interest in dressing and undressing herself some of the time. By all means, encourage her to do so if she wants to. The practice helps to improve both her coordination and her confidence. Until your child is three, she will probably need help with her socks, shoes, and mittens. Tying shoes is almost impossible for a two-year-old, but your toddler may be able to master shoes with Velcro straps. By her third birthday, your child may be able to dress herself completely in a few easy-to-put-on outfits. Just be patient and give your child all the time she needs. Let your child pick out her own clothes if she wants, too—and ignore your own sense of fashion. It won't really hurt anyone if she chooses striped pants with a plaid shirt. And it also won't do any harm if your toddler chooses the same clothes day after day.

Try to avoid buttons and zippers as much as possible. Despite their name, snaps are no snap either. So buy pants with an elastic waistband (not too tight) rather than a zipper and a snap. If you cannot avoid buttons, snaps, and zippers, large ones will be easier for small fingers to practice on. It also might help to get your child a dress-up doll with buttons, zippers, snaps, and Velcro.

  • The Complete Idiot's Guide to Parenting a Preschooler and Toddler, Too
    The Complete Idiot's Guide to Parenting a Preschooler and Toddler, Too
    Read articles and find tips and on raising your preschooler and toddler.