Anyone who says their two-year-old wasn’t a tiny insane tyrant is lying

Photo 23-12-2015, 2 41 30 pm (800x800)

That day he did well, until he didn’t. Story of a toddler’s life.

Dear toddler parent hanging on by skin of teeth:

Anyone who says their two-year-old wasn’t a tiny insane tyrant is lying.

Let me say that again.


Alright, toddler parent, just let me put you on hold while I talk to whoever’s now offended.

Yes, I mean it, and yes I mean you as well, yes, you. Come at me, bro. If you tell me, either in person or from the safe distance of the internet, that your blessed toddler only needed one look from you after one tantrum and they never tried it again, or they never ran off because of your awesome discipline routines, or any variant of ‘when my kids were little’ – sit back down. SIT ALL THE WAY BACK DOWN. Shall I tell you what’s happened here?

  • Unless you nurtured a child prodigy (I am willing to allow this variant in rare cases), you had a two-year-old like any other.
  • Two-year-olds spend a lot of time wanting what they can’t have, and wrestling with giant emotional reactions they don’t have the bandwidth to process appropriately. This has been studied. It is normal. It is true.
  • This leads to: screaming meltdowns in public and private, lots of ‘I don’t WANT to’, long days of struggling over every. little. thing, much exhaustion on all sides. You might have had a toddler who did one of those things more than the other, but all of them will have been present and correct.
  • You dealt with this in the best way you could. I’m sure you’re a nice, normal person, so probably this was: you set limits that were often ignored, you wheedled and cajoled and comforted and warned and picked them up like a parcel, legs flailing, and shouted when you really lost your rag, and tried again the next day.

THEN (this is the important part):

  • Your two-year-old got older, more able to cope with emotions and respond to parenting strategies. And as the years went on, and because two-year-olds are also delightful and hilarious and wonderful beyond belief,
  • You forgot the bad bits.

I wouldn’t mind, but this idea of ‘my toddler was an angel because of how super disciplined I was’ – the sort of thing that comes in well-meaning or less-well-meaning droves when you mention your children online – does serious damage to those of us still in those two-year-old trenches. Do you think it’s easy, trying to cajole your child off the floor of a supermarket because you’ve refused to let them get inside the ice cream freezer, cringing and embarrassed by the volume of their yells and the certain knowledge that someone watching thinks you’re a failure?

The only thing that would be worse is if some random stranger who didn’t know you at all, didn’t know how hard you worked or how much you worried about being a good, kind, fair, decent parent, told you that yes, your worst fear is true: this is your fault. If you were better, your two-year-old wouldn’t act like this. Because mine didn’t. Not ever. I only had to give them a look.

I know how awful this feels, because it’s happened to me, and because I get messages all the time from mothers battered by public judgement and unrealistic expectations. It makes me furious.

Toddler parent, you still there?

Listen. Two-year-olds are gonna two. Sooner or later they’re going to want something you can’t give them in a public place, and all your careful distraction techniques won’t work this time, and they will scream and someone will sniff and you will feel like scraping yourself out of the carpet. It might even happen rather a lot (*hand raised*).

It is not your fault. IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. You can’t give your children emotional maturity beyond their years by force of will. If you’re trying hard, setting boundaries and struggling for a routine that suits you both, well – everything else will pass. I promise. Enjoy the wonderful bits, buy in chocolate digestives for the terrible bits, and don’t let anyone, ever, tell you that your child would be better if you were.

And one more thing for the internet warriors.

Next time you’re tempted to write a ‘back in my day’ response to a mother struggling with things you’ve let go: maybe just write ‘hang on, it’ll be ok’ instead. Just that.

Wouldn’t that be a wonderful world?


23 thoughts on “Anyone who says their two-year-old wasn’t a tiny insane tyrant is lying

  1. Hi Rachel, I just wanted to let you know that I’ve recently discovered your blog about toddlers. You are my life saver! My daughter is only 18 months, but she’s well within the toddler tantrums already. There are some days where I really feel like I’m losing my mind and every shred of sanity that I have left. Reading you is really helping me feel better (and not so ALONE!). Thank you for being so honest!

    • Hi Lea! So glad this has helped, because honestly those early tantrum days can be SO ROUGH. Hang in there. Every day she’s getting more and more able to understand and communicate. And you’re definitely not alone – we’ve all been there! x

  2. Needed this today!
    Some of our boundaries are developing serious breaches, and I think I need a bit of a confidence boost to reinforce them. (Especially knowing that at 22 months, I still have *plenty* of this ahead!!)

    • Ha! Oh, our boundaries are not so much breached as TOTALLY ignored 🙂 I think all two-year-old parenting strategies in books should be replaced with just KEEP GOING in capital letters… x

  3. Oh. My. God. This is exactly what I needed to hear. My daughter turned two at the end of January, and it’s like a switch was flipped on that exact day. My careful and diligent parenting through positive reinforcement, routine, and consistency had gone right out the window. The foundations I carefully laid were washed away overnight. I don’t feel like I even know who she is anymore. She has literally been terrible, and it has made me question everything about who I am, who she is, why I had her, and why on earth I want to have another one. Through many tears, on both sides, we seem to be making very slow progress towards peace. But, as I asked my mom during her visit with us from the States, does the “terribleness” last the whole of the second year? Because I’m really not sure I’m going to make it!

    • Oh, Lindsey, I’m so sorry! That sounds really hard. I have also had nights where I’ve looked at one of them and thought ‘who ARE you, and what have you done with my previously lovely boy?’
      If it helps: this isn’t who she is. It’s not the core of her. She’s still the same underneath – just going through a developmental stage that’s all about huge uncontrollable emotions. She doesn’t have the maturity to process them and she can’t communicate with you well enough to allow you to help her. So, frustration. In SPADES.
      I promise, I promise, it’ll get better. Hang in there. Eat cake. And make sure you look after yourself. x

  4. This couldn’t be anymore appropriate that what myself and my partner experienced today when we had to visit the hospital because we wouldnt let him stay longer in the playarea TOTAL MELTDOWN occurred! Then came the dreaded stares from the other parents, that moment they look at their ‘angelic’ child and then yours flailing all over the floor screaming at the top of his lungs…comparinng! yeppp! you have got this blog post just right! They don’t call them the terrible twos for nothing! PERSIST!!!!! It will all be okay in the end! Great post! Honest and truthful! We as mums need more of this and less of what we should and shouldnt be doing!

    • Haha, YES. Isn’t it always the way that when your child’s having a huge tantrum, everyone else’s is behaving like an angel! I am all for more honesty – it can only help other parents feel less alone 🙂 x

  5. Oh how I wish there’d been a blog like yours around when mine was two. I wish there were more mummies who just supported each other rather than putting on their judgey pants and looking down at others. I loved this line: “Next time you’re tempted to write a ‘back in my day’ response to a mother struggling with things you’ve let go: maybe just write ‘hang on, it’ll be ok’ instead. Just that.”

    • Yes, exactly! There’s nothing like proper sisterly support from other mums. If only it were always like that! x

    • Haha! From the middle of my second two-year-old experience – I absolutely believe you 🙂 Can’t imagine ever forgetting this! x

  6. ‘Wouldn’t that be a wonderful world?’ yes it would.

    We are just gearing up for our third run at a two year old… I am optimistic.
    Mainly because I’ll be at work most of the time, but also because as you say the good times are really wonderful, rare, but wonderful.

    • Oh, YES. It’s a good job they’re so fantastic and hilarious as well as frustrating 🙂 Despite all the difficulties, I do love this age. x

  7. Both my boys have a delay so hit the terrible twos in a four year old body. Can you imagine the tuts? They are now 7 & 9 but way behind emotionally. I don’t give in so get the hysterics. My hard shell can just about keep it together til I get home before it cracks and I do too. Before you judge have some compassion, not only on the frazzled Mum but the child who still can’t cope with their emotions. Even if it disturbs your day for a few minutes. They have to live with it 24/7……

    • Yes, absolutely! It’s exhausting and upsetting for the child as well as the parent, especially if it’s more or less constant. Sounds like you’re doing a smashing job, FrazzledMum – hang in there. x

  8. Such a good point, FrazzledMum. One thing that helps me sometimes is telling myself that my daughter doesn’t know how to express her emotions–she just isn’t able. It must be so incredibly frustrating for her.

  9. My eldest was a calm 2 year old.
    The little guy was just storing it up though as literally the day he turned 3 he let it all out. no more calm content little guy, but fully on stroppy threenager. It was like being hit with a bucket of ice water. He’s 5 now and is calming down. Sometimes.
    My younger child isn’t 2 yet and is starting early. When out and about I play the “Which is worse?” game. Do I let him keep being naughty or subject everyone to the inevitable long and loud screaming fit if I stop him.
    Sometimes I just don’t go out. He is, indeed a tyrant.

    • Oh yes – that is the dilemma. Do you keep letting them misbehave or brave the explosion?
      And yes, really the headline should’ve been ‘Anyone Who Says Their Child Wasn’t A Tiny Insane Tyrant Once They Hit That Developmental Stage Anywhere Between Two And Four, Probably…’, since it isn’t always at two! My eldest was a terrible threenager too. Funny how different they all are. x

  10. My eldest daughter who is now 7 DIDN’T got through any public melt down stages. I don’t know if it was my calm approach with her or her natural laid back disposition. I am not lying and it is a FACT. There is no reason I can’t state that in the same you that a parent can state that their child does have public meltdowns. That’s life.
    My youngest daughter however, is the child who screams in public, wails like a banshee and is just her regular self, happy or angry in front of everyone. She doesn’t care. Why should she, after all she is only 2.
    But I’m not lying about my eldest.

    • But Elle, even if your eldest didn’t have any public meltdowns, she surely went through the same developmental stage of wanting things you couldn’t give her, and getting frustrated about it? However that frustration manifested itself? I’ve never met a child who didn’t go through that somewhere between two and four. It’s the beginning of independence for them, and they need that, though of course they all react to that stage differently depending on personality.

      It IS far more to do with personality though, rather than anything we do as parents. As you say yourself: the same approach with both your children, and yet they’re very different. And I’m sure you wouldn’t comment on a struggling mother’s blog to say their toddler would behave better if they were a better mother. That’s really what I’m against here.

      Thanks for commenting! x

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