Just how terrible are the twos?


You know, my kid was great at 2… now 3 was pretty tough, but she was never a violent kid, overall. I’ll let you know about the teen years in about a decade. :wink:

Years ago I watched a Nature of Things on aggression in children in which one researcher said that if an adult acted they way a two-year-old does, they would beat five to six people to death a day.


This is one thing that makes stunted mental development cases so scary. Someone with a grown body but the mental capacity of a 3 year old is dangerous. The way nerve cells develop means small children aren’t really capable of moderating their force either, it tends to be either nothing or all of the strength when they do something.

Also, this study is hardly a surprise to me. Little kids are terribly violent, it’s just human nature. That’s why you need good parenting to teach them how to control their impulses and function as a member of society.

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I used to work in a science museum with an early childhood play area. It was setup for kids 0 to 5 and had all sorts of tactile puzzle-play things that are associated with early childhood “science” education. The scariest attendees of all were the two year olds, who had the insane tendency to “run and sweep” which is the act of running up to a table full of stuff (that other kids are probably playing with), sweep it all of the table in one motion, and then run away. They would also be most likely to try to kill the fish, kill the giant cockroaches, or kill each other.

Really watching them it is clear that two year olds are sociopaths in the traditional sense of the word - they don’t take other people’s feelings or situations into account when making their choices, which usually results in really crazy acts of violence and craziness. It is that dangerous sort of amoral.

The explanation I got from the early-childhood education experts I worked with was that there is a gap period in two developmental cycles that occurs in the 2-ish age range. Infants start out essentially unaware that there are other people who have feelings that differ from their own, no real sense of self. By 3, their brain changes and they start assigning independence to others, and have a true sense of self vs. others, which is a key component of any empathy. Problem is, there is a gap between the time that they become fully mobile, and the development of any empathic abilities, leading to this truly insane seeming behavior. You’d probably act the same way if you couldn’t identify others as independent entities (witness normal humans behavior in games like GTA).

Fortunately two year olds are tiny and you can grab them and put a leash on them and no one will think twice about it.


It’s been a rule of thumb in my family for decades now that the twos aren’t terrible at all compared to the threes. Don’t know why that should be, and I don’t necessarily know if we’re talking actual violence here, but when it comes to obstreperousness, temper tantrums, and pure contrariness, the two-year-olds are sweet little angels compared to the damnable three-year-olds.

My youngest is now four. Luckily for us, he was much, much more open to compromise than his sister ever was.


Little kids are terribly violent, it’s just human nature.

Nature, nurture, tomayto, tomahto.

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In our family, we even have a name for it: “the Traumatic Threes.”

24-36 months wasn’t bad with either of my daughters. For us, the toughest part was the two months before speech got established. Each darling knew what she wanted, but would get terribly frustrated when she couldn’t express it. Those were some ugly moments.

The key trick my family has used for these ages: “You don’t negotiate with a two-year old.”

There is no “reasoning” with a being in that state of nature. Instead, wherever possible, give them choices and respect their decision within that domain.

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That’s my experience as well: 2 brought a bit of boundaries-testing, fair enough; but when my daughter hit 3, it was like someone switched her overnight with a very angry/weepy drunk. There was this solid wall of drama and everything seemed to suddenly be regressing big time (eating habits, potty, sleep, discipline…).

I was never worried about the ‘teenage years’ but the 3s have had me reconsider that position. I’ve got a little bit of the fear now.

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Hint: they’re not good…

I have no idea if it’s true, but “common wisdom” has it that the kids who are difficult as 2-5 year olds are easy teenagers, while the easy pre-schoolers become hellish teenagers.

I suggest you adopt this as your mantra, “This is gonna make the teen years soooo much easier” 8)

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Sigh… I was hoping that wouldn’t be true. :frowning:

Yup. Three. I remember one particular incident where my daughter was bright purple and, I swear, actually levitating on a pillar of fury, Linda Blair-style.


It gets better. Mine’s eighteen now. She’s gone out to get drunk and play pool.


When my first child was two, he was a perfect little angel. We saw other people’s terrible two-year-olds and smiled smugly, knowing that either he was just better than other children, or even more likely, we were just better parents.

Then right about the time he turned three… omiquadrifuckingod. We couldn’t leave him alone for a minute; lasted about a year and suddenly he was normal again.

Then my daughter had her terrible twos… for about five years. For a while we wondered if any of us would survive. She’s a smart, considerate and caring teenager now, though.

Since then I’ve been doing a lot of observation, and I’ve come to these conclusions:

  1. kids mature at different ages and in differing ways.
  2. at some point most kids will fiercely test the restrictions that physics, law and society have placed on them, which is hard on their parents and usually happens between ages two and four and often lasts around a year and a half.
  3. some kids are by nature easier to raise than others. They just are.

That’s all pretty old chestnuttery, but it contains the only things I have found to be universally true about raising children. Everything else seems to vary depending both on the child and the environment the child is conceived and raised in.


I hope so. The pre-teen snark and eye rolling is already killing me.

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You fix that one by deciding it’s extremely amusing.

Also works on temper tantrums.


Oh, that hasn’t stopped. She’s just fucked off out for a bit…


We had a name for it too, after the terrible twos come the fucked threes.

Yours is probably more appropriate.

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I don’t agree.

It really varies by kid, and parenting doesn’t seem to have a huge impact on this.

Basically, pay close attention to what peer group your kid adopts 6-8th grade – that pretty much tells you what kind of teen years you will be facing. I know kids who were such delights during their teens years that their parents missed the good company when the kids went away to college. I know other kids, sometimes from the same families, that everyone (kid included) just wanted out of the house.

It’s a mystery — enjoy the ride.

If at all possible, try to mold the environment from which that 6-8th grade peer group will be chosen. That is, you can’t pick their friends – they will most certainly do that for themselves – but ( hopefully) you can influence the group from which they will draw their friends. You have to do that before they hit high school, and understand that you have only limited influence here.