We have a full blown 2 and a 1/2 year old around here. A limit-testing, boundary-pushing, bedtime-delaying toddler. Interesting how much a toddler’s behavior tells you about human nature.

  • The desire to be in control, in charge.
  • The desire to be right.
  • The desire to get what you want. RIGHT NOW.
  • The desire to be the sole focus of everyone’s attention.

I mean, really, don’t we see all that toddler behavior in ourselves as adults too?

It’s funny… I didn’t have to teach my toddler to yell “No!” or grab something out of her sister’s hands. I didn’t have to teach my toddler to say “that’s mine” in a snobby voice or how to throw herself on the floor and scream when she doesn’t get something she wants.

She just knew how to do all that. It’s not “learned.” It’s in a toddler’s nature.

People like to call this the “terrible twos.”

I don’t. In fact I have a pretty strong preference you don’t call my two year old terrible. The Danish call it “the boundary stage.” I like that!

We had 4 kids in 5 years. 3 of those kids have gone through the “terrible terrific twos!” With 3 down and 1 more to go, we’ve found some things that worked for how to deal with the terrible terrific twos.

Know my job in 2 year old discipline process

My post, A Practical Guide to the Parent Led Home explains the idea of a parent-led home in more detail. The main idea is – it’s our job (as parents) to raise the children. We make decisions about what’s best for them based on observing them and getting to know each of our children. And we pray a lot! (That post goes into more detail about practical tips and specific scenarios!)

Of course, we don’t always get it all right; sometimes, we make the wrong decision! Thank goodness for grace! But in general, I have the responsibility of teaching my toddler or preschooler how to…

  • respect authority
  • wait patiently
  • take turns
  • be kind

But how? How to discipline a toddler is the tricky part!

Because as you probably have experienced first hand, most toddlers do not just comply every time you tell them, “don’t do that.”

Haha! Wouldn’t that be great?!

Full disclosure: I’ve caught myself saying “because I said so” and “just because” and “I don’t know, just do it” and all those things my mom said that I swore I’d never say.

And, it’s okay. Sometimes that’s just the answer.

Be Prepared: The “terrible twos” Usually Starts at Age 1.

Can you believe it? Your sweet little angel who just learned to toddle around, all of the sudden screaming and throwing themselves on the floor? Where did they learn this behavior!? 

Good news – it’s not you, it’s them! It’s how toddlers are wired. And I have an entire guide to toddler discipline, which really starts at age 1… around 14 months (give or take) usually. Our methods are positive, proactive, and simple. 

<center><button>Download the Complete Guide to Toddler Discipline! (Perfect for 1-2 year olds) </button></center>

3 Simple Phrases for 2 Year Old Behavior & Discipline

We’ve used several specific phrases with our 2 year olds that have really helped them learn and practice obedience, kindness, patience, etc…

We got most of them from my dad! Allegedly, he used to say them to my brother and I when we were toddlers.

When our first child was 2, my dad (promoted to Granddad) used all 3 of these phrases on a trip with our 2 year old. And they “worked!” Turns out – you don’t need a fancy toddler behavior chart… you just need to know how toddlers think and how to communicate clearly and lovingly to them.

But, we’ve used several specific phrases with our 2 year olds that have really helped them learn and practice obedience, kindness, patience, etc…

We got most of them from my dad! Allegedly, he used to say them to my brother and I when we were toddlers.

When our first child was 2, my dad (promoted to Granddad) used all 3 of these phrases on a trip with our 2 year old. And they “worked!” Turns out – you don’t need a fancy toddler behavior chart… you just need to know how toddlers think and how to communicate clearly and lovingly to them.

Terrible Terrific Twos phrase #1: You are not in charge.

update: I originally wrote this post when we had 1 two year old. I’ve edited it since bringing 3 kids through the toddler phase and this stands as the NUMBER ONE MOST USEFUL THING IN OUR HOME WITH A TODDLER. If you want to correct terrible toddler behavior, get used to saying this in your firm mommy voice. 

I love my toddler and I love her spunk, her go-getter spirit. But it’s good that she knows she’s not in charge. Not only is it good. It frees her. Kids push push push and test test test, but deep down they want to know where you draw the line.

That’s why the Danish call it “the boundary phase.” Your two year old isn’t terrible… she is wired to test the boundary!

Some kids will push and test more relative to other kids, but how much they push is not really the issue for this phrase.

It’s just a simple reminder, stated calmly and frequently. You are not in charge. 


Mom: Time to get ready for bed. Please go get your jammies.
2 year old: I don’t want to go to bed.
Mom: I understand, but you’re not in charge. Go get your jammies.

At this point, anything defiant is disobedience and should be dealt with however you deal with explicit disobedience in your home. 

If you want more thoughts or advice on this, join my parent led home class and send me an email! Also, I’d highly recommend Parenting By the Book for a refreshingly positive and practical look at Biblical parenting.

Phrase #2. You don’t get everything you want. (And neither do I.)

This is a great rebuttal in place of “it’s not fair…” I like this a lot better than “life isn’t fair.” It’s more positive and more toddler appropriate. Most 2 or 3 year olds aren’t talking about ‘fair’ unless they’ve heard an older sibling discussing the subject anyway πŸ™‚


Dad: It’s your sisters turn with that toy.
2 year old: No I want to play with it.
Dad: Well, you don’t get everything you want.
2 year old: Why?
Dad: because that’s a part of life. No one gets everything they want. I don’t get everything I want either. (Depending on your 2 year old’s comprehension and verbal ability, you could even give an example of a recent time you didn’t get something you wanted.)

Toddlers will make the connection – Mommy doesn’t get everything she wants. Sister doesn’t get everything she wants. Daddy doesn’t get everything he wants. It’s a part of life.

Granted, your toddler will still need frequent reminders. Haha

Let’s be honest; I need a reminder about this too every now and again. It’s almost refreshing to hear the toddler ask, “And you don’t get everything you want, momma?”

No, no I do not. And that’s okay.

That’s what I want my toddler to know too. We don’t get everything we want in life, and that’s okay.

Phrase #3. It’s okay to be sad, but you can be done now.

Alternative (spoken kindly): Okay, that’s enough crying about that. Time to be done. Let’s go___________ (read a book, or whatever your kid likes to do with you.)

I have a pretty low tolerance for whining and tantrums and tears over things I deem ‘silly’ (towers getting knocked over, spilt milk, ya know.. toddler stuff).

However, I recognize my tendency to push aside my kids’ feelings and especially as my 2 year old transitions out of toddler tantrums and into little kid age… I want her to know, it’s okay to cry. 

Sometimes your feelings get hurt, or you feel embarrassed. Or someone doesn’t want to play with you. Or you work really hard on something, only to have it knocked over, figuratively or literally. And sometimes, you cry about it. 

Me too!! 

But, at some point, you have to be done crying over it and move on.

So, sometimes, I let my terrific two year old have her moment – bursting into tears over a “no more goldfish” – and then I say, “Okay, you can be done now.” And often, that is enough, and she turns it off. Haha it’s actually pretty funny to witness.

Of course, this doesn’t “work” 100% of the time. We carry our toddler to a different room if they need/ want to throw a huge fit over something and go get them as soon as they’re done.

But if she really was only melting down about goldfish, “you can be done now,” is usually all it takes. I actually just read this really great article on dealing with whining. It definitely goes hand in hand with this idea.

I also made these cute little printable reminder cards for you! They are approximately 4×6 and you can download and print them for free. Just post them where ever your terrific two year old might need some firm, consistent, loving phrases from Mom! (aka: where they are most likely to melt down…. aka: everywhere!)

Distract Distract Distract! 

Don’t prolong the conversation with the above phrases. Toddlers are irrational and often confused. Keep your tone matter of fact, follow through on what you say. Avoid the temptation to yell or make empty threats. 

As soon as you say it, move on. 

“Yep, you don’t get everything you want. Neither do I. Bummer. Come on, let’s go play _______.”

Related: 31 ways to entertain toddler while you feed the baby

Related: 12 Practical Tips for Surviving Life with a Toddler & Newborn

What if My Toddler is Strong-Willed?

To be clear, a screaming 2 year old does not mean your child is strong-willed. Screaming is normal for 2! BUT… maybe your child’s tantrums last ridiculously long. Maybe they persist in the same defiant behavior over and over – DARING you to do something. There’s something about the spirit of a strong-willed child that shows itself strong!! Our 3rd is particuarly strongwilled, and as he’s turned 3.5 and nears 4, we are starting to see some of the benefits of consistent, firm, loving discipline & boundaries. But we’ve also used some different strategies with him than with our other toddlers who weren’t quite as opinionated πŸ™‚ 

We were more careful to choose battles, let certain things go, and think through what we really want to put our foot down on. 

Honestly, a strong will is a gift!! The strong willed child is less likely to get bullied or pushed around. I mean, it’s not like we hope our children turn out ‘weak-willed.’

A couple resources I’d recommend if you think your child is particularly stronger-willed than the average 2 year old: 

  1. The New Strong Willed Child (Dobson) 
  2. This article is full of fabulous advice and practical steps/ tips for parenting strong willed children. We did many things similar to what she recommends with our more strong-willed child. 

Do you have any go-to phrases or tips that help your terrible terrific two year olds with all their toddler behaviors and feelings!? Haha

I’ll be curious to hear if anyone tries these on your kids and gets the same positive results we’ve had…

By “positive results,” I don’t mean perfectly behaved two year old. I do mean seemingly increased understanding (at least at a 2 year old level) about authority, respect, life, managing emotions, ya know… things of that nature. Perfect behavior isn’t the goal anyway.

The idea is gospel-centered parenting… that over time, your child would realize she can’t be perfect (even if she tries really hard) and she needs Jesus! And so does Mom. (This book explains gospel-centered parenting really well.)

TERRIBLE TWOS behavior tips
terrible twos behavior tips
SO many great tips in here for dealing with the terrible twos... she suggests calling them the terrific twos and gives a lot of practical ideas for how to survive and thrive through toddler screaming, toddler tantrums, and more! Great resource for young moms of toddlers and babies! #parentingtips #toddlers #behavior #discipline #parenting #2yearolds