Current Issue

One of my books, Making the “Terrible” Twos Terrific!, has recently become a bestseller in China, of all places. Seriously! What sorts of problems are Chinese parents having with their toddlers? Answer: The same problems American, French, Russian, Australian, Nigerian, Brazilian, Czech, and parents of all other nationalities are having with theirs, that’s what.

Human nature is human nature, folks. Children do not come into the world civilized; rather, they must be civilized. They must be taught to accept submission to legitimate authority, for starters. They must be taught respect for the property and the persons of others. They must be taught to control their impulses, because most of their innate impulses are destructive and self-serving. They must be taught to accept “no” for an answer, to wait in line, and that they aren’t the best at everything or even most things. None of that comes easy for a toddler, which is why toddlers scream so much. And by the way, their screams are all screams of pain because nothing is more painful than having to accept that you are not God or even a god.

The “terrible twos” actually begin sometime during a child’s second year of life—say, 18 months—and last until around his or her third birthday. That finite period assumes that the child’s parents accomplish what is described in the previous paragraph during that time. If they fail to do so, toddlerhood continues. Eventually, it becomes known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and/or bipolar disorder of childhood. Blaming the child’s biology (even though no one has proven that said “disorders” are biologically based) is so much more tidy (and profitable) than implying that the child’s parents failed in their mission.

So, the question begs, how does one complete the mission by age three?

First, childproof the home. Make sure that nothing is around that you don’t want said child to touch or play with. This ensures that parents will not spend great energy following the living tornado from room to room, slapping his little hands, yelling, “Stop that!” 50 times a day, and generally setting disciplinary precedents that will come back to haunt them.

Second, create a “tantrum place” where said little beastie, when possessed by a demon, can flail and scream all he wants. It should preferably be an out-of-the-way place where his flailing and screaming will disturb no one but himself. Simply help him to his special place whenever he begins to scream, deposit him (you’ll likely be dragging him at this point), and say, “Here you go! Scream all you want, my sweet little angel,” and walk away.

Third, remember that undomesticated barbarians do not sit for a time-out. No matter. Select a time-out chair anyway. When the child decides to play James Dean, just take him to said chair and put him in it. Then step back and say, “OK, you can get up now.” Make sure you say it before he gets up on his own. That creates the illusion that he is obeying you, which is all you’re trying to accomplish because it’s all you can accomplish.

Fourth, always remember that no is the most important word in your vocabulary. The sooner the child gets used to it, the sooner you can dispense with the second suggestion above, and the happier she will be.

Fifth, put your child to bed as early as possible.

Family psychologist John Rosemond is the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, contact Tracy Owens-Jahn at or (817) 295-1751.

Living With Children: Dealing With the Terrible Twos

by John Rosemond
From the February 2021 Signs