Menu

2-year-olds aren’t terrible—they’re just learning how to be human

When looked at with fresh eyes, these misbehaviors can make sense, even to us. Then you will be able to guide your child through it to a more socialized way of being.

2-year-olds aren’t terrible—they’re just learning how to be human

Ask any parent what he or she wants most for their children and the majority will say, “I want my child to be happy."

Yes, parents also want their kids to be safe and resilient, knowing the world can be an adversarial place and that in order to truly succeed in life—in whatever they aspire to do and be—they need to develop certain emotional skills and become well-adjusted.

They will also say they want their children to be “kind," “caring," “respectful," and often “successful" and “smart." These are all values that most of us share. Who wouldn't want a child to grow up to be kind, caring, successful, and happy?

But can we really make our children happy? Can we force them to be genuinely kind?



No. We really can't make our kids do anything. We can kiss them, love them, hug them and indulge them. We can sign them up for myriad activities, plan playdates and vacations, give them music lessons, Mandarin classes, gymnastics, soccer, and ballet, and do our utmost to get them into the best schools.

But think about it for a moment—is “happiness" really what we are after anyway?

This drive we have as happy-seeking, often overachieving parents begins early—our plump little babies are allowed to coo, cry, spit up, and awaken us at night until they are about one year and 10 months. Then, whammo! As soon as they reach 2 years old, suddenly and as if overnight, we have a whole new set of rules for them: we want them to behave, listen, follow rules, and “be nice."

And just as we shift our expectations of our no-longer babies, all hell seems to break loose. A switch is flicked and our sweet little ones turn into demanding, irrational, often defiant toddlers. We worry that if we don't clamp down on their “bad" behaviors now, they will have these behaviors forever.

It may surprise you to know that parents often—unwittingly, unintentionally—get in the way of their toddlers growing into the well-adjusted, empathetic, resilient, happy older children and adults they envision them to be.

Parents often think they are doing what is best for their children, when in fact, all they are doing is blocking the needs that are at the core of who that child is. And when we suffocate those needs, or even simply overlook them, when we, unwittingly or not, try to mold our children, and shape their behavior according to some preconceived expectations of who they are and who we think they ought to be, we stamp out and smother them. We deny them the crucial foundation necessary for every child to grow up well.

By getting in their way, we can inadvertently sabotage our children's development in, we take away their ability to understand themselves, to explore the world in a way that makes sense to them and encourages their curiosity. We truncate their motivation to learn. We take away their confidence to forge relationships, and most crucial of all, we interrupt their ability to develop the emotional skills necessary for them to succeed in school and in life.

I don't mean succeed in the way we tend to think of success these days: that they will become straight-A students, awesome athletes, accomplished artists, or the next great business innovators—though all of that might happen, too.

What I mean by success is this: a person who feels confident to explore the world around him with excitement and curiosity, who is not afraid to make mistakes, who feels secure enough to begin to make friends, and who feels well-adjusted enough to bounce back when she is disappointed. A person who can handle life is motivated to learn, stands up for herself, and cares about others. Sound too good to be true?

Not at all.

Toddlers do or say many things that from an adult point of view appear to be irrational, unsocialized, or even absurd. Indeed, many of our toddlers' seemingly illogical choices make us parents very nervous. We can get embarrassed.

Our response?

We tend to overcorrect them, or criticize them, or simply stop them. As adults, we see our toddlers' erratic behavior as needing to be controlled because they seem so out of control, which, from an adult view, they might be. This is when we tend to fall back on generalizations about the classic “terrible twos"—or threes or fours.

We see kids this age as misbehaving or rude or not listening or losing it or throwing temper tantrums over nothing. But when looked at with fresh eyes, these misbehaviors can make sense, even to us. Then you will be able to guide your child through it to a more socialized way of being. Eventually.

So what can parents do? There are six key ways parents can interact with their toddler. Parents can:

  1. Mirror back a sense of safety and relative order
  2. Listen to children instead of always talking at and directing them
  3. Give children freedom to play and explore on their own
  4. Allow children the space and opportunity to struggle and fail
  5. Work to understand who each individual child is and what he needs at a given age
  6. Provide children with limits, boundaries, and guidance

These simple actions give any child a strong foundation to grow during a time when they are just beginning to test and understand themselves in relation to others and respond to and manage their complicated feelings.

And guess what happens when we interact with our kids in this way? We suddenly become disentangled from the battles; calm and clear enough to respond to what our child is really needing at any given moment (rather than starting with what the adult needs at that moment); and flexible enough to give our kids choices while at the same time providing support and boundaries.

This excerpt from “How Toddlers Thrive: What Parents Can Do Today for Children Ages 2-5 to Plant the Seeds of Lifelong Success" is republished with permission from Tovah Klein.

Helping your 2-year-old learn to communicate and develop the social skills they'll need as adults is no easy task. Here are some of our favorite products that can help.

Slumberkins hammerhead snuggler

Slumberkins Hammerhead snuggler

Slumberkins are amazing tools for teaching little ones to name and explain their big emotions. They just happen to be disguised as the most snuggly, soft lovies we've ever seen. Along with their story and mantra card, Hammerhead helps kids articulate big feelings when tantrums or frustration gets the better of them.

$45

'It's Not Yours, It's Mine'

'It's Not Yours It's Mine' book

Challenges around sharing can be a major pain point with two-year-olds. This humorous and charming tale about friendship and sharing will help them better understand the importance (and joy!) of letting friends in on the fun.

$18

EKOBO step stool

EKOBO step stool

"I do it!" is a phrase you might hear twenty-six times before 8 am. Providing two-year-olds with a boost that allows them to be just a bit more independent goes a long way. (Bonus: you can flip this one over and use it for toy storage too!)

$29

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

[This was originally published January, 2019. It has since been updated.]

My village lives far away—but my Target baby registry helped them support me from afar

Virtual support was the next best thing to in-person hugs

They say you shouldn't make too many major life transitions at once. But when I was becoming a mama for the first time nearly five years ago, my husband and I also moved to a new town where we didn't know a soul, bought our first house and changed jobs.

To put it mildly, we didn't heed that advice. Luckily, our family and friends still made it feel like such a magical time for us by supporting our every move (literal and otherwise) from afar. They showered us with love through a virtual baby shower (expectant parents nowadays can relate!) featuring the unwrapping of gifts they were able to ship straight to me from my Target registry.

Here's one piece of advice I did take: I registered at Target so I could take advantage of the retailer's benefits for registrants, which include a welcome kit valued over $100, a universal registry function and more. Fast-forward a few years and Target has made the registration perks even better for expectant parents: As of August 2020, they've added a Year of Exclusive Deals, which gives users who also sign up for Target Circle a full year of savings after baby is born on all those new mama essentials, from formula to diapers and beyond.

Honestly, even without the significant perks of a free welcome kit with more than $100 in coupons, additional 15% off coupons to complete the registry and a full year of free returns, registering at Target wasn't a hard sell for me: Even though the experience of shopping for baby items was new, shopping with Target felt like returning home to me… and the comfort of that was such a gift.

And of course, Target's registry plays a vital role right now, as expectant parents everywhere are being forced to cancel in-person baby showers and navigate early parenthood without the help of a hands-on village. A registry like this represents a safe way for communities to come through for new parents. If you're anything like me (or any of the other mamas here at Motherly), you certainly have emotional ties and fond memories associated with Target.

What to register for at Target was also an easy talking point as I began to connect with moms in my new community. I will always remember going on a registry-building spree with my next door neighbor, who had young children of her own. As we walked the aisles of Target back in 2015, she suggested items to add… and we laid the foundation for what has since become one of my most cherished friendships.

Even as I made connections in my new hometown, I was nervous that expecting my first baby wouldn't feel as special as if I were near family and friends. But my loved ones exceeded all expectations by adding the most thoughtful notes to gifts. They hosted a beautiful virtual baby shower and even encouraged me to keep the registry going after my baby made his debut and new needs arose.

In the years since, "community" has taken on a wonderfully complex new meaning for me… and, in these times of social distancing, for the rest of the world. I've come to cherish my newfound friends in our local community alongside those long-time friends who are scattered around the county and my virtual mama friends.

Now, as my friends' families grow, I'm so grateful that I can show them the same love and support I felt during my first pregnancy. I sing the praises of Target's baby registry—especially in light of the pandemic, since I know mamas can do everything from a distance thanks to Target's website and the added benefit of getting trusted reviews and helpful registry checklists.

And now that I'm on the gift-buying side of the equation, I've found new joy in picking thoughtful gifts for my friends. (Because goodness knows Target has something for everyone!)

For my friend who is a fellow runner, I teamed up with a few others to give the jogging stroller she had on her registry.

For my friend who is a bookworm, I helped her start her baby's library with a few books that are also well-loved in our home.

For other friends, I've bundled together complete "sets" with everything they need for bathing or feeding their children.

I know from my own experience that, yes, the registry purchases are so appreciated, but the thoughtfulness and the support they represent means even more. Because although my village may have been distant, the support they showed me was the next best thing to in-person hugs.

Start your own Target Baby Registry here to experience a Year of Benefits including a Year of Exclusive Deals through Target Circle to enjoy for a full year following your baby's arrival, a year of free returns, two 15% off completion coupons and a free welcome kit ($100 value).

This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

Shop

10 photos to take on baby’s first day that you'll cherish forever

You'll obsess over these newborn baby pictures.

Bethany Menzel: Instagram + Blog

As you're preparing for baby's birth, we bet you're dreaming of all of the amazing photos you'll take of your precious new babe. As a professional photographer and mama, I have some tips for newborn photos you'll want to capture.

Here are the 10 photos you will want to take on baby's first day.

Keep reading Show less
Life