How to Parent a Two Year Old With Joy! |

Frequently, when I’m talking to another parent of a two year old I hear groans, moans, grumbling, and of the course the famous line “they’re going through the terrible twos.”

I don’t really believe in the terrible twos. I try to not use that expression because I don’t think a two year old has to be terrible. Can it be a busy, challenging, and yes, even a trying time raising a two year old? Yes! But it certainly does not have to be terrible. You really can learn how to parent a two year old with joy!

Right now I’m in the midst of parenting our fifth two year old. She’s probably been the easiest as far as temperament, but she is super active! I don’t remember any of our children climbing all over everything quite as much as Deborah does!

After trying out a lot of different parenting methods, I don’t tend towards some of the conservative child training principles taught in regards to toddlers. Some books teach that if you start training at the first sign of will being shown (before the age of one) by the time they are two they should be sitting still in church and restaurants, they will be quiet when they are told, they should always come to you when you call their name, etc.

Have your two year old look at your when you are talking to them!

Those are wonderful goals, but for our family we tried the methods presented along with those goals and we did not see the blessings that came from it. Our first child was a strong willed toddler, and after having read so many parenting books that talk about breaking the child’s will, we attempted to train our toddler accordingly. We had those 1-2 hour sessions of attempting to get our 1 year old to come to us when we called him. The child never came, and we only grew very frustrated. What was worse – he grew very frustrated. We looked at our young child through the eyes of his will, instead of through the eyes of his innocence.

We still regret how we parented our first toddler, and we believe we’re dealing with it’s effects even today. I actually have a hard time recommending child training books to people because I’ve gotten rid of a lot of them. Don’t get me wrong, we are not at all in the mindset to just let our children be children. We are still training them, but it’s not through the mindset of following someone’s parenting rules down to XY and Z.

Here is my list of what I attempt to teach my two year olds (and remember, it’s just the list *our* family works on!).  

A boy and his toy gun! (We have one son who started very young with wanting to play with toy guns. He still to this day adores his toy guns and history stories!)

To respond saying ‘Yes Mama, Yes Papa’. 

I’ve worked hard with our youngest in teaching her to respond to us in this way. She is 2 ½, and I still have to remind her a lot to say it. But I’m teaching her to acknowledge that Mama or Papa has told her something to do.

This has been very helpful with our youngest because it has pulled her out of quite a few crying spells. She will be upset and crying, and I will look at her and tell her (calmly) that she needs to stop crying, and then I tell her to say “Yes Mama.” Most of the time she will instantly say “Yes Mama” (with a cute little sob) and then stop crying. Literally, it’s like there is an on and off switch! I know this probably has a large part to do with her personality (none of our other children have ever reacted so swiftly to this request) but I also know that training her to respond to obedience in this way has helped.

It is so much fun to parent a two year old! My girls in their princess dresses!

 To look at me when I speak to them. 

This is another huge thing I work on with our two year old, and we started this before she was two. If I’m trying to tell her something to do, or tell her that she needs to calm down, I first have to get her attention! I see dramatic results when I have her look at me. When I first started training her to do this, I would gently take her face and tell her to look at Mama. I really don’t have to do that now, but it’s funny because sometimes she will hide her face in my shoulder if she doesn’t want to do what I’m telling her. Why? Because she knows that when she looks in my eyes (that’s the important part, eye contact!), that she will then need to obey.

You can raise two years olds and be joyful about it! Our oldest daughter when she was two!

Sitting still in Church

We are not strict on this one, and know that she could probably be sitting still right now in church if we practiced sit time at home more often. For a long time I had to take her out, not because she wouldn’t sit still but because she just wanted to talk! Deborah is very vocal and loves to sing and talk all the time (it’s hilarious and exasperating all at the same time!). When we take her out we don’t go to the nursery and let her play with toys. The goal is that she sit on our lap and looks at books. We’re still working on this, but we also are not going to beat ourselves up over it. The main thing is that she learn to sit quietly as soon as she is able. In the meantime, we try to be as respectful as possible to the people around us in the service until she learns. In other words, we’re not going to have it out right there in the middle of church while people are trying to worship. Please don’t do this! Take your child out and try to instruct her somewhere else. Better yet, work on sit time in the comfort of your own home. Your brothers and sisters will thank you!

Enjoy the little years, they go by so quickly!

Do Simple Chores

I don’t assign chores to our 2 year old. 🙂 I do have her try to help me with a few simple things, but the one thing I’m consistent on is that she throw her diaper away in the trash after I change her. Sometimes she doesn’t like to do this, but once again we go back to the ‘look at me and say “yes Mama”‘ rule, and then she will stop whining (95% of the time) and cheerfully go throw it away. Part of training your children is just learning what you can be consistent in as a parent, so for me I knew I would be consistent in training her to throw away her diaper.

We enjoy our two year olds. They are so adorable and so funny! We laugh at them and with them, and I think we cherish each two year old more and more because we see how fast time goes. When my oldest was two I couldn’t wait for him to be a little bit older. Now I want to put the breaks on and stop Deborah from growing! Right now she is still our baby, and everyone loves on her accordingly :).

I do have days where I get exhausted from keeping her out of things. If the older children are doing an activity she wants to be right there with them and make a mess! That’s when I look forward to nap time, which she still has right after lunch. She sleeps in a pack-n-play in the girl’s room, and just recently learned how to climb out of it. For about a week I had to correct her and put her back in her bed, sometimes several times a day. Now she is pretty good about staying in there to sleep. She has a special blanket that she is very attached (it was a lap blanket of my moms, who Deborah is named after, so that makes it very special to me!). It doesn’t matter if it’s winter or summer, this warm blanket must be beside her to sleep!

How do you feel about two year olds? Are they terrible or terrific for you?


23 Comments on How to Parent A Two Year Old With Joy!

  1. A while ago I was having a wretched time with my two older boys. The baby was three months old and the older two were three and almost two. They were so bad in obedience that my parents disinvited them for sleepovers. It was a clear case of sibling rivalry. I was shocked. Sibling rivalry just wasn’t something I expected. My brothers and I were never rivals growing up. I had a problem. Then my mom discovered

    She described her parenting style just as you did. Get the child to look at you. Get the child to say, “Yes, Mom” or “Yes, Dad”. I employed her advice and was shocked at the results. My boys were my boys again. They were sweet and loving. The more I thought about it the more I saw the same technique being used in the military. How do you get a bunch of independent adults to be submissive to authority?

    Thank you for the post

  2. Oh how I needed this post! Our little ones are almost 3, 2, and 7 months and I have been struggling with how to teach them proper obedience. I too have found that when they loom you in the eye they usually obey quickly. Getting them to look you in the eye…. That can be a battle! I’m going to start implementing the yes mommy or daddy phrase as that will definately click with the older two.
    One thing we have been working on, is having happy hearts even when they are upset. If they get upset over what we tell them to do, they have to sit in their rocking chair until they show through a genuine smile that they are happy. Then they cheerfully do what wet asked them! It’s amazing what a good attitude will do!
    Thank you for this post! It gave me much to think on!

  3. This is a wonderful article! Thank you so much for sharing it. I’m curious what you would do about the toddler who would defiantly look you in the eye but continue to misbehave? This is my battle with our 18 month old right now–she has taken a liking to standing up in her high chair the second *she* thinks she is done with lunch or dinner – but mama needs her to eat a few more bites, plus my husband want to have a peaceful meal… As soon as you let her get down, she wants to crawl in someone’s lap and eat their food. I have swatted her legs, I have been firm about saying “sit DOWN” but she will just look at me and continue to stand. I am exasperated! This is about the biggest thing she does right now and I don’t know what to do. We can’t go out to restaurants anymore with her, just in the last month now because of this.

  4. What has helped with my toddler, when she is having a tantrum, I say, “I’m sorry, I can’t understand what you’re saying. I can’t help you until you can talk to me calmly.” Even if I can understand her, if she is whining or throwing a tantrum I don’t help her until she calms down. This usually makes her calm down right away because she wants me to understand/help her.
    I also tell her that if she has a tantrum she cannot get her way/what she wants. If she asks calmly and nicely she is much more likely to get her way (but not always). Even if I would have honored her request if she throws a tantrum she automatically does not get her way until she calm down and start back at the beginning, asking calmly. She is slowly starting to learn that tantrums do not work and is learning to control her temper.
    She just turned 3 and I am finally starting to see my patience and consistence paying off. I wish I had known this with my first child. I regret my parenting through the toddler stages with him–which was trying to break his will.
    Thank you for this post! I think it will be very helpful to many moms! I agree that a 2 year old can bring much joy because they are very funny and adorable!

  5. We do several of the same things you have talked about here; but this post was SO refreshing to read b/c of your attitude towards our children NOT being referred to as terrible! I love seeing mothers speak life over their children and positive affirmations. Thank you for providing a gentle voice that speaks such hopeful, truthful encouragement!!

  6. What a joy, and a challenge, our 2.75 year old is! 🙂 I like your simplicity toward parenting. We are quite similar, following the Bible’s teaching on raising them up in the way, and following the 5th commandment. Our daughter sits still for much longer as we train her to be still during family worship each night. This is a great way to teach her up in the Lord and prepare her for sitting during church. A blessing for all of us, especially watching her use her Psalter upside down! She is a great gift from God, and we are so very blessed.

  7. Thank you for the encouraging words! Our two year old is very active, he is our fourth. He also hasn’t learned to be quiet through service. He’s not loud, he just likes to talk and sing-like your daughter. I think getting them to say “yes Mama” definitely helps. Another thing we try to instill with all five of our children is being joyful in all things. That works even better when Mama and Daddy are showing that heart attitude as well! I really enjoyed reading your words today!

  8. hehe, all I can say is that I know that *I* was a terribly baby. I’m not sure if related to being collicky, but I would not sleep, especially on command 🙂
    When I finally would sleep thru the night (2 1/2) my mom had my little sister aprox. 1 week later 🙂
    I cant say how well that they did or didnt train us (except that at the ripe little age of 5 weeks I was shipped of to a babysitter at least 3 days a week), but I was a piece of work for sure when I was a baby and in the toddler range.

  9. I really agree with your point on letting go of the parenting books! We’ve had a few that have left us scratching our heads, why didn’t this work & why are our children so unlike the author’s.
    Anyway, I believe we need to focus on the heart of each child. Learn from others, but ultimately we need to allow the Word to be our final authority. God will guide us individually as we seek Him for help 🙂

  10. YES! I just finished the twos with our 6th and I’ve noticed similar things. Also a child naturally wants to please. If they are throwing a huge fit and refuse to obey, mine either need a nap or a snack or maybe just some snuggle time. I started my first 3 super strict during church. Out to spank and right back in. The second 3 I took to the nursery to play. I have found that all 6 of the children learned to sit in church by age 3–whether they were spanked or allowed to play. Shocking to me. So we chose the gentle route. My 3 year old now resists going to the nursery. He wants to be big and sit with his brother’s and sisters.

  11. I love this! We do the same with our 2 yr old. Yes, some days are long, but he is only 2.5, not an adult. I expect obedience but know that some days he’s just going to have trouble staying out of trouble (like today, haha). I have to get him to say “Yes, Mama” to me if I ask him to do something or he hasn’t really heard me. It’s funny how that works. Sometimes I even get him to repeat back what I’ve asked him to do so that he processes it in his brain. I know boys are vastly different from girls so I’m excited to see how my 10mo old girl is going to be at 2. I enjoy this age, though. Some days I do think of it as the terrible two’s…but I agree with you and most days I just love seeing his antics. He is such a happy, carefree boy, and I don’t want him to lose that because he’s always being told he’s trouble.

  12. My oldest was a pretty easy 2 year old. My second was a nightmare until someone gave me some very wise advice. She told me that all the ‘terrible twos’ is about is the child wanting choices. This advice helped so much. When she was crying because she wanted to wear a dress but it was too cold, I would hold up two pairs of pants for her to choose from. If she didn’t want to eat her veggies I’d hold up too veggies to choose from. The ‘terrible twos’ melted away and she become just as much of a joy as her older sister.

  13. Wow! This is so encouraging! I currently don’t have a 2 yr. old. Mine are 4 and 6. But I can so relate! I’m glad I’m not the only one with kids who didn’t exhibit “perfect” submission by age 2! “You’ll only have your child test you once, or at most twice.” Ha! Try having a strong willed, defiant child! I feel like we still have a lot to work on! These are great tips I can still use with my kids, and perhaps begin earlier if we have more children. Thank you!
    Oh, and it’s nice to hear of another family who uses “Papa” for daddy. That’s the way my husband grew up, and he, of course, insisted on being called Papa. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone else who uses that name for their dad, so sometimes I feel like we’re oddballs. : )

  14. Our children are 2.5, 1.5 and 7 months. I was definitely expecting the worst in regards to the terrible twos. I was bracing for disaster. I am delightfully surprised that it is not as bad as people described it. Challenging? YES!! Not terrible. Praise God for that! Loved some of your suggestions, thank you!

  15. It’s hard to discipline one of my older boy while have my 1 1/2 years old boy get on my back and sometime he fall or he make me fall.

  16. In regard to “strong-willed” kids (I’ve had 5), my mom helped me to understand that these children are not strong-willed, they are weak-willed. They have such weak wills that they cannot master their emotions and desires. It’s those emotions and desires that are strong, while the wills are weak. Self-control is having a will strong enough to do what’s right and submit yourself to authority when you don’t want to! This insight helped me tremendously in disciplining them. Instead of trying to “break” their wills, I needed to strengthen their wills so they could exercise self-control by mastering their desires and submitting themselves to Mom and Dad’s. I worked on calming and “disarming” them when they were all fired up or defiant by speaking quietly and privately to them (removing them from an audience is HUGE), having them look at me and putting my hands gently on their shoulders or my arms around them. Yes, this takes great self-control on Mommy’s part when she really feels like letting them have it! 😉 I also tell my little ones that they (and I) cannot obey or be self-controlled on our own, and we pray together for the Lord’s help. My youngest is 3 and we’re still working together toward strong wills!

    • I really needed to “hear” this! I have some very “strong-willed” kiddos…and yep, just can’t control their emotions or desires.

      Hmmm, wish I could “pin” a comment!

  17. Found this great post after being shared by 4 Her Home! My daughter is 18 months and we are already beginning the 2 year old attitudes. I was so happy when I read this because we are doing much of the same things with the exception of “yes mama, yes papa”. It’s nice to hear from seasoned moms that we’re going in the right direction since this is our first. At times I love this stage and at times it’s difficult, but either way it pushes me to be a better mom. I can also relate to Rachel’s comment and we do this with my daughter too with great response. It can be VERY difficult for me because it requires a lot of patience and consistency, but it does work. We tell her (hands on shoulders, looking into her face) that she needs to have patience and that means waiting calmly and quietly. I like this way of raising her because there is no fighting/changing who she is, it’s about teaching her to control herself better.

  18. I sometimes suspect the ‘terrible two’s’ are more of a change in the parent’s attitude than the child’s…as I read in an enlightening article by Megan Hill, “Over the space of months, as our helpless infant reveals personality and preferences, we start to see those tears differently. No longer a sweet milky bundle to be rocked and soothed, our child became an opinionated sinner whose cry of complaint provokes more parental shushing than sympathizing.” We see tears and other behaviours as rebellious when they are actually not, any more than a one year old’s are.

  19. Thank you so much for this post. It is so refreshing to hear of another parent that parents with love and compassion. Loving their child as Christ loves us. I think that sometimes people get love and compassion confused with spoiling their children. Most definitely our children need discipline, yet is so much healthier for the child to learn, when we have a loving and gentle spirit. And yes, I do make mistakes and I`m not always patient with my children. Yet I think there is a lessen learn when I apologize to them. It makes me so sad to see parents try to break their child’s will. God does not break our will, He patiently teaches us until we surrender our will freely to Him.

  20. A true post. Our 5th child is currently 2 (and there will be 2 more to follow through it yet!)
    We also use eye contact “yes mom”, “yes dad” – very important!
    We also started out with a much stricter 2 year old approach but then our 3rd and 4th were very strong willed. We finally realized many battles weren’t worth fighting.
    As long as we were consistent about the basics they came around and we were all happier. Some are just more strong-willed and higher energy than others. Now we try to direct it more rather than break it.

    also- we call them the “training twos” NOT the terrible twos. !!
    And really- you’ll never get these years back! 2 year olds are a wonderful source of entertainment, snuggles and joy!

  21. Our little boys are almost 5, almost 2, and 3 months old. I too was so afraid of messing up with my oldest, followed too many parenting books, and did not enjoy his toddler hood nearly enough. We have since taken a gentler approach and are truly cherishing the preschool, toddler, and infant phases we are in. Great article 🙂

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