A phase children go through, usually around the age of 2, when they become contrary and difficult. The "terrible twos" are caused by a variety of factors:

  • Children at this age have the motor skills to move around and manipulate objects, and they're more interested in experimenting with their environment. They are naturally upset when their experiments are cut off.
  • Two-year-olds also have discovered that they can control things. The terrible twos could be called the first manifestation of the will to power.
  • Their ability to actually do things is still pretty limited, so their desire to do things can't be channelling into useful--or even harmless--tasks, because there are relatively few things that are harmless in the hands of a two-year-old.
  • Two-year-olds don't have very clear ideas of cause and effect--that's what all their experimenting helps them learn. They also have a limited ability to communicate and understand. It's still almost impossible to reason with a two-year-old, and so they often have to be forced to stop doing something dangerous. Naturally they get upset.
All these factors combine to create a tough time for parents. Two-year-olds make a lot of messes , get furious when adults help them with things they can't do, and have temper tantrums when their will is thwarted. My daughter, for example, went through a phase where she insisted on putting on her own shoes in the morning--but she couldn't always do it. For a while, I spent some time two or three mornings a week physically restraining a hysterical child while her mother put her shoes on.

The terrible twos subside when children become able to exercise their autonomy without causing trouble, and also able to communicate and reason enough to compromise. My daughter doesn't have fits about her shoes anymore. Eventually, she got to the point where she could put on most of her shoes in a reasonable amount of time--and if she had trouble, I told her that she could take her shoes off and put them on, by herself, when she got to her daycare. Lucky for me, her terrible twos are coming to an end.