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Ages & Stages: 2 to 3 Years

Dear Debi,
I have a two-year-old who lately has been misbehaving every time we go out… especially in church or grocery shopping. Is this typical behavior for a child his age?
Monica Bautista
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Each 2-year-old is unique
  • Look for milestones
  • Encourage safe exploration & play
  • Follow your child’s lead
Expert Advice
Susan Baxter
Susan Baxter
Early Childhood Educator
One area of important milestones is body control. They have more independent control of their body so that helps in the development of their self-help skills, for example, feeding themselves or getting themselves dressed. They’re moving out of the babyhood stage to real independent behaviors.

Their language skills also really take off between two and three. They have much greater vocabulary and a much greater awareness of imitative language skills in terms of appropriate use of language. Socially, they are more aware of their family versus the outside world. They want to participate in helping skills like helping sort the laundry, setting dishes, etc. They want to participate and it supports their sense of autonomy and initiative, which leads to a positive sense of self-esteem.

Safe exploration and play is not just important, it’s critical for a two-year-old because that’s how they gain their sense of autonomy. It’s how they learn and how they integrate themselves into their environment in a meaningful way. So a child knows how to meet their own needs, and if we create a safe environment and opportunity to explore, they will play in a way that encourages their own development. Parents think that they need to create that environment of learning for children, but they just need to create a space to support that, and that encourages positive play and exploration. Then the children will do what they need to do, repeat certain activities until they feel they’ve mastered a skill or understand a concept. For example, if a child is trying to learn characteristics of water, they will spend as much time at a water table until they figure it out and internalize it, then their curiosity naturally leads them to try to apply it to other liquids like juice, milk, etc.

We should respond to and interact with a toddler based on their interests and growing abilities. That’s why understanding child development and observation skills are important – so you know what those interests and abilities are. Because toddlers’ communication skills are so limited, it’s through observation that we’re able to see what’s important to the toddler and stand in their space and move forward with them. Because the opposite of that is when we stand in a space in front of them and force them up there – we’re making them experience things they’re not developmentally ready for.

If you’re concerned about your two-year-old’s development, first take a deep breath, because the spectrum is so huge for a two-year-old. What most children need is time, not stress. They need support. If you‘re concerned, however, see someone who has expertise in child development. Read up on what two to three year olds should be doing, and if you’re still concerned, pursue with a child development specialist.
Child Care provider Comments
Andre Wiseman
Andre Wiseman
Father of two
My two-year-old son, Haile, can definitely throw a tantrum every now and then. But with most situations it’s because they’re tired or hungry. Once he starts a tantrum we’ll sing, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” or “Old McDonald.” He’ll then forget what he was acting up about. If he does return to throwing a tantrum, we’ll try another song. But sometimes you just have to let it go. If you’re in a public place, the best thing is to leave. When at home and he doesn’t stop, he just cries himself out.
Maria Velarde
Maria Velarde
Grandmother of one
I would tell Monica that this is typical behavior for a toddler – especially in a grocery store or church because toddlers can get bored if it’s taking too long or it’s uninteresting to them. I suggest giving the child a change in environment if they’re misbehaving. Take him outside, get down to his eye level, try to communicate with him and reassure him that everything’s OK. Hold him if he needs to be comforted. You also have to look at different factors as to why he’s misbehaving: is he sleepy, not feeling well, hungry or bored?
Verdis Ferraro
Verdis Ferraro
Child care provider for 23 years
I would tell Monica that her son is exhibiting very normal, typical behavior for a two-year-old. Their whole world is about autonomy. They’re finding their identity and are empowered by saying “no” and acting out. They are testing their limits and boundaries. Two-year-olds are discovering their effects on people and exploring their reactions. It’s exciting for them to stop things from happening and get reactions from people. That’s where parents need to define what is acceptable and unacceptable. Set your limits clearly and consistently and follow through with them.

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Ages & Stages: 2 to 3 Years Featured Video:
Ages & Stages: 2 to 3 Years
Topic: Child Development
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