As we approached two with our first kiddo, I started waiting anxiously for “the terrible twos” to set in
Everyone said it was coming, and according to them, our sweet chill baby was about to become a reckless shrieking monster.
With every little disagreement or new hard lesson learned I’d think “this is it… we’re about to have our first massive fight” (cringe).
But it just… didn’t happen.
So I started to wonder, was there something different about my kid or about me that was allowing us to get through this generally terrifying stage without any “terrible” happening?
I mean sure, he cried when he was told “no”, and when he got over-tired he was a little less chill – but he’s also two. Those things are basically a given.
But I could see a vast difference between my toddler and other kids his age when it came to the amount of reaction to a situation not going his way.
My kid was easy to calm down, easy to distract, and overall, easy to get along with. (I was pleased, haha.)
All parents have their strengths and weaknesses… one of my strengths is patience. I’m super patient, and I wondered for a while if “the terrible twos” were really just a lack of patience on the part of the parent.
Since I was willing to allow him 1/2 an hour to painfully slowly feed himself dinner, or didn’t overreact when he asked question after question after question… maybe that helped steer clear of any frustration on his part?
I wasn’t sure, but seemed like a decent explanation.
Or maybe he was just a laid back kid… either way, I wasn’t complaining!
But then, OVERNIGHT, it happened:
The Terrible Twos Arrived Suddenly.
Like, weirdly suddenly
Now, before I tell this story, let me say that I know that not all kids are exactly the same and that many kids have multiple stressors that could contribute to the terrible twos.
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Daycare for instance – it’s been noted that children who spend long hours in daycare are at increased risk of becoming aggressive, in addition to developing other behavior problems (source). But my kids aren’t in daycare, so that doesn’t apply to them.
Lack of sleep is another one that stands out to me as a likely cause of behavior problems. (And lack of sleep is pretty common at this age, as they start to fight the nap!) While my toddler goes to bed late, he always gets at least 13 hours of sleep per day, so he is NOT lacking sleep.)
I also know that for some, their terrible twos will be totally related to ours, and so I must share this in case it can help other parents deal with the terrible twos quickly and easily!
So, this is what happened in our home:
At about 2 1/2 we decided it was time for potty training, and I was nervous – I’d (again) been told by “everyone” that potty training boys can be hard and I should prepare for an uphill battle. (Which wasn’t the case AT ALL. We potty trained our son about 90% in about 3 days, 100% within two weeks.)
But it was halfway through potty training that I started to notice the REAL HUGE DIFFERENCE… in the way my toddler reacted to situations that he didn’t love. A huge difference in the way he expressed himself.
And the difference was terrible!
Shrieking, throwing his body around, hysterical crying. Even his reasoning seemed to have changed – er well, he seemed to have become UNreasonable. We had particularly bad problems with nap time and bedtime.
My kid, who has napped every single day of his life, started declaring that he “didn’t want to go to sleep”, and having these ALL OUT HOUR LONG FITS at nap time and bedtime. (I am super stubborn though, so I was consistent, and he did nap eventually. Like I said, I believe an overtired kid is a cranky kid!)
I think it actually started on and off closer to the beginning of the potty training experience, but I didn’t see (or notice) a consistent pattern until about a week in.
One night, out of frustration (my pretty stretchy patience was stretched to the limit), I left him alone to shriek and cry in bed by himself. When I returned 5 minutes later (I had cooled off, but he hadn’t) he told me – sobbing – “mommy doesn’t love me”. (Tears…)
My heart was nearly broken, and I was beside myself with how to handle my poor baby and his terrible twos.
NOTHING I said was getting through to him.
And the little disagreements we had during the day weren’t nearly as easily diffused as they used to be.
I said to my husband one night (after fighting for an hour to get him to bed) “Potty training has broken our awesome kid!”
So then we started having our standard “well, change can be hard for kids, learning new things (understanding they are “growing up”) causes them to want to be more assertive, blah blah”, but it just didn’t seem to FIT.
He wasn’t resisting the potty training.
It wasn’t like we were forcing unwelcome changes… he was EXCITED about peeing in the potty. Everywhere we went this whole potty thing was celebrated, and he loved the attention and the praise, not to mention the chocolate treats for every successful pee or poop.
And we weren’t messing with his emotions either, shaming him when he had an accident or making him feel like we were disappointed in him.
The whole thing had been a really positive experience – for all of us.
Related: Do Pull-Ups Hinder Potty Training?
So it just didn’t add up that potty training could have broken my kid. It was the ONLY reasonable explanation for the sudden onset of the terrible twos, but it was also unreasonable.
There HAD TO be more to it.
I was scrolling Pinterest (which I use daily for my work) when I found the answer. It was an article called “Does Sugar Affect Behavior in Children?”
And INSTANTLY I knew what the problem was. (I didn’t have to read the article. I am a FIRM believer that sugar affects behavior in children. Sugar and sleep. That’s why my children get very little sugar on a daily basis, and that’s why I’m such a nap stickler.)
And I felt pretty stupid for not having seen it immediately myself –
We were giving our (basically prior to potty training sugar-free child) up to 12 chocolate treats (mini aero bites) PER DAY. One for every successful pee, and TWO for every successful poop.
As far as I’m concerned, we were basically giving him mood-altering drugs.
Ending the Terrible Twos in 24 Hours
I told my husband my theory, and he agreed that our son’s new (and terrible) disposition definitely coincided with the introduction of the chocolate treats, and it wouldn’t hurt to remove them from his diet ASAP.
(Of course, that left us wondering if we took away the chocolate treats, would that end peeing on the potty too?)
That night, before bed, we told our bug that he had been SUCH a big boy about peeing on the potty, and we felt like he was done “learning” to use the potty. We told him that meant he wouldn’t be getting chocolate treats anymore, but that he got a SPECIAL BIG treat.
The next day, we drove right to the toy store and let him pick out one toy. (An experience he never had before.) We took our time choosing, and we made sure we stressed over and over that because we were getting a special big treat, there would be no more chocolate treats.
The story ends kind of suddenly here, because we never had another hysterical hour-long meltdown.
The day we took away the chocolate, the terrible twos went away.
He asked for chocolate treats after he went to the potty for about three days, but we just reminded him about the special big treat (and played with it with him). We were VERY FIRM on the no-more-chocolate rule. (We removed them from the house, and showed him that they were “all gone”!)
There’s no doubt in my mind that my son can’t handle that much sugar on a daily basis.
Only a short while before we potty trained with chocolates (again I can’t believe I didn’t see the connection sooner) I had read this very interesting article on how sugar and chocolate can disrupt a toddlers sleep.
We are planning to use stickers to potty train his sister 😂.
Related: How to Get a Toddler to Eat Vegetables
Do you think sugar or chocolate could be contributing to your child’s “terrible twos”? Are you willing to try limiting it to see if it makes a difference?
17 thoughts on “How We Cured The “Terrible Twos” in One Day”
Oh wow, SO glad to see someone else saying this!!! My daughter was given ring pops at school a couple of days recently (not consecutive) & was all out of sorts both days. I told her the ring pops were making her act that way, so she’d better straighten up if she ever wanted a ring pop again ;D I’m saving this so I can show people in my family who wonder why our kids are so difficult after they’ve given them sweets 🙄
I’m going to suggest this to my grand daughter who has a terrible two and 1/2 yr old. I hope she will be open to the ideal. Thanks for the parenting advice!!
I used coins for my daughter! A dime for a pee, and a quarter for a poop! (First poop was a dollar!) She then decided to put it in piggybanks, one for saving, and one we could use, and went to the dollarstore and grabbed a toy something with her potty training money. She puts about half in each piggybank.
We used skittles when potty training my first son and I could not figure out why he was such a mess with tantrums all of a sudden. I can’t remember how I put two and two together, but it was amazing how our little guy went back to being his normal sweet self after we stopped giving him the skittles as his reward.
Ok, this is impossible. I must have writte this in my sleep? Haha i’m so speechless at the moment i cannot believe it! I’m one week i to potty training (with candies) and my sweer little boy has turned into a monster! The kind of kid you don’t like at the playground… my husband told me today it matches the starting of refined sugars. And now i’m here scrolling through pinterest for ways to handle his new behavior and you’re the first articie i read! I was so socked, i screamed lol you might have just saved my life! oh and Writting this while in quarantine!! So definitely saved my sanity too! Thanks again for sharing!
ohhh i hope cutting out sugar helped! It sure made a difference for us!
This is SO GREAT! Our almost 2 year old has lately been having lots of sugar from other family members and her mood has definitely been up and down when it used to be SO HAPPY, ALL OF THE TIME. Thank you for a great article!
I was so excited for this article, but my 2 year old is already sugar free (and gets plenty of sleep, and is already potty trained, and isn’t in daycare). Back to quite one for us I guess
food sensitivity can be to many things – I have heard of lots of children who have a similar reaction to gluten or dairy etc. good luck!
Thanks for sharing your experience! I am a strong believer in fueling our bodies with nutritious food to optimize mood and health, and if as adults we our mood can be affected by sugar and processed foods, obviously our children will be affected even more.
This was a good reminder that I need to clean up my 2 young ones diets, they’ve been pretty testy lately and I’m sure it has a lot to do with the way we’ve been eating.
I was so excited to read this and then the sugar part. My son has gotten virtually zero added sugar his whole life but is still terrible and 2. I don’t even use added honey or maple syrup. He’s just terrible I guess lol.
I see a completely different child when my daughter has chocolate specifically. I talked to my pediatrician about it and he said it could be a sensitivity to the caffeine in chocolate. Needless to say we limit our chocolate intake to very special occasions.
Thank you so much for sharing! This totally happened with my nearly perfect nearly 2 year old. I was ready for some major overhaul changes, but this did the trick… at least for now!
So my 15 month old started daycare last week and we pulled him out already because he literally turned into a different monster child. Do you only cut out processed sugar or cut down on fruit too?
I was hoping for something more with this, my daughter almost never has sweets or sugar of any kind unless it’s a special occasion (meaning birthdays or holiday and even then it’s not much) and still has the tantrums. We have been potty training and it’s only going okay and we never used sweets as a reward.
I remember when my son was at this stage and I was using the “Buzz Lightyear” cereal as a reward and snack. Wowie, did that little guy change from easy going to serious attitude problem. Come to think of it, His sister (who is 2 years older) had tantrums at that time that had me fearful of her teenage years to come. Sugar and food dye…highly harmful to our physical and mental health. Thanks for the reminder, this new grama will have to explore other ways to “treat” the grandchildren.
There’s an all or nothing mentality to this advice. Restricting food from a child can cause disordered eating later in life. If you label the really yummy foods as off limits, it sends a message that eating is joyless and only for fuel; that mentality causes a backlash because that is just not how human beings are wired to consume food. Do children sometimes overindulge in certain foods? Yes. They’re still learning moderation. Do children’s bodies take time to get used to new foods? Absolutely. Do these facts make sugar bad for all children or something they should be completely deprived of? Absolutely not.