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MAPS for life, Catholic Publications & Ministry

Understanding the Terrible Twos: Causes & Solutions

What Causes the Terrible Twos?

This stage in a toddler's life is characterized by the development of autonomy, a crucial period in their growth. During this time, toddlers often assert their independence by frequently saying "No". This behavior is a natural part of their learning process as they begin to exercise control and make choices independently.

In her Book, Renee Marazon emphasizes the importance of allowing toddlers to have possessions that are safe, healthy, and suitable for their age and developmental stage. This approach is fundamental in nurturing their sense of ownership and responsibility.

Common Signs of the Terrible Twos:

  • Frustration when not understood

  • Physical behaviors like kicking or hitting

  • Frequent tantrums 

  • Excessive use of the word "no”

  • Territorial disputes over possessions

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The rationale behind this guidance is to foster a willingness in toddlers to share as they grow older. By having their own appropriate possessions, they learn the value and boundaries of personal and communal property.

In the later years, when sharing becomes a more relevant social skill, these early experiences with autonomy and ownership play a crucial role. Toddlers who have been allowed to develop these skills in a safe and age-appropriate manner are more likely to be willing to share and cooperate with others.


Marazon's description of the toddler stage outlines a critical phase in a child's development where they begin to exhibit signs of independence, marking the emergence of their individuality. This period is characterized by the toddler's growing desire to make decisions independently, a shift that represents a fundamental change from their earlier reliance on parents or caregivers. As they navigate this stage, toddlers start to assert themselves, demonstrating a clear distinction between their own will and that of their parents. This assertion is a natural part of their developmental journey as they explore the boundaries of their emerging self.

The concept of 'owning' becomes significant in this stage, as described by Marazon. Toddlers at this age often express a strong desire to possess objects, which is more than just a materialistic inclination; it's a crucial part of their identity formation. Saying "No" frequently is not just an act of defiance, but a critical exercise in establishing autonomy. This repetitive assertion of "No" allows toddlers to define and understand their individual preferences, likes, and dislikes, and it is through this process that they begin to understand and establish their unique identity.

In addition to establishing ownership and autonomy, this stage is also about learning to control their actions and choices. For toddlers, the ability to make choices, even in small matters, is a significant step towards independence. It's an essential learning process where they start to understand the consequences of their actions, both positive and negative. This learning is not always smooth; it often involves trial and error, but it is through these experiences that toddlers develop critical thinking and decision-making skills.

Marazon's insights highlight the importance of supporting toddlers during this stage of development. It's crucial for parents and caregivers to provide a safe and nurturing environment that allows toddlers to explore their autonomy while guiding them gently towards positive behaviors. Understanding that the need to "own" and say "No" is a natural and necessary part of their development can help adults create a more supportive and effective approach to parenting during these formative years. This understanding fosters a healthy development of independence, self-confidence, and self-awareness in toddlers, which are foundational for their growth into well-adjusted individuals.


Marazon highlights a pivotal aspect of toddler development, emphasizing the importance of the concept of "ownership" in their growth. She explains that until toddlers have the opportunity to experience ownership - the act of having and controlling something of their own - their ability to share effectively in later years may be significantly hindered. This phase of 'owning' is not just about physical possessions, but also about the development of a sense of self. It's a crucial step in their journey towards understanding personal boundaries, rights, and responsibilities, which are all integral to healthy social interactions in the future.

She also brings attention to the common practice of encouraging or expecting toddlers to share, cautioning against imposing such expectations prematurely. Marazon argues that forcing toddlers to share before they are developmentally ready can adversely affect their sense of autonomy. Autonomy is a fundamental aspect of a child’s development, enabling them to make decisions independently and fostering a sense of control over their lives. It's this sense of autonomy that later empowers them to make choices about sharing, rather than feeling compelled to do so by external pressures.

Marazon's insights shed light on the long-term implications of how toddlers are guided in their early years. She suggests that when toddlers are allowed to develop a healthy sense of autonomy, they are better equipped to control their own actions and decisions. This ability to self-regulate is crucial for their future interactions, ensuring they are not easily swayed or inappropriately controlled by others. It's about laying the foundation for them to become confident, self-assured individuals who understand their own needs and boundaries and respect those of others.

In summary, Marazon's perspective underscores the importance of nurturing a toddler's sense of ownership and autonomy as essential steps in their developmental process. By understanding and respecting their developmental needs and stages, parents and caregivers can better support toddlers in growing into well-rounded individuals. This approach fosters not only their present well-being but also equips them with the skills and confidence necessary for healthy social and personal relationships in the future.

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