So How Do I Live Peacefully With My Two-Year-Old?

Two and a half is an interesting age; there are ages of “disequilibrium” that occur before this, yet in our society we often hear about “the terrible two’s” as if this is the only stage of disequilibrium on the path to the teenaged years.    I have had many parents tell me they felt two- and- a -half was more challenging, but I have also heard many attached parents say they felt like two was not that bad and that three –and- a- half or four was much more challenging!  (That’s not much comfort if you are feeling out of sorts with your precious two-year-old, though, is it?)

So, how does one live peacefully with a two-year-old? 

I think the first thing one must do is to become very clear with one’s view of the small child and of what gentle discipline means to you and to your family. I have many, many posts about that on this blog.  Here is an oldie but goodie to start you off: 

As always, it really does begin with you.  You must get as absolutely  centered as possible yourself because if you feel like you are going to lose it every  time your two-year-old does, it is going to be a long year indeed, unfortunately.  A two-year-old has a complete excess of emotion and impulses; they can’t regulate it at all.  Think of yourself as a sponge that sponges up all that excess emotion; yes, it is exhausting and draining but it is part of  parenting.  So some kind of inner work for yourself where you build up your own life forces, for lack of a better term (in Waldorf we would call this building up the etheric) is a priority; artistic work is especially good.  Can you make it a priority to paint, draw, sculpt, craft for several times a week for half an hour?  It really does help!

Also, get your support in a row.  Do you have other like-minded parents around you?  Not ones that will say, “Oh my, that two-year-old is manipulating you!” but ones that understand what a two-year-old is really about; ones that can help you brainstorm ideas from a loving and warm perspective!

As far as guidance, two-year-olds cannot read non-verbal gestures well in terms of “I am frowning at you and crossing my arms  because I am getting angry with your behavior!”  In fact, a two year old is imitative at best and may just frown back at you or do whatever it is that you are doing at the moment because they are imitating you and really have no idea that you are angry.  Some mothers have told me their two-year-old laughs when they are angry.  This is NOT a defiant, I-am-so-glad-to-see-you-angry- laugh, this is because they understand something about your emotions are different, but again, they don’t really know what to do or how to fix it. Think of this as their way of showing insecurity in the situation if that helps you re-frame it!

So, looking at how you view anger is very important.  What will you do in the heat of the moment? What is your plan?  And what tools are you going to use to help guide your small child instead of yelling or scowling or what have you?

Here is another old favorite to help you get going with that:    There are also many posts under anger; check them out under the Gentle Discipline page here:

So, in brief,  here are your allies and your  tools for peaceful living outside of your own work on gentle discipline and anger:

  • CONNECTION – enjoying being together; nursing, co-sleeping,  holding on your lap, still carrying in a sling, playing games, sharing warm meals.  If four is a good age for sitting on laps, it is important to recognize how really tiny two is!  Connect first!
  • Rhythm, rhythm, rhythm – meal times and rest times are most important (and part of being able to go to bed and rest is having a consistent time for waking up every day)
  • Singing and verses more than direct commands; do not ask questions that will be answered NO!  Hum, sing, promote silence, but please stop with the endless barrage of questions.  You can show warmth and love through smiles, pats on the back, hugs, laughter – not just words!
  • Talking pictorially and working through a child’s body in an imaginative way:
  • You taking a few breaths and getting some SPACE before you react!
  • Distraction and re-direction
  • You cannot be afraid to pick up a screaming, tantruming child.  The two-year-old may very well need your gentle hands to come back into himself – see the “Time-in For Tinies” post I mentioned above as to more tips for handling temper tantrums.
  • Lots of outside time – get that energy out; pushing, pulling, squatting,
  • Sensory play – water, sand, mud
  • No choices, or very few.  It is really hard for a two-year-old to make a choice, even a small one and then inevitably the choice is made and then they want the other thing….meltdown.  Please don’t put them in that position!
  • Please try to run errands by yourself if you can.  This in itself alleviates so many problems.
  • Avoid expecting that it will be “a good day” if your two-year-old does not melt down; re-frame your expectations for your day in how well you de-escalated things!  And please do forgive yourself!  We are on a path and a journey and striving!  I spoke a lot about this in my talk regarding the first seven years on The Waldorf Channel.
  • Do not expect a two-year-old to share well or to patiently wait or to be quiet whilst a younger sibling sleeps for two hours!
  • Guide your child as to what your family needs as a whole;
  • Do not feel hurt if you are not preferred parent of the week!   It is not personal!
  • Try to enjoy this age!  It really is tiny and precious!


Love to hear things that have worked well for you with this age – leave a comment in the box!



29 thoughts on “So How Do I Live Peacefully With My Two-Year-Old?

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you…. This is exactly what I needed to read tonight!!!! So practical and gentle..

    As a mom who works outside of the home, it is hard for me ever to justify “inner work”. It seems so selfish, but now, I am realizing that while I am away during the day-that time is not spent focusing on me and building my reserves, rather because I am a social worker with children who have suffered abuse, in fact, it is more depleting the reserves I have for my own children… It is good work, fulfilling work, rewarding and wonderful, but not personally life building… As a mom who feels always on the edge lately-I so NEEDED this reminder!!

    I also realize that in an effort to make “easier” bedtimes for both children on the weekends, I have often not had a restorative time of rest for them in the middle of the day-of course, what good is a smooth nighttime routine, if the latter part of the day is spent with a not so happy-and very tired 2 1/2 year old…

    Some changes are coming my way…

    Thanks again…. Suzin

  2. A perfect post for the day. I just had my fourth child yesterday, and today my 2 yr old seemed especially difficult for the few hours we’ve had him (my MIL took he & my other kids for the day), but likely just because I am exhausted. I got really angry with him and yelled at him which is not what I usually do, so I really needed to read this reminder. Now I’m going back to read the other posts you suggested. Thank you!

  3. My oldest daughter was a very cooperative two-year old, even in the face of receiving twin sisters at 22 months old! I think this was due to the fact that we (me and my husband) made time each and every day, multiple times a day, to spend time with her. Play games, go for a walk, throw rocks in the pond. We tried as much as possible to NOT make her the “big girl”. She was still a baby, even though her sisters certainly were more of babies….

    However, having a four year old (a more difficult age) and 2 two year olds was very challenging. By that time, I was just finishing child-led, mother-encouraged weaning with my four-year old, and weaning did make a difference. I feel like had I not been nursing twins, that my oldest daughter would still be nursing today at 5. We have A LOT of snuggles during the day!

    Today we are in more peaceful place, physically and emotionally, though it is still a challenge with a five year old and 2 three year olds. We tried to always keep available fun activities (salt-dough, indoor water play, beans for scooping) for our two-year old since it was difficult to be outside during the winter with newborn twins. We still try to approach difficulties with a pause, recognizing that we can choose our response (do not have to react) and hold first in our heart the love for our child.


  4. thank you

    I read advice somewhere else on your blog about time ins, and they ahve made a huge difference

    my daughter has 2 crutches…paci and blankie…and if she is melting down, I get both, and gather her up in my arms, and let her lean her had on me while I just hold her…and stroke her hair

    not only have the tantrums gotten shorter…but she’ll actually come to be before a meltdown if she needs the snuggle…so we are having fewer — Nanny on same page 😀 Hubby getting there LOL

    She knows she has a safe place to gather herself in my arms…

    i know the connetion makes a difference to me too 🙂

    We were in montreal last week, and did do a few out and about things (horse and buggy ride and trip to the biodome)

    1 hr was more than enough for her, and we’d go back to the hotel for quiet time and order in room service (she was not in a fit state to be out in public LOL)

    but this is really all one can expect…my husband finally understood that because she can’t filter like we can, but rather takes everything in, she cannot help it. 🙂 We had a lovely trip with a few meltdowns LOL

  5. oh and on the topic of “baby vs big girl”

    We have really been giving my daughter baby time…last night, we even swaddled her (didn’t last long, LOL) but she needed to feel extremely connected to my husband and I and “babied” we spent a lot of time in the hospital yesterday getting some blood work done and watching my BP (I had pre-e with my daguther and expect it again, sadly)…

    and we have started to remind her how much we “love our little baby emerson”…i think it is releiving a lot of the stress of her coming brother 🙂

  6. Gee I have had a bad day Carrie! Thank you…THANK YOU! Your blog ALWAYS makes me feel better. Heaps of warm wishes to you.


  7. Thank you so much for this post. My 2.5 year old turned 2.5 on Friday and this is really really helpful. I’m even going to email this to my husband so he can read it too. 🙂

  8. As usual you’ve picked the perfect post for me, today was one of those days and it really is so draining trying to avoid the meltdowns. I am going to go and do something crafty now instead of just sitting here. Thanks again!

  9. I just found this blog and I am SO incredibly happy to have found it! What an amazing job you are doing here. Thank you so much for sharing your experience, knowledge and compassionate parenting – what a blessing!!!

  10. Hi Carrie

    I have survived the ’terrific two’s’ by being very observant and even more creative.
    I realised after some full blown tantrums that I was not keeping up with the change of my baby into a more autonomous toddler. And I had to make a number of adjustments.
    For example my son started to complain about his breakfast every morning and we even ended up with his bowl of cereal on the floor a few times. Well I decided that just wouldn’t do and one evening I set him a beautiful place with a special little ceramic bowl (instead of the plastic unbreakable one we have started to use) and a container he could open himself containing his serve of cereal. While I heated his milk the next morning I could see he was quite intrigued, I didn’t say a word and he proceeded in opening the container and putting the cereal in his own bowl. Then I handed him a little glass jug with just enough milk in and he had so mush joy on his face when he poured it all on his cereal. It is still our ritual today with our 3-year old and we have never had another bowl landing on the floor.

    My son’s tantrums were (are) mostly triggered by frustration when he is attempting something beyond his physical capabilities ie wanting to build a too high tower block. I observe him and try to intervene before his frustration escalate to melt down point. I have read somewhere to ask ‘creative questions’ – I don’t know Carrie how Waldorf it is – but I find it works for him. Instead of giving a solution you phrase it into a question ie I will ask ‘what will happen if you put the block sideway’ and then if he does and it work it would often be enough to get him over the hurdle.

    My little guy is very hands on and I had to work hard at accept the child I have. He has to smell and taste and touch everything. And I found that if I give him the opportunity to do so it does actually pass quicker than if I try and keep something from him. Which ultimately just leads to frustration and tantrums He was fascinated by tubes of toothpaste and had to squeeze all the toothpaste out of the tube. One day I filled an empty tube with goo and he used it for a few weeks when we painted.

    I also had to work at my instinct to say no first of. Now I take a moment and ask myself is it the end of the world if he is splashing the bathwater all over the floor. Can I put an old towel down before he has his bath , can we have a shower on the days I can’t face all the water splashing.

  11. Here are a few things that have helped me with my two-year-old:

    -Honoring the impulse: when I see a big mess being created or find my son trying to get into something or doing something many would call “naughty” :), I appreciate the impulse of creativity and exploration and encourage ways for him to that safely
    – Lots and lots of nursing: it makes them feel so good.
    – Learning to be okay with intensity of emotion: so that I can love my child through a really hard moment
    – Meditation: to practice letting go, to connect on a soul level with my child, it cultivates all sorts of virtues I need in my mothering
    – Fun: having lots and lots of fun together, really laughing, really playing, getting on the floor and pretending to be that mama monkey who makes silly noises and gives her baby monkey lots and lots of kisses, so much joy here
    – Cultivating Awe or Reverence: I think two year olds are very perceptive and have a great sense of awe and wonder for things. Even the wild ones. 🙂 Like watching a lady bug in stillness and silence together. It opens the eyes to the spiritual dimension of the everyday. It’s kind of like experiencing harmonious breathing with my child and with nature/the universe. It’s a harmony or resonance that carries over into other dimensions of our relationship. Hard to explain. Also looking at my son with awe: seeing him as a very special, magical being.
    – Also, I never ever ever take my two year old anywhere but home when he is even a bit tired or hungry, and I don’t bring him places where he can’t move around and explore freely, even if that means not going to someone house. Otherwise, it’s a continuous struggle with re-direction and limits.

  12. Hi Carrie
    I know I have left a long comment already yesterday but there was one more thing that I forgot – maybe because it worked so well?
    I took my 2.5 year old son to a homeopath and she gave him a remedy. Before then I was a firm believer in conventional doctors. But the remedy really helped. It seemed to have calmed him down, he was still the same lovable boy, just more balanced. The homeopath also suggested we use less dairy and wheat in his diet and I know that makes a difference.
    I have taken my 17-month old girl for a remedy as she seems to be well and truly in the 18-month disequilibrium phase right now. And she seems a lot calmer and happier after the remedy as well.
    I don’t know much about homeopathy (I have been lucky to have found a homeopath who believes in Steiner, her own children attends a Waldorf school) but I thought I will mention it in case it can help one of the readers.

  13. carrie, thank you for this…..
    its like my son crossed a line when he turned two!
    some days i feel like such a failure……
    i needed to read this ~

    • And look under the forgiveness tag! You are not a failure at all! You are the most perfect mother for your son!
      Believe that and believe in yourself!

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  15. I severely disagree with the “same time” thing. “Waking at a specific time” is incredibly harmful when the one being woke has not had enough sleep. A body knows when it needs to sleep, and a baby or toddler, having nothing in particular to keep him awake, will know also when that is and will follow it. The best time for your child to go to sleep is “when he is tired”. The best time for him to awaken is “when he wakes up”. Anything else is merely for the convenience of the mother – not a good reason to do or set anything for your child, except perhaps a messy playtime.

    • Hi Raven,
      I used to totally feel this way as well…but just as sometimes if we eat at the same times each day we become conditioned to eat at those times and your stomach rumbles around those times and you want to eat, if we get up at a specific time in the morning it can set the stage for when a nap might happen and then when bedtime would occur and the body takes on this pattern. I understand this is a challenging point, I humbly refer you to some of the Waldorf texts about rhythm and how beneficial a rhythm can be. I think for children who have true sleep challenges and are very irregular and truly not getting enough sleep on their own, a gentle rhythm can be a help. I really do understand where you are coming from though! Thanks for sharing,

    • Raven, The other thing I thought of is that this is totally possible to babywear and have the baby sleep when they want and where they want, but as those of us with multiple children will tell you, sometimes the third and fourth children do have to just wake up when the family is typically up because other things are happening. So many mothers tell me that their second, third and fourth children and beyond naturally fall more into the rhythm of the family than the first one of the family ever did – probably because there was a rhythm to begin with.
      Many blessings

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  18. Hi Carrie, I just read this post for the second time (well, probably 10th) but for the second child this time. SO helpful! Thank you! My daughter is immensely more challenging that my son ever was. Much more will and much less sensitive to the boundariesI set.

    I have a very specific question that you might be able to bring into a broader context. I generally feel that the boundaries are very clear in our home- we have strong values, model the best we can, stay calm the majority of the time but also let natural consequences as well as time ins, distraction etc. happen often (!!). BUT the one thing that drives me crazy and I just can’t seem to find a way to create a boundary is with our fridge! My 2 year old has broken through numerous fridge door locks and she is in the fridge taking what is usually a 2 L carton of milk our and drinking right out of it more than several times a day!! She has access to her own cup and little water pourer, she quote often has a cup of milk sitting on the kitchen table for her, but it’s gotten to the point where I almost feel she opens the frdige and stands there deciding what to take out because it’s interesting and it’s become a bad habit NOT because she is hungry and thirsty. When I am in the kitchen I obviously don’t allow her to open the fridge, shut the door, find a distraction and make it clear that I am the one who is to get things from the fridge for everyone. But I am not always in the same room as her and she opens the fridge still a handful of times everyday. What is the natural consequence for this behaviour? I think she is too young to remember and be deterred by a natural consequence anyway. How can I gain full possession of my fridge again! I am smiling as I write this but really, I’ve had enough!!

    Thanks Carrie.

    xo m.

    • Meagan,
      This is going to sound odd, but have you ruled out physical things with your two year old and breaking into the fridge? I am sorry my physical therapy background is rearing a head here , and I don’t want to sound alarmist or such, but I do think the first place I would check with is actually a pediatrician with these concerns. There are physical conditions that can cause children to crave food/drink so I would want to rule those things out first just to be sure. Also, I wonder why this is mainly only milk. Is she actually allergic to milk? Sometimes children crave the exact thing they are allergic to, so that could be another possibility.

      I agree with refrigerator locks, but sounds as if you have gone that route and it was ineffective. You are absolutely correct in your assessment of her age and what she can remember and what she cannot. So, here are a few more thoughts – instead of blocking the refrigerator, can you block the entire kitchen off limits with baby gates or such? I don’t know they layout of your house. Making the entire kitchen off limits may be easier. If opening the refrigerator is really only for milk and not other things, could you put the milk in another spot of the house that is off limits?

      Do you have older siblings for this child that can be put in charge of playing with her or distracting her if you are not readily available to be in the same room with her? Or are all of your children small? Is she too big for a sling so you can just sling her and take her with you to the other room? It sounds as if she really cannot be left for an instance. If you have a two story house, she may need to have baby gates to keep her at least in the section where you are.

      I am sorry to be of so little help! I will keep thinking for you!
      Many blessings,

    • Andrea, Thank you so much!! I will add it to the list of translated posts! Thanks again!
      Many blessings,

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