The Montessori Approach to the 'Terrible Twos' - The Montessori Room
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by Laura Berthiaume July 13, 2022 3 min read

Parenting is HARD. Despite all the reading, research, and preparation you do, it's likely still a daily challenge.

Solidarity in that ✊

But sometimes, what can help, is reframing the way you think about your child's behaviour and understanding the motivation behind it.

This is the Montessori approach when it comes to the "Terrible Twos".

Rather than using a term that frames this period in a negative light, the Montessori community refers to this time as the Crisis of Opposition, more recently updated to the Crisis of Self-Affirmation.


This shift in development begins at approximately 18 months to 36 months, where the child begins asserting their will and saying ‘no.’

While sometimes frustrating, this is developmentally normal and quite necessary!

Here's why...

Your Little Scientist

For the first 3 years of life, children are experimenting with the world around them so they can learn. They are testing you, their limits, their capabilities, everything they can think of in order to learn about how the world works.

This is their scientific approach. Throwing their food on the ground is not an attempt to waste food or upset you. It's a way to test gravity, your reaction to throwing food, what the dog does when food is on the ground, how it feels to throw, etc, etc.

This is also the stage of development where children want to be recognized as an individual, with their own opinions, wants, and needs.

This combination of a strong desire for independence and information, is the cause of the child's strong will.

So What Can you Do?

While the Crisis of Opposition is unavoidable, there are some things you can do to help your child along in this process.

1. Give Autonomy & Choices

So much of a toddler’s life is out of their control. Where they go, when they eat, when they go to bed, etc.

At this stage, the child craves more control and independence so give them choices wherever you can. Not only will autonomy make this period smoother, these opportunities for independence will also build their confidence and self-esteem.

There are three main areas you can offer choice around:



Eating - Allow children to choose between two options, as more than two at this age can be overwhelming - "Would you like an apple or a banana for snack?

If you feel they're ready for it, you can also allow your child to serve themselves, giving them freedom to choose how much food goes on their plate.



Getting dressed - prepare the environment so your child can have a choice between 2 articles of each type of clothing (shorts, socks, shirt, underwear).

Just like food choices, if you give a child access to drawers full of clothing, it can be overwhelming to choose and there’s a chance they’ll pull everything out.

This can also help to avoid arguments about wearing weather-appropriate clothing, i.e. only offer warm clothes in the colder months.


How to spend their time - this is why Montessori uses shelves, instead of toy boxes. Montessori shelves allow the child to independently choose toys and activities without feeling overwhelmed.

You can also offer choice when going outside, i.e. "should we play in the backyard or go to the park?"

2. Freedom Within Limits

Freedom within limits is a phrase often used in Montessori to mean that children are given as much freedom as possible, as long as what they're doing isn't dangerous, disruptive, or disrespectful (the 3 D's).

"To let the child do as he likes when he has not yet developed any powers of control is to betray the idea of freedom. "
- Dr. Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

Here are 3 ideas to keep in mind when setting appropriate limits:

1. Say "yes" as much as possible to help minimize your child's frustration. Nobody wants to be told no all day long. The easiest way to avoid this is to prepare a "yes" space, where your child can move freely and safely without you having to constantly intervene.

2. Set firm, unchanging limits. Children then learn what your expectations are and their behaviour develops around that.

For example, if you don’t want your child to jump on the couch because you’re afraid they’ll fall, then you have to stop them every time you see them jumping on the couch.

Unpredictable reinforcement of rules will only encourage limit testing and experimentation.

3. Set limits that your child can manage. In the example of the couch, consider if your child has enough impulse control to not jump on the couch. If not, then you might need to put up baby gates around the couch so they can’t access it or play in another area until they understand this limit.


While this time is challenging, with the right approach, you can make it a lot less frustrating for you and your child.


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