Taken together, your 2-year-old's rapidly developing abilities to move around physically in his world, socialize with others, and express himself allow him to satisfy his curiosity in ways he couldn't just a few months ago. Your toddler's personality emerges clearly as he begins to make his preferences and opinions known -- if not always in words, then through his actions.
As parents undoubtedly know, the same qualities that make toddlers so much fun to be around -- insatiable curiosity and strong opinions -- can create challenges and more than a little drama. You want her to wear her yellow jacket, but she insists it's a blue-bathing-suit kind of day. You want to pour her milk, but she falls apart when you try to take the jug out of her hands. In fact, these days your child's favorite phrase is "Me do it!" whether you're getting her a bowl of cereal or trying to zip her jacket. Of course, her eagerness to do things for herself far outweighs her abilities -- all too often, the milk gets spilled, the jacket takes forever to zip.
On the other hand, just as your toddler is eager to try her new skills by doing "big people" tasks, she also has a long list of things she'd rather not do -- and isn't shy about letting you know! She refuses to pick up her toys, announces that the chicken she loved last week is "icky," and resists going to bed -- not because she's being bad or even rebellious, says Vera Frumin, MD, chair of pediatrics at the Holy Redeemer Health System, in Philadelphia, but simply because she's so intent on having things her way. And sometimes there's no rhyme or reason as to why he's digging his heels in (you tell your child to put on his coat, and he refuses). What's going on?
As children approach 2, they're just beginning to understand the concept of rules. They know there's a difference between what they want and what they can have, but they don't yet know how that decision is made. Therefore they become determined to test your limits -- and theirs. Your toddler announces that he won't wear the coat -- not because he's hot, but because he is driven to assert his preference (which in some cases is the opposite of whatever you want), and to see how important it is to you that he wears the coat.
Once things escalate, all bets are off. "There's a reason why the toddler in The Flintstones was called Bamm-Bamm," says Dr. Karp. "Toddlers are basically pint-size cavemen. They walk like cavemen, grunt like cavemen, and eat with their hands. Plus, when they get upset, toddlers can really go ape." For all of these reasons, defiance is a powerful tool in your child's declaration of independence. "The unreasonableness of 2-year-olds is what surprises most people," says Dr. Karp. "What challenges parents most about this age is that they perceive their child as rebellious," Dr. Frumin adds. "But most of the time, it's just a process of the child's learning who he is and how he can express that in the world."