Characteristics of Two (and a half) Year Old Behavior

Babaganouski is two and a half and this is a time of a child’s life when they can become a LITTLE difficult! A fantastic Maternal and Child Health Nurse I had for my first two children used to speak about periods of equilibrium and disequilibrium in children.

Louise Bates Ames also discusses this theory of child development in her book Your Two-Year-Old: Terrible or Tender. Disequilibrium is the half year period before a child’s birthday, (in this instance from 2 1/2 until 3 years old) where children are confused, emotional, temperamental and may have difficulty completing tasks that they previously have easily accomplished. They then move into phases of equilibrium where they seem to have “got it all together”.

I think knowing this information makes the periods of disequilibrium easier to cope with – you know that there is an end in sight! Two and a half years old is the peak age of disequilibrium. I have noted from a handout I received from my Maternal and Child Health Nurse some of the outstanding characteristics of two and half years. This list should bring a smile to the face of any parent who has a child this age, as they can take some comfort knowing that this behavior is age appropriate.

Characteristics of a two and a half year olds behavior.

  • 2 1/2 year olds are rigid and inflexible. They want exactly what they want, when they want it. They cannot adapt, give in, wait a little while. Everything has to be done just so. Everything has to be right in the place they consider proper. For any domestic routine, they set up a rigid sequence of events which must always follow each other always in exactly the same manner.
  • They are extremely domineering and demanding. They must give orders. They must make the decisions. If they decide, “mummy do”, daddy cannot be accepted as substitute. If they decide, “Me do it myself”, then no one is allowed to help them, no matter how awkward or incapable they themselves may be.
  • 2 1/2 is an age of violent emotions. There is little modulation to the emotional life of children this age.
  • It is an age of opposite extremes. With no ability to choose between alternatives (it is almost impossible for 2 1/2’s to make a clear cut choice and stick to it). Children of this age shuttle back and forth endlessly between two extremes, seeming to be trying to include both in their decision. “I will – I won’t”, “I want – I don’t want it”, “Go out – stay in”. If someone doesn’t cut into this back and forth shuttling, it has been known to go on for upwards of an hour or more. The decision of what clothes to wear may ursurp a whole morning for a conflict-ridden 2 1/1 year old.
  • Another characteristic of this is age is preservation – that is, the children want to go on and on with whatever they are doing. Not only right at the moment but from day to day. If you read four stories before bedtime yesterday, they want four stories – and the same ones, too – today. It is very difficult with many children this age to introduce new clothes, new pieces of furniture, new things to eat. They want things to go on just the way they have always been or at least hold on to the old as new things are added.

So how do you then manage the behavior of the two and a half year old? The hand out had this sound advice:

Managing a two and a half year olds behavior.

  • Working around the behaviour characteristics of two and a half is often much more successful than trying to meet them head on. (For us with Babaganouski, I know that he will always want me to read his lunch time story before his nap. He often doesn’t want to stop playing though to go to bed. On weekends, I give him the choice of coming to have the story with me now, or in 10 minutes and dad will read the story. He always stops playing and comes with me!)
  • Streamline all routines, limit choices and avoid situations where the child takes over.
  • Great patience, a real understanding of the difficulties of the age, and a willingness to use endless techniques to get around rigidities and rituals and stubbornness will help get through through the time till the difficult 2 1/2 year old turns 3.

EDIT: To handle the tantrum at the time of the event you may like to try the discipline strategy of bringing them in close – it is an alternative to time out.


  1. says

    seriously enjoyed this article. We ust move across country and my 2 and a half year old is suddenly another person and very much what you described above.Thank you.

  2. Tristan Dawes says

    I think you have been watching my daughter with this post! I now have some great tips on how to deal with her. Thank you so much.

  3. susan says

    We have one grandchild, a boy, and he is becoming more of a challenge. Thank you for the description you gave as it is what we are experiencing. Makes me understand it is probably a stage and we’ll get through it and he’ll get through it. Thank you.

  4. Jessie says

    I’m really thankful for this article , it has me made me realize that my daughter is actually a normal 2 1/2, I had a terrible weekend when last Friday her teacher and aid were telling me about her behavior they made me feel like I have a terrible child, they were saying that she is hitting and pushing of course not all the time and then about her wanting things her way. She is in a larger class now and also she doesnt comunicate perfectly well yet so I’m thinking it could be that she cannot express herself and that’s the only way she knows how to express things or actions quiclky now at this age. Also I’d like to say that at home she is adorable, has her moments but she is not a bad kid, at church she plays nice and get alone with the other ones, she is not an agressive child, she should’ve be the same way everywhere, don’t you guys think? Thank you and if anyone would like to make a comment please do so.

  5. Veronica says

    Thanks for offering the information so that it can help one of my best friend who has a 2 and 7 months year old boy . She is bothered by his desired misbehaviors such as playing with food after finishing eating it and crushing the toys at the same time while relaxing etc . The more experiences from above parents or educators , the better we can understand the world of child , such a loverly and innocent place . Thanks again!

    Today my friend Lily just told me what happened to her boy that comes to a question for anyone who can advice . She punished him by locking him into the bathroom at 6 pm, afterwards , he didnot want to talk to her for hours and left for old aunt’s house till 10:30pm , then back to home . Lily was nothing but confused and did not how to deal with his breaking his toys again next time . Is there possible to avoid this or how can she talk to her son ?? Any idea or advide would be apprecatied …

  6. says

    Veronica – I am not a counsellor of any description, so if your friend has concerns regarding her son’s aggressive behaviour I would recommend that she seeks some professional help.

    My personal opinion is that locking a child in any room is detrimental and will only make the situation worse. Children need love and attention even when they make mistakes.

  7. Kathy says

    I’m sitting here in tears… I feel so alone and uncertain of everything. My son was such a sweet boy and then it’s seems like overnight he became this little boy I don’t know. He hits, he throws things, he refuses to do things, he ignores me and just about every task we need to do from getting dressed to going to bed (morning to night) is a game/challenge. Being a first time parent I don’t know if this is normal behavior for a 2 1/2 year old. Parents don’t seem to talk about the challenging times so I’m led to believe that my son is a “bad” boy or questioning if these are signs of something more?
    From reading this post I think maybe my son is behaving as any other child his age behaves, but I certainly never see this behavior in other children when at a gathering of some sort. Even after reading the post I still feel defeated in some way. Like no matter what I do, it isn’t going to help him or me.
    With that said, I’m still trying… I bought a calendar and stickers today to hopefully help with the bed time routine. Every time he goes to bed without a two hour struggle he gets a sticker and if he fills the week up with stickers we will have a celebration of some sort for him. Does that seem reasonable or am I setting our family and our son up for failure?

  8. says

    Hi Kathy – I have emailed a longer response to you. But don’t feel defeated! Being consistent and establishing good routines with your children will pay off in the end.I personally don’t recommend use of start charts or reward charts and have provided some additional links to read in the email.

  9. Anel says


    We have a lovely 2yr 7 month old boy. But he is also going through stages of hitting, ignoring, being very bossy, “don’t want” “don’t like”. I really at times feel like Kathy. He listens to Dad first time round, but I feel like the failure as the mom. I am much softer than dad, so I think that might be the problem. My son loves me very very much, and he is a bit more advanced than the other children at kindy his age. I just need some advice on how to become firmer and get him to listen to me. He does not do this every time, but most of the time I have struggles and battles. Getting dressed, shouting at me when he gets upset. What I have discovered with him, when he is upset, I approach him with a soft, kind, warm smile and scoop him up with lots of cuddles. I told this to the teachers at kindy, because they would usually scold with frouns and “no mate that’s not okay”!! – and this just flares him up even more. They tried my tecnique and it works.

    Please tell me what am I doing wrong. He is a very intelligent, loving little boy, but very domineering and stubborn. He is also the only (first) child.

    I need some advice please. I really dont want my son to struggle further in life building relationships and developing good social skills


  10. Kristi says

    I feel alot like the mom in previous post, Ariel. My son will listen to his dad but he is constantly challenging me. He gets upset about getting in the car seat, changing his clothes. It’s not every time but it’s enough that I fear taking him out in public. He has a hard time leaving the park or any place where he is having alot of fun! i even give him a 5 minute warning we are leaving. Dad does have a firmer voice but I have tried to be firm. I count to 3 and if he doesn’t do the task I ask I put him in timeout for a minute with the kitchen timer. This worked for awhile but now he isn’t phased by it. He sits there fine and will come to me and apologize but then the next day he does it again. I feel like maybe being a working mom he feels like he isn’t getting enough attention from me. I just want to be a good mommy!

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  1. […] with her which I think is pretty typical two-year old behavior.  I found this post quoting “characteristics of two (and a half) year old behavior” and that sounds EXACTLY like her! I know she’ll get through this but in the meantime […]