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7 Things Your Toddler Wishes You Were Aware Of


As it turns out, as annoying as those typical toddler behaviors are, they are, for the most part, developmentally appropriate.

But how do you keep that in perspective during a power struggle, a boundary test, or any other typical toddler behavior – and keep your sanity?

This is what your toddler would say if she could explain what’s going on inside her brain. You’ll find practical tips for applying your understanding of the toddler’s brain to your daily life with a toddler in each “What to do” section.

Prepare to be transformed into a toddler whisperer after this peek inside a toddler’s mind.

1. Please tell me once more.

“How many times do I have to tell you?” you ask. You appear to be annoyed with me. But I really need you to tell me multiple times.

This is why: 

Executive function skills are responsible for your ability to focus your attention, remember instructions, and control impulses. But guess who hasn’t mastered executive function yet? Your child.

Consider the Grand Canyon. On one hand, there’s your toddler’s desire to color on the walls simply for the sake of having fun.

The ability to control that impulse is on the other side of the canyon because mom said you shouldn’t color on the walls and you really don’t want to see that look she gets on her face when you do something she told you not to.

Also read: Healthy Snacks For Babies and Toddlers

These two sides of a toddler’s brain are not yet connected. You must construct a bridge.

It’s as if you’ve placed one long, rickety wooden board across the chasm the first time you tell your toddler not to color on the walls. It couldn’t support any weight and isn’t strong enough to last long, but you have to start somewhere.

Every time you tell or show your toddler the same thing, you add another board to the bridge across the Grand Canyon in their minds.

However, constructing a bridge across the Grand Canyon would necessitate a large number of wooden boards, not to mention steel beams. And it would take a very long time.

Similarly, it takes a lot of life experiences for your toddler’s brain to form those connections that allow them to develop those important executive function skills.

What you should do:

How many times must we tell our toddlers? Over and over (and over) again is the answer. A toddler’s brain requires repetition in order to learn.

So keep reminding, comforting, and guiding your toddler because every experience is helping to build that bridge.

When I’m losing patience while telling my toddler the same thing for the hundredth time, I take a deep breath and visualize the Grand Canyon. Then I imagine my words laying another board across the chasm.

2. I don’t know how to express myself.

I’m having big, scary feelings, and I don’t know how to express them. I can’t think straight when I’m overwhelmed by negative emotions.

This is why:

Toddlers, like adults, experience negative emotions such as anger, frustration, sadness, fear, anxiety, confusion, powerlessness, and so on.

We’ve learned as adults that when we feel a negative emotion, we should stop, think about it, and then carefully decide how to react. (However, even after a lifetime of experiencing negative emotions, we sometimes react without thinking – by lashing out or shutting down!)

However, the part of the brain responsible for stopping, thinking, and deciding how to react is not fully developed in toddlers. As a result, when toddlers experience a negative emotion, that emotion takes control. This is one of the most common causes of toddler tantrums.

What you should do:

Your toddler requires your assistance in putting her feelings into words. Labeling an emotion is one of the most effective ways to help someone feel heard so they can relax and move on, and toddlers are no exception.

Here are some ways to validate your toddler’s emotions:

  • “You’re insane. You’re demonstrating how badly you wanted that piece of candy.”
  • “I’m sorry you’re upset” (state the emotion). When you’re calm, I’ll hug you and we’ll talk about what happened.”
  • Make use of reflection. “Your foot is going like this,” for example, if he’s stomping his foot (stomp your foot). “Your face looks like this (copy his expression).” Take a deep breath because he’ll probably look at you. He might take a deep breath with you unconsciously. Then say, “You appear to be (state the emotion). You desired (explain your desire).”

3. I’m sorry, but I can’t hear you right now.

I can tell you’re trying to make me feel better, but these strong emotions are overwhelming. I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying.

This is why:

Assume your toddler is having a temper tantrum because you cut her PBJ in half when she requested it whole. What happens if you sandwich the two halves together and say, “Look, it’s the same sandwich, just in two pieces”?

It would be wonderful if your toddler would stop crying and say, “Oh, you’re right. Then forget it.” But you’ve probably discovered the hard way that you can’t reason with a toddler who is having a tantrum.

This is due to her toddler brain’s inability to comprehend what you’re saying:

What you should do:

Don’t ask questions, use logic, or tell your toddler, “That’s not important,” when they’re having a tantrum. In fact, the maybe-I-can-talk-some-sense-into-her approach is likely to aggravate the tantrum and prolong it because your toddler will not feel heard.

Focus first on validating your child’s emotions, and then, once everyone is calm, tell the story of what happened and build those brain connections for the future.


4. I am not attempting to be difficult.

You appear to be frustrated with me right now, but I’m not trying to frustrate you. I’m simply trying to learn.

This is why: 

  • Your toddler wants to make her own cereal for breakfast, but she accidentally spills milk all over the counter.
  • Your toddler claims he wants to buckle his car seat himself, but it takes him forever and you need to leave in 10 minutes.
  • He dresses in short sleeves and shorts, but it’s 40 degrees outside and he won’t wear a coat or even a long-sleeved shirt, no matter how much you try to persuade him.
  • It’s bedtime, but she keeps asking questions – when all you want to do is a collapse in your own bed.
  • It’s time to leave the house for a work meeting, so you get your shoes from the closet, only to discover that someone has unlaced all of your shoelaces.

It can feel like your toddler is out to get you at times. But, despite how it appears, she isn’t trying to make a mess, keep you late, or keep you awake all night.

Toddlers learn best through play. And they require a wide range of life experiences to fully grasp a lesson. For example, they may need to spill milk all over the counter several times before learning to pour it slowly.

Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to learning for parents who would rather not clean half a quart of milk off the kitchen counter. Our toddlers need to make mistakes in order to learn.

I don’t want to make an extra mess, be late for an appointment, or have to re-lace my shoes every time I leave the house. My toddler, on the other hand, must learn and grow through trial and error.

Another risk of constantly correcting and controlling your toddler is that your toddler hears “no” a lot throughout the day.

She may believe she is incapable of doing anything correctly, and she may become extremely frustrated when she is unable to do so. When you need to say “no” to keep her safe, such as if she unbuckles her car seat while you’re driving, she’s much less likely to listen to you.

What you should do is pick your battles. 

If your toddler eats three peas instead of twenty or prefers to leave the house dressed in polka dots and plaid, it may not be worth it to turn it into a fight.

When I’m annoyed or frustrated with my toddler, I remind myself of a mantra: “Let her learn.” Allow her to learn.”

That’s usually enough to convince me that I should let her make her own mistakes. But if I’m still tempted to overcorrect or control – or, worse, step in and do the task myself – I’ll ask myself, “What’s the worst that could happen if I let her do it her way?”

I’m not perfect, but this little habit has allowed me to step back and let my toddler experiment on her own more often than I used to.

As an added bonus, when you stop trying to control your toddler on everyday tasks, you can take a step back and be ready to comfort her if she becomes frustrated during the learning process.

5. I need you to be both gentle and firm.

I prefer to do things on my own, but I rely on you to keep me safe.

This is why: 

When your child reaches toddlerhood, she realizes she is her own person, distinct from you. This is when she realizes she has the ability to act on her own distinct ideas, opinions, and preferences.

Assume you’re crossing the street with your toddler in your arms, and she pulls away and runs off to pick up a shiny coin from the ground. She’s using her newfound strength, which is exactly what her toddler’s brain requires.

However, it is our responsibility as parents to limit that power in order to keep our toddlers safe:

Even so, when you believe your child has done something dangerous, it’s easy to lose your cool and say things like, “What on earth were you thinking? “Never, ever, ever do that again!”

From your toddler’s point of view, she made her own decision as her own person, and you were upset with her for doing so.

Her toddler’s brain is overwhelmed by feelings of shame, and she is unable to learn anything from the experience. It’s a missed opportunity to add to that Grand Canyon bridge. If she feels shame on a regular basis, she may become anxious, defiant, or insecure.

What you should do:

When something important, such as running across the street or throwing her entire dinner plate on the floor, your toddler requires you to set limits.

To avoid overreacting and making your toddler feel guilty for making her own decision, try to understand why she made that decision. That way, you can assure her that there is nothing wrong with how she felt and then set the limit.

Consider the phrase “kind first, then firm.” “You were ecstatic to see that shiny coin and you wanted to grab it!” But it’s my responsibility to keep you safe, and running across the street can be harmful to your health. Hold my hand tightly the next time we cross the street, no matter what.”

6. I’m not dismissing you.

I’m just not sure what you expect of me.

This is why:

Don’t imagine an elephant right now. Do not, under any circumstances, visualize an elephant. You’d better not be picturing an elephant.

So…do you have an elephant in mind? Because if you are, that is completely normal, and your toddler is no exception.

Let’s say your toddler is running around the house while your infant is sleeping, and you tell him, “Don’t run!”

What your toddler remembers is simply: Run. The phrase “don’t run” focuses on what you don’t want to happen. Exactly the opposite effect of what you’re aiming for.

Furthermore, when you say “stop” or “don’t,” your toddler has to process your request twice. First, he must comprehend what you do not want him to do: do not run. Then he has to translate what you do into what he does, which can be confusing for young children.

What you should do:

Remove the words “don’t” and “stop” from your vocabulary when dealing with your toddler because they will only lead to frustration for both of you. Then, reframe your statements so that your toddler understands what you want him to do.

Here are a few examples to get you started:

  • “Stop banging your fork on the table,” instead. “Your fork goes in your mouth or on your plate,” for example. “Can you imagine your fork landing in your mouth like an airplane?”
  • rather than “Don’t run!” “Please walk slowly.” Let’s act like turtles!”
  • rather than “Don’t color on the walls!” “Markers are only for paper,” for example. “Could you draw me a picture on this piece of paper?”
  • rather than “Don’t be rough with the baby!” “Please use a gentle touch with the baby,” for example. It is our responsibility to keep the baby safe.”
  • “Don’t take that toy away from your sister!” “Your sister is having that right now,” for example. ‘Can I have that when you’re finished?'”

I’m usually pretty pumped if I can catch myself before saying “don’t,” but if you really want to make your toddler sit up and take notice, try adding a statement at the front to empathize with his emotions. “You really wanted that toy right now!” for example. It appears to be a lot of fun. But your sister is currently experiencing this. ‘Can I have that when you’re finished?'”

7. I perform better when I feel loved.

I’m happiest when we can spend some quality time together every day. Then I’ll do everything in my power to make you happy with me.

Here’s why: When my toddler is particularly uncooperative, the root cause is always the same.

As an example…

  • I’ll be doing the dishes, and she’ll be reading her a book. “Later,” I assure you. “I’m currently preoccupied.”
  • I’ll be on the computer paying bills when she asks to play a game. “Not right now, honey,” I tell her.
  • I’ll be putting the baby down for a nap, and just as he falls asleep, she’ll bang the door open, looking for me. “Return out there!” I hiss.

Then she doesn’t listen the next time I ask her to do something (or not do something). She can be defiant at times.

She’d told me exactly what she wanted from me – a story, a game, my physical presence – and I’d dismissed her.

She required a connection. And when I didn’t give it to her, I paid the price with less or no cooperation.

What you should do:

Research shows that in order for a relationship to be happy, there need to be five positive interactions for every negative one. This is known as the magic 5:1 ratio.

You’ll end up with an unhappy, unhealthy relationship if you have too few positive interactions to balance out the negative ones. To get your toddler to cooperate more, aim for five positive interactions for every negative experience.

How to Connect With Your Toddler and Increase Cooperation

Following a negative interaction with your child, you must reconnect through a positive moment or two in order to close the gap between you and your child.

Because if you don’t bridge that gap and your child feels disconnected, it will result in more unnecessary power struggles and less cooperation when you ask them to do something.

Unfortunately, when your brain is flooded with stress hormones, it’s extremely difficult to think of something fun and sweet to do with your child to reconnect.

That is why I created these Family Connection Cards, which are based on the science of what works when people need to reconnect.

Also read: Tantrums: Why Kids Have It and What To Do About It

These cards relieve you of the mental burden of determining how to reconnect with your child, allowing you to focus solely on nurturing your bond with your child.

You can pick a card at any time during the day to get a quick and simple idea for connecting.

And in just 10 minutes per day, these powerful cards will make your child feel completely loved and will put an end to the power struggles caused by disconnection.

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