Their aggravating ways, which are probably ingrained from birth, are at full throttle in toddlerhood, when meltdowns and chaos and battles of wills are the norm rather than the exception.
But there’s a silver lining. Despite the fact that they drive you bonkers, these seven exasperating toddler behaviors are actually really important to your child’s learning and emotional development.
So remind yourself of these the next time you’re ready to rip your hair out!
7 Annoying Things Toddlers Do That Are Actually Good for Them
1. Make a total mess.
Yesterday my toddler had dirt all over his shorts, chocolate all over his face, and yogurt smashed into his hair—all at the same time. At some point I simply decided to stop cleaning him up and just let the muck accumulate all over him until his next bath.
Turns out my negligence in the cleanliness department is actually helping him learn.
A study published last year in Developmental Science suggests that mashing oatmeal between your hands or flinging chunky applesauce across the room can be very educational for the under 3 set. Researchers observed over 70 toddlers and found that those who made a total mess with their food were then able to learn the words associated with those foods faster and more accurately.
Translation: That chocolate running down my boy’s chin and that yogurt tangled between his locks was all in the name of learning!
2. Insist on reading the same book over and over again.
Or singing the same song, or playing the same game. I admit that on the 12th time through Goodnight Moon (“Goodnight for real this time, mouse!”), I just want to slap my palm against my forehead.
But I don’t. Most of the time I indulge the repetition because it’s so helpful for toddlers’ speech development; hearing the same words and phrases over and over again helps to cement them into their growing vocabulary. Plus, little kids find such joy in knowing what comes next!
3. Answer every single question with “No.”
Will you eat some breakfast, please? “No.”
Let’s go change your diaper. “No.”
Would you like to wear the blue shirt or the red shirt? “No.” (You’re not even making sense now, child!)
It’s pretty common for toddlers to overuse the word “No”—or my kid’s current favorite, “Nope!”—and it can be seriously frustrating for parents. But try to remember that tucked inside all that seemingly unwarranted defiance is a child who is just developing her self-identity. She’s on an amazing journey of self-discovery that involves the painful realization that her needs and wants are sometimes contrary to her caregiver’s.
In other words, that stubborn and uncooperative “No!” you’re so tired of hearing? It’s your child asserting her independence and developing a healthy concept of self.
4. Cling to you for dear life.
A few weeks ago, when my 2-year-old and I walked in the door to our playgroup, his arm suddenly and unexpectedly turned into velcro. Coincidentally, my pant leg did too, and we spent most of the time stuck together.
A clingy toddler can be quite irritating when your plan was to chat with your fellow moms while your children bond over block towers. It can be a serious annoyance when you’re leaving for a date night with your hubby and the babysitter has to pry him out of your arms.
But take heart: A young child who clings to mommy or daddy is a child who feels safe and secure with them, which is a very good thing.
What’s more, that tight grip around your neck is your toddler learning how to communicate to you that he feels uneasy in a situation—which opens the door for you to offer the reassurance he needs, which in turn will make him less clingy next time.
5. Throw temper tantrums.
Temper tantrums are probably the most bothersome toddler behavior, perhaps because they tend to happen in the grocery store, at a friend’s house, or at the end of a long day—pretty much any time and anywhere you really don’t feel like dealing with them.
My son’s worst tantrum ever occurred during the 30th birthday party I was throwing for my husband. (Read: When I was hosting a house full of friends and family and was trying to refill the drinks. Good times!)
If you can relate, rest assured that there’s a bright side to those meltdowns.
Bottling up anger and frustration isn’t good for anyone, toddlers included. Your child is at the beginning stage of a journey we’re all on: to learn healthy skills and coping mechanisms for dealing with difficult emotions instead of just repressing them.
That’s not to say parents should give in to the screaming, kicking, and flailing—rather, keep your cool, figure out what’s really going on with your child, and remember that it’s an opportunity to teach them about dealing with anger constructively.
6. Refuse to sit still.
About once a week someone looks at my kid and says, “If only I could bottle up that energy…”
Yes, I’d like to bottle it up too—and chuck the bottle in the ocean around 9:00pm when he’s running around like a crazy person in the opposite direction of his bedroom.
But since I can’t encapsulate his hyperactivity—not for disposal, consumption, or sale, though I’d certainly make a killing if I could!—instead I’m choosing to see the positive.
You see, our kids’ natural desire for movement could keep them healthier throughout their lives. In a 2005 study published in the journal Science, researchers at the Mayo Clinic identified a connection between fidgeting and the number on the scale. Not surprisingly, people who had trouble sitting still tended to weigh less than those who were completely comfortable staying off their feet.
There’s a good chance the toddler who squirms during church or runs laps around the house before bedtime won’t struggle to maintain a healthy weight later in life.
This one really gets me. I’m all about efficiency, so the moments I feel the most irked are the ones when I’m trying to get us out the door before we’re late, and my toddler’s just moseying along as if we have all the time in the world.
I get that he can’t read a clock yet—or fully grasp the concept of time, for that matter—but it’s still frustrating!
A better perspective? Remembering that a bit of dilly-dallying is good for him, and for the rest of the family too. In a world where we all feel chronically rushed, with our brains as crammed as our calendars, a child rambling around the house talking to himself instead of putting on his shoes is sometimes a needed reality check. He needs to slow down, and so do I.
Moral of the story: Toddlers can drive us nuts, but that’s often a good thing because the stuff that makes us batty is integral to their mental and emotional development. Even so, some days they’re lucky they’re also adorable!