Even though most of the time you think your child is the most beautiful creature in the world, some character traits of your beloved toddler can drive you mad. With my first daughter, the terrible twos came six months earlier than expected: tadaa! At 18 months, no more Ms. nice baby. Overnight, it seemed, she became really sensitive, hyperactive and incredibly persistent, having a temper tantrum almost every day for a solid year.
I thought she was going crazy (I certainly was). We struggled to get through the day and her behaviour (screaming, tantrums, crying) worried me to the extent that I sometimes wondered whether she needed professional help. Our friends’ toddlers seemed to do better and although I had seen other children having tantrums during my career in child care, that didn’t affect me nearly as much as with my own daughter. When someone else’s child is ‘misbehaving’, you just don’t worry that much and regard seemingly extreme behaviour as just a temporary phase, which in 99% of cases it is. That’s much harder to do when the child in question is your own.
And so, I did what I always do when dealing with a parenting situation: I go and do research. And what I found, was a big relief.
I was not alone
Instantly, I realized a lot of parents have difficulties dealing with their toddlers. For instance, look at these forum post:
‘’ Please can anyone help with tips on how to manage my wilful, stubborn two and a bit year old. She is constantly on the go, won’t take a nap anymore, won’t eat, won’t do as I ask. If she doesn’t want to do it then I’ve got no chance. Constantly whingeing and whining.’’
‘’ At this point I have come to realize just how far we’ve fallen. DH is angry and frustrated all the time. I am sad and angry all the time.’’
‘’ I know that the whole ’terrible twos’ thing is quite common at his age, but I honestly feel like, when I am around other moms of toddlers, my kid is the only one being crazy and unmanageable.’’
Comments like these can be found all over the internet. Clearly, many parents were experiencing the same challenges I did and were having quite similar thinking patterns. I wasn’t the only one occasionally thinking my child might be crazy (and feeling guilty about these thoughts). This realization alone was really comforting. It’s funny that when we face a problem, it can feel lonely, as if no one else knows what we’re going through. Luckily, I found I surely wasn’t the only one.
Toddlers are crazy
What we adults view as socially acceptable behaviour might be characterized by brain scientists as the normal functioning of full grown brains. But toddlers haven’t developed their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that plays an important role in rational decision making. Their developing brain makes them act crazy in our eyes, sometimes in what we view as bad ways, like screaming and yelling if they don’t get their way. On the other hand, the absence of the full-grown rational break that we have as adults makes toddlers such wonderful and creative creatures as well. Their associative ability is just amazing. Coloured toilet cleaner becomes ‘blue pee’. A person with curly hair becomes ‘that mister with the circles in his hair’ and a cardboard box becomes a princess castle.
This phase is not the only phase you will worry your child is going crazy. Puberty is another. In the Netherlands, we speak of two puberty phases. A toddler-puberty (‘peuterpubertijd’) and the real deal when they are teens.
The wide spectrum of ‘normal’
One of the books I read during my research of crazy toddlers was ‘Raising your spirited child’, by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. In this book, Kurcinka explains that there is a wide spectrum of ‘normal’ behaviour. My daughter seems to be more on the sensitive side of the spectrum according to Kurcinka’s label. And being a toddler plus being sensitive can be a killer combination. Suddenly, so many things started to make sense. No longer was I puzzled by the fact that some children seemed to find it so much easier to adapt to certain situations. Also, the book helped me realize I wasn’t falling short as a parent (most of the time anyway). Normal toddler behaviour (in our view crazy behaviour) combined with a more than average sensitive child, can result in rougher terrible twos from a parent’s perspective. But in most cases, seemingly extreme behaviour isn’t that extreme after all.
A different perspective on ‘difficult’ behaviour
Ok, knowing that ‘crazy’ behaviour is often actually normal is all good and well, but I still don’t like tantrums. However, I have come to realize that behaviour that parents don’t like comes with surprising upsides when children turn into adults. The core quadrants of Daniel Ofman  nicely illustrate this. Each character trait has a shadow side and a positive side. In our busy and stressful lives as parents, we may forget to embrace the positive side of our toddlers‘ character traits. Here is how you might reframe your toddler’s ‘difficult’ behaviour or character traits:
|Rigid||Organized and traditional|
Do I love it when my daughter is nagging or running around our living room yelling? No. But do I want her to be energetic and decisive? Of course! All the qualities on the right in the table above are lovely and with our help will turn our toddlers into beautiful adults. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t redirect rude and unpleasant behaviour, but simply take a longer-term view and think more deeply about what kind of adult we want our toddler to be. As much as we sometimes wish our toddlers would listen to us without questioning our ‘orders’, do we want them to be obedient sheep when they’re 30 and holding full-time jobs? Simply changing the view on your child’s behaviour can help you deal with difficult behaviour in the short term and raise wonderful children in the long term.
 If you want to know more on this topic, this is a good read: http://evolutionaryparenting.com/my-toddler-wont-listen-to-me