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Understanding 7 Challenging Toddler Behaviors

Understanding 7 Challenging Toddler Behaviors

Editor’s Note: This post was first published in 2014 but has since been updated.

At two years old, my son is hitting his stride with the terrible twos and there are a few toddler behaviors that are driving me crazy. So when I recently came across a Facebook meme about toddler behaviors, I was reminded that, in fact, my son was not actually out to get me. It read:

We must remind ourselves that the toddler is asking, “How does this work? What does this do? Why is this so?” and not, “How do I annoy my parent?”

I admit, though, it’s not always easy to remember this lesson, especially when you’re a busy parent and your toddler is not cooperating. So I’m writing reminders to myself about how to enjoy and embrace toddlerhood.

7 Toddler Behaviors and Why They Happen

1. The Tornado

  • Dumping every toy out on the floor within minutes of entering the playroom.
  • Reminder: Toddlers are passionate about exploring, discovering, and learning. Let them explore and make a mess but also make clean-up time fun with a song or silly game.

2. The No’s

  • “No, I don’t want to eat breakfast.” “No, I don’t want to get in the car.” “No, I don’t want to wear those shoes.” “No! No! No!
  • Reminder: Toddlers are learning to become their own individuals and exerting their opinion is part of that process. Acknowledge that their opinions matter but give toddlers simple reasons and limited options. For example, this is a conversation we had today, “I hear that you don’t want to put on your shoes. It’s cold out so your feet need shoes to stay warm outside. Would you like to wear your sneakers or boots?” I had to repeat this about 5-10 times in different ways before it actually worked but we got there.

3. The Mule

  • When “I do that myself” is the response to every single, little itty bitty thing that needs to get done.
  • Reminder: Toddlers are curious about how the world works and how they can control and maneuver in that world. It’s important to let them try things on their own no matter how frustratingly long it can take. I can sometimes speed this process up with a reminder boost, such as “Are you going to put on your jacket or do you want mommy to do it?” This usually gets Owen moving quickly because he definitely doesn’t want me to do it.

4. The Mike Tyson

  • Hitting, pushing, and biting (oh my!).
  • Reminder: Toddlers get frustrated easily because they are learning to communicate and also learning to control their emotions. They often express themselves through physical means. Set up clear and specific rules about acceptable toddler behavior with logical consequences for misbehavior. Toddlers will repeatedly try to push the boundaries so consistency and follow through is really key to curbing the inappropriate physical behavior. It also helps if toddlers are well rested and have a safe place to release their energy. The minute Owen starts getting physical I know it’s either time for a nap or time to head outside for a new activity.


5. The Scrooge

  • “It’s mine! Mine! Mine!”
  • Reminder: Toddlers are learning social skills and do not yet know how to share. In fact, most toddlers and early preschoolers will not play together but side by side because they just don’t have the developmental capability yet. There are ways I model sharing with Owen but I keep my expectations low on this one until he is a bit older.

6. The Tantrum

  • Is there really need for a toddler tantrum explanation?!?
  • Reminder: Toddler tantrums happen. It’s part of them learning to control their emotions. Take a deep breath, stay calm, speak evenly, acknowledge the cause of the tantrum (when appropriate), and just wait it out. Sometimes it’s the last part that’s hard especially for my 7-year-old daughter who tries to be “helpful” during the tantrum. I find this gets easier over time as I’m learning to recognize some of the frequent causes of Owen’s tantrums and can ward them off.

7. The Vortex (or Sharknado)

  • Constant motion, running and spinning.
  • Reminder: Toddlers have lots of energy. It can be frustrating and even embarrassing (say when you’re at a restaurant or doctor’s office) when the sharknado hits. For me, this toddler behavior is one that I’ve learned to simply enjoy and take in stride. I find most people are fairly tolerant of exuberant toddler behavior – it must be that charming, impish smile that toddlers perfect.


These are the 7 toddler behaviors that are currently driving me crazy. Are there any that are pressing your buttons? If so, how are you dealing with them?

Editor’s Note: Toddlers are a challenge, but we love them all the same! Amy has written a follow up to this post where she discusses the toddler behaviors that she adores.

The Work-Life Equation: Peaceful Parenting on Busy Workdays

We’ve all been there…the get-out-the-door chaos, the after-work frenzy, those toddler-parent moments when things just seem to go, “kaboom.” Is there a better way? Parenting expert and psychologist Jennifer Gillette says unequivocally…yes. She’s got the tips, tricks, and strategies to tame the tantrums and put what she calls Peaceful Parenting back into your day.

More on Toddlers


  1. Jill March 5, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    What a wonderful post! My son is 2 months shy of 3 years old. I have been experiencing all 7 of these for the past year. But he seems to finally be getting better. So have patience moms and dads it does get better!

  2. Anna May 17, 2014 at 9:32 am

    Thank you. My child is 28months and after the day I’ve had today I really needed to read something like this. Just knowing its normal and others go through this is heartening.

  3. Amy May 20, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    We all have those days, Anna. Just hang in there! I actually was thinking about this post just this weekend and thought of a new behavior – The Litter Bug. The Litter Bug is when toddlers get so mad that they throw whatever they are holding onto the floor. For example, toddler’s big sister is trying to help him with breakfast, he’s so frustrated because he wants to do it himself, so apple cider donut ends up on the floor. True story!

  4. Joan Pacitti June 11, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    I am not a Mom. Actually, I would be old enough to be a grandmom, but since I had no children, I don’t have those either. However, coming from a large family, I’ve seen a lot of through the years.
    I witnessed two incidents in the last several months that bothered me so much that I spoke up about them. Perhaps I could have said things better, but I’m not sorry that I said them.
    One was a mother whose child was maybe 2-3 years old and was afraid of dogs. We were at one of the “parties” for candles. She insisted on putting this child on the floor with the dog that lived in the house. The dog is a friendly dog, but dogs are dogs. The fact that this mother, knowing that her child was afraid of dogs, didn’t seem to care really got me angry. I did speak up and am NOT sorry I did.
    Another incident involved a child who is not even 2 years old. She spilled some salt and pepper on the table. Her father hit her and told her to clean it up. Of course she said No. He hit her two more times and told her the same thing. Of course he got the same answer. I’m not saying he hit her hard, but I find hitting a child shows lack of control. Well, I wasn’t going to sit there and say nothing. I went up and asked him why he was doing why he was doing that. His response was She has to learn. I don’t get how a 1-1/2 yr. old child is expected to know what she’s supposed to be doing at that age. Her mother who was not present at the time, helped her clean it up.
    I NEVER understood hitting children.

    • Sallie November 21, 2014 at 12:34 pm

      Joan- Mind your business. No parent wants or needs your input on how to raise/interact etc with THEIR child. What would you know anyway, since you’re not a mother.

      • Tammy January 26, 2015 at 4:39 pm

        Exactly. You don’t deal with a screaming toddler 24-7. You dont know the frustration or the struggle. Mind your business. No one tells you how to live your child-less life.

    • Deana February 4, 2015 at 9:00 pm

      Joann P.

      I applaud you for speaking your mind. I have 2 little boys and while the thought of a stranger telling me what to do with my boys is terrible, some parents need it.

      To Sallie & Tammy: I don’t care how frustrated we are as parents, i work & commute to work a total of 12 hours a day. I have a 4 year old and a 2 year old, who are both nutso at times – especially the 2 year old. Some nights the 2 year old cries from the moment i get in the door until we go to bed, and nothing my husband and I can do will help for more than minutes. He is just a miserable kid, lol.. But your comments to Joann are awful. How can you tell her to mind her business when a father is hitting a 1.5 year old for something that she cannot do, I mean telling her she is doing something wrong and helping her clean it up is fine but not hitting her. Sometimes parents now are more childish than the children, he should have moved the damn salt & pepper from the 1.5 year old to avoid any issues, my god, the kids was 1.5 years old..

      I am sorry for some kids growing up today.

    • Lala December 20, 2015 at 8:11 pm

      I think you did the right thing. Some people need to be told to snap out of it when they’re not thinking. It’s a free world and you don’t have to mind your business. I need a good kick in the butt sometimes so tell me!

    • Aaran Bennett March 17, 2017 at 12:42 pm

      Why are you on a parenting site if you dont have children. Is this simply an oppertunity to judge others and force your ignorance upon those who struggle with things you dont know anything about? If you do not have anything helpful to add based on actual experience then do not post.

  5. Jessica June 24, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    Lovely and true.
    When you have 5 kids who are 6 years old and under (3 biological and 2 adopted relatives), Something like your example becomes repeated infinitely:
    “I hear that you don’t want to put on your shoes. It’s cold out so your feet need shoes to stay warm outside. Would you like to wear your sneakers or boots?” I had to repeat this about 5-10 times in different ways before it actually worked but we got there.”
    My question is:
    How do you keep your brain from feeling like it’s melting when you have to negotiate 5-10 times per issue, per child, per day? It’s exhausting.

  6. Amy June 25, 2014 at 10:59 am

    Great question, Jessica. Although frustrating in the day to day execution, I find persistent does pay off down the road. Both my kids are fairly stubborn and independent so there’s lots of repetition – almost to the point of insanity (as you mention). I’ve seen the results in my oldest (now 7) where she is leading her brother to make good decisions. And, then there is always being flexible and picking battles. Some things I just have to let go and allow them to find out the “hard” way. Cold feet never hurt anyone!

  7. Danielle March 29, 2015 at 8:26 am

    My daughter is nearly 4, she is driving me crazy, she will just do anything she wants to do, doesn’t matter how many times I tell her she will do it anyway. I do punish her by putting her on the stairs on in her room but it isn’t working. I take the toys she likes away and she is still naughty. I worry it is down to the start she had in life as I was in an abusive relationship with her dad and now she hasn’t seen him for nearly two years. Her school and child minders don’t seem to have any problems with her and no body else does so why is it just me, please help!!!

    • becca May 11, 2015 at 5:50 pm

      I’m so sorry try not to be hard on yourself you’re safe now and that’s what matters plus plenty of kids are like that even not witnessing abuse. Please check out the love and logic series it’s a huge help for stubborn kids, helped me alot with my son.good luck God bless you and your daughter

    • Julie September 16, 2015 at 1:23 pm

      I read in a book (I think it was What to Expect the First Year) that sometimes babies are less well-behaved, more inclined to fuss/cry, etc. with their parent(s) than with another caretaker (like a daycare worker, teacher or nanny) because they feel more secure with their parent(s). I think there’s something to be said for this, and it probably pertains to children too. Your daughter knows you will love her no matter what. (On a related note, I wish I had some good advice, but unfortunately I’m trying to figure out the answer myself – already, my son ignores me when I tell him “no” but listens to my husband.)

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