At every daycare across the nation are thousands of toddlers enjoying their sippy cups and afternoon naps. Over the years, I’ve been struck several times with the real-world comparisons of my toddler’s needs and the needs of my research faculty. For example, my toddler is an active learner who loves repetition and imitation and has constant urges to test and experiment. Sound familiar? My toddler is also a living contradiction…a “do-it-myself” attitude one minute and a passive “you-do-it” dependency the next. She is prone to changing her mind about what she wants–charming and engaging at times and defiant at others. Sound familiar?

In many ways we are all still toddlers living in the adult world. With this in mind, here are a few things that we should expect from toddlers :

  • Explore with energy. Their new competence and curiosity often lead to sheer exuberance and bursts of energy.
  • Explode with frustration. Too few or too many choices, challenges, obstacles, or too much or too little power can be overwhelming for toddlers.
  • Dawdle. Whether to “smell the roses,” to examine a curious object never noticed before (or even a familiar, favorite one), to assert themselves, or because they have a little sense of time, toddlers often dawdle.
  • Lose control of themselves. When the world caves in on toddlers, for whatever reason, they often desperately need reassurance, whether they are stuck in a tantrum of rage or lost in an inconsolable pit of despair.
  • Be contrary. “No” is a declaration of independence. Toddlers refuse your request, defy you, and resist your control because they are learning that they can exert some control. They are learning how to be assertive. This is an important step in learning self-control.
  • Change moods. So much change is happening for them, inside and out, that is it natural for toddlers to swing from joy or rage, from being sweet and compliant to being little tyrants, and from being needy babies to being seemingly mature helpers and comforters of other.
  • Act fearful. As their thinking develops and they move into the world, toddlers discover that it has scare elements.
  • Act powerful. Toddlers begin to understand that they can cause things to happen or not happen, do things on their own, create things, go places, and get strong positive and negative reactions from people. When they discover these powers, they want to use them, and it is hard to learn how to use them appropriately.

*Adapted from a daycare handout on the toddler classroom.