Q&A Thursday: What is normal behavior for a toddler?


Toddlerhood is known to be a time of discovery and exploration.  We get a front seat to fascinating physical, cognitive, emotional and social growth.  While this season of development involves discovery and wonder, it can be full of challenges and hurdles.  Let’s look at a few developmental norms for this season in our kids’ lives.  


1  Toddlers are literal.  “Don’t kid me, Mom, I know they’re my feet.”  - a 3-year-old boy in response to his mother telling him his shoes were on the wrong feet.  In terms of their cognitive development, the world is very black and white.  They won’t have an ability to see the “grays” of life until way down the road.  They need our responses to them to be concrete and literal.  

2.  Toddlers are strong-willed.  There are some benefits to being strong-willed.  Having a strong temperament and being stubborn can actually help children in terms of maintaining focus, problem-solving, attacking difficult tasks, having courage in the face of challenges, create opportunities for leadership, and standing up to difficult peers.  

3.  Toddlers experiment with lying.  Most children discover lying for the first time somewhere between 2 and 4 years of age.  If we can see experimentation with lying as a normal part of our child’s intellectual and emotional development, we are better prepared to respond appropriately.  Avoid setting your child to go deeper into a lie by asking questions like “Did you break that vase?” when you are fully aware that they did.  Go ahead and discipline or respond to the behavior or action rather than setting them up to say “no, I didn’t,” when they very clearly did.  

4.  Toddlers need boundaries, consequences and discipline.  The topic of discipline drives a number of questions, a range of emotions, and a variety of opinions.  Perhaps the most common scripture used within conversations about discipline involves the rod and spoiling.  That scripture stirs questions, emotions and opinions around the topic of discipline – questions about spanking, methods of discipline, and the mechanics of implementing discipline.  


We tend to miss the rich instruction about the purpose of discipline that defines the how, when and why of discipline. The Message translates Prov. 13:24 this way, “A refusal to correct is a refusal to love; love your children by disciplining them.”  The purpose of disciplining our children is to teach them as a means of loving them.   And if it is designed as a means of loving our children, our posture in discipline should be one of love, not of anger.  

It’s as important that we, as parents, practice taking time-outs, as it is important that we require our kids to take time outs. Unless we are in a place to discipline in love (and often times our kids’ behavior stirs everything but love in us), then we should do whatever we need to do so that discipline can be about teaching, about shaping and about loving our kids.  That’s parenting in love with wisdom.    For more ideas on age-appropriate discipline, check out Sissy’s chapter on Being a Consistent Parent in our book, Intentional Parenting