Why Toddlers Are Difficult – 8 Reasons & Practical Advice

As a parent, one must be prepared for the constantly demanding job that requires round-the-clock attention. Every stage of a child’s growth brings its own unique challenges. Just when you think you have found a solution, your child’s behavior shifts, leaving you unable to depend on previous methods and feeling trapped in an exhausting cycle.

Although each stage is filled with chaos and challenge, no stage is quite as taxing as toddlerhood. Okay, parents of teenagers, hear me out before you laugh. Toddlers are difficult!

Why are toddlers so difficult? Toddlers are striving for more independence and get easily frustrated with their own limitations. They have difficulty expressing emotions due to a limited vocabulary and lack of maturity. A lack of patience and self-control is common as is testing limits as new rules are established.

Let’s jump in. Why are toddlers so difficult? What do you do when the emotional storm hits home? How to weather the storm and build back better?

8 Reasons Why Toddlers Are Difficult

Children undergo the most rapid brain development of their lives during their toddler years. The main reason for the challenging behaviors, tantrums, and endless reckless energy is that their pre-frontal cortex has not fully developed.

The pre-frontal cortex is responsible for regulating thoughts, emotions, and decision-making. During the toddler years, parents have to be their toddler’s pre-frontal cortex, caregiver, and non-stop source of entertainment.

We all agree toddlers are challenging. Some children seem to be more difficult than others during toddlerhood. Why?! 

1. Desire for Greater Independence

Because toddlers are beginning to realize that they are unique individuals, they struggle with their reliance on their parents/caregivers and their desire for greater independence.

They want to do things on their terms, except that limitations, expectations, and rules foil their plans to do so…which leads us to reason number 2. 

2. Easily Frustrated

Despite all of the developmental growth in expression and emotions, toddlers still don’t understand the ideas of logic, waiting, or self-control. They become frustrated by the inability to be independent, complete a task, or communicate effectively. 

3. More Active & Mobile

Toddlers don’t understand physics or safety, so parents must be prepared to live in a constant state of worry. Children need to test their bodies to become more capable and stronger.

Because toddlers are more mobile, they want to explore and be stimulated in more challenging and active ways.

On top of the constant need for active entertainment, they don’t sleep as often (Goodbye nap time!). Toddlers can be endless balls of energy.

4. Lack of Ability To Control Emotions

Toddlers can give you whiplash from intense mood swings. Believe it or not, the ability to regulate our emotions is not something we are born with.

Toddlers are beginning to feel more complex emotions, and they don’t have the tools to express themselves appropriately. The only way for your child to learn to cope with their emotions is through observation and guidance.

They show emotions when they feel them. Modeling emotions appropriately and supporting your child through their big emotions will help them learn emotional regulation.

5. Limited Vocabulary To Express Themselves

Toddlers’ communication abilities are leaps and bounds ahead of infants. Their vocabularies grow daily, and their speech becomes more clear; however, it is still far from perfect.

Many toddlers are still working on pronunciation and simple sentences/phrases. Their receptive language is still much larger than their expressive language.

Toddlers often become frustrated when they are not understood. Their inability to express themselves not only frustrates them but also frustrates those who are trying to communicate with them. 

6. New Rules & Expectations

Toddlerhood comes with a whole new set of skills, but for safety and sanity reasons, it also comes with a new set of rules and expectations.

Rules and safety aren’t understood concepts and interfere with a toddler’s adventurous agenda leading to bouts of big emotions!

Expectations are not limited to safety; they expand to social interactions as well. Staying consistent, calm, and firm will help teach and enforce new rules and expectations. 

7. Testing Limits

Toddlers need to test limits to learn how the world works. They are learning about cause and effect as well as reward and consequence. A toddler’s attempts at independence are often mistaken for disobedience.

Toddlers push boundaries literally and figuratively. Modeling appropriate emotions and displaying safe and consistent behavior will help teach your toddler limits.

8. Lack of Patience & Self-Control

Toddler behavior often boils down to one thing: self-control and the lack of it. Due to an underdeveloped pre-frontal cortex, children under four years old often fall victim to unmanaged big emotions and impulses.

As a parent, you can model desirable behavior and teach emotional regulation through example. 

How To Handle Temper Tantrums

A tired, frustrated dad holding a hysterical baby by his side.

Temper tantrums are emotional outbursts often stemming from a toddler’s desire for independence and communication. Temper tantrums are a stress response. The ability to reason is lost during a tantrum.

Due to the lack of logic or reasoning, melt-downs should not be used as teachable moments. The best way to handle temper tantrums is to be present, empathetic, and descriptive.

  • Talk: Talk with your child, and help them identify their emotions through descriptive empathetic language. Let them know you hear them.
  • Stay Calm: One of the hardest and best ways to handle a tantrum is to stay calm!
  • Be Present: Stay present, and use simple descriptive sentences such as “I see that you are sad because your juice spilled,” or “Accidents happen. It is okay to feel sad.”
  • Model: By demonstrating calm behavior and expressing emotion without throwing a tantrum will give your child the tools to express themselves differently the next time.
  • Connect and Correct: You should stay connected while correcting the behavior. Use playtime as a time to teach emotions and appropriate emotional responses.

Toddler Tantrums: When To Worry

Tantrums are a normal part of development. During a tantrum, a toddler may scream, cry, lie on the ground, stomp their feet, and flail. They are feeling out-of-control emotions, and in turn, they are out of control.

Abnormal or worrisome tantrums are marked by:

  • Frequency
  • Duration 
  • Extreme Aggression
  • Suddenness
  • Triggers

Sudden, prolonged, and frequent aggressive tantrums can be a sign of an underlying behavioral disorder. Reach out to your primary care provider to address any concerns about your toddler’s tantrums.

Positive Parenting Tips for Toddlers

Positive parenting focuses on teaching positive future behaviors rather than disciplining for past misbehavior. Proven positive parenting tips for toddlers include:

  • Look For the Good: Look for and identify the root of the behavior.
  • Be Kind: Model desirable behavior.
  • Self-Care: Keep calm, and take care of your own emotions and mental health before addressing your child.
  • Pre-teach: Teach your child appropriate behaviors through play, books, and communication.
  • Start Early: Begin positive parenting as early as possible to create a solid parenting foundation.
  • Be Patient: Behaviors don’t disappear overnight. Be patient and consistent.

Related Questions:

Why Do Toddlers Hit Themselves?

Temper tantrums are a stress response. Toddlers hit themselves to fulfill a desire for physical stimulation or as a way to soothe themselves. When they feel out-of-control emotions, their body is also out of control.

Toddlers may hit themselves during times of elevated stress or discomfort. Protect them by removing any objects that may cause harm and comfort them.

Demonstrate appropriate stress responses and replace the behavior with a comfort object or activity.

Why Are Toddlers Picky Eaters?

Children are naturally more sensitive to smell, taste, and texture. They can become more particular about food as their vocabulary expands and they become more independent in expressing their likes and dislikes. 

Final Thoughts

Children experience major social-emotional, motor, and intellectual changes during their toddler years. They can understand more than they can express and seem to have one mode: ON.

Toddlers’ brains are bursting with endless curiosity. Finding a balance between dependence for survival and the desire for independence creates the perfect emotional storm.

During the toddler years, not only is the toddler undergoing massive changes developmentally, but the household is also evolving. Be kind to yourself and compassionate with your toddler. This phase will pass before you know it.