We often hear that our kids test us when they misbehave. They test cause and effect and consequences, but THIS is also why your child is testing you.
My two-year-old refused to let me strap him into his car seat.
“No!” he screamed, arching his back so I couldn’t latch the buckles together (you know that move). I had just picked up all three kids from school and was desperate to finally get home. Dealing with another stubborn standoff wasn’t my idea of starting my afternoon.
We know the importance of standing your ground: We don’t want to be permissive or allow our kids determine the rules and their responsibilities. They need to function within limits so they don’t feel entitled. They’re also counting on us to help them manage their tantrums and frustrations.
And, of course, they’re testing us.
I once heard we should refer to the toddler stage not as the ‘terrible twos’ but the ‘testing twos.’ Because isn’t that so true? No one looks forward to a tantrum, of course. But when we realize they’re ‘testing,’ we can better see the root of why kids sometimes act up.
They test all the time, right from the start. The baby tests if dropping a spoon a second time will also make it fall to the ground like it did the first. The toddler tests whether slightly banging on the wall is acceptable versus the loud one he was doing. And kids test your limits to see if you’ll follow through with the consequences you said you’d give.
All true. But beneath all that, your child is testing you on one important matter.
This is why your child is testing you
They’re testing to see if you’ll still love them.
Seems silly to think at first. We know we love them, even if we don’t always love their behavior. Even when they’re not pleasant.
But they don’t know that. They wonder if this tantrum—terrifying even to them—could be the one that will send you away.
They’re scared they might be unlovable when we call them annoying or ‘bad boy.’
They’re testing to see whether your love is conditional.
At such young ages, kids are learning about their emotions. They’re not born equipped with identifying feelings. They’re establishing their place in your family unit. And they test those around them to see how vulnerable they can allow themselves to be.
And so they test their limits, not always to see if you’ll balk or hold your ground. But to see if you’ll stick around even after their defiance and tempers.
We need to hold our ground, establish authority and set limits. And we also need to reassure our kids that we love them, tantrums and everything.
Frustrations, temper tantrums, stubbornness—your kids aren’t just testing your backbone, but your unconditional love, too.
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Read more articles about parenthood and your child’s behavior:
- How to Discipline a Toddler Who Deliberately Disobeys
- How to Respond when Your Child Makes a Mistake
- The Surprisingly Simple Question You Should Always Ask Yourself before Disciplining Your Child
- What to Do When Your Child Says No to Everything
- Parenting Your Strong-Willed Child
Your turn: How does your child test you?