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, even if subconsciously.
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 they sometimes act up.
They test all the time, right from the start.
Babies test if dropping a spoon a second time will also make it fall to the ground like it did the first. Toddlers test whether slightly banging on the wall is acceptable versus the loud one they were doing. Maybe your child tests your limits to see if you’ll follow through with the consequences you said you’d give.
All true. But beneath all that, he’s also testing you on one important matter:
Your child testing to see if you’ll still love him.
This seems silly to think at first. You know you love him, even if you don’t always love his behavior or when he’s not pleasant.
But he may not know that. He wonders if this tantrum—terrifying especially to him—could be the one that will send you away. He’s scared he might be unlovable if you imply that he’s being annoying or a “bad boy.” He’s testing to see whether your love is conditional.
At such a young age, he’s still learning about his emotions and establishing his place in your family unit. He’s not born equipped with identifying feelings, much less expressing them in ways you and I can.
And so, he tests his limits, not always to see if you’ll balk or hold your ground, but to see if you’ll stick around even after his defiance and tempers. To see how vulnerable he can allow himself to be.
Yes, hold your ground, establish authority, and set limits. Then, reassure your child that you love him, tantrums and everything. With these temper tantrums and stubbornness, he’s not just testing your backbone, but your unconditional love, too.
Get more tips:
- How to Respond to Toddler Testing
- 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
Free resource: Want even more tips? I’d love to share with you 5 Tips to Raising a Strong-Willed Child! Discover 5 ways to nurture and work with—not against—your child’s inner spirit and strong personality: