Toddlers are known for being difficult, but man, sometimes they can really be little psychopaths. A couple of days ago, Annie came up to me and said, “Oh mama, pretty princess hair, Annie braid it!” and started running her hands through my hair. I was smiling at her sweetness when she suddenly grabbed a handful of hair and yanked it. I yelped in pain, but instead of looking chagrined she laughed and did it again. I know I’m probably not supposed to react, but damn, it hurts. And she needs to know that deliberately hurting people is not OK. At that point I warned her that if she did it again, she’d get a time out, and about ten seconds later I was hauling her off to time out.
The whole day was like that. We’d be doing something fun – pretend manicures, coloring, playing princess – and then she’d push the boundaries and test me until I had no choice but to put her in time out. Sometimes she was upset at the end of her punishment, but most of the time she looked at me like this, annoyed by the whole thing.
By the end of the night, I’d seriously had enough. I read her bedtime story with little inflection, gave her my kisses, and then started to tuck her in, like I always do. “NO! NO tuck in!” She shouted back to me. Completely irritated at this point, I lost my temper and said, “Fine, Annie. Good. Night.” As I started to walk away I heard, “Mama? Mama, I loooooove you. I love you Mama!!”
I walked back and leaned into her crib, where she was looking back up at me with those big wide eyes. “I love you too, Annie.” I wanted to apologize for being short with her, but I didn’t. She wouldn’t have understood, and it wouldn’t have made me feel any better. I rubbed her cheeks and kissed her hands, and then I left her room.
I don’t know why I am the one she’s constantly testing. It’s frustrating to be the one she pushes, while she’s sweet and loving toward everyone else. It makes me wonder what I’ve done wrong, and it makes me feel like crap.
Oh Heather, you’ve done nothing wrong. It’s a toddler thing and because you’re the one with her the most, you’ll get tested more. They outgrow it
I could have written this. My son is the same. He listens the first time to everyone else. I have to speak and speak and eventually raise my voice before he listens. (And then I feel bad). I don’t know what to do anymore.
I’m sorry This part of parenting is so not fun! Seriously, sometimes when I get really frustrated with my son’s behavior, I give myself a time out. I am SO not kidding. Sometimes, I need it!
Lisa niemann says:
Long time reader with a son about the same age as your daughter…with the same behaviors… And a degree in child development. It’s totally normal. They are sot of psychopathic…in the sense that they are incapable of empathy at this age no matter how many time outs you give….it’s not in the hard wiring yet. They are pure little scientists, gauging reaction…and since you are the absolutely most important person in the entire world to her…and that is not an exaggeration…you are the most interesting of reactions. You are also the safest person to test boundaries with. It’s actually a reflection on how wonderful of a parent you are…not the opposite.
On the bright side, they naturally grow out of it as they naturally learn empathy. For now…try to use exaggerated facial expressions that mimic hers…especially the big lip to express pain…to start to help her relate a little….and say things the way she would…..”mommy sad when you pull her hair”… Sky’s ( my son) coming up on 3 in May and that approach is starting to sink in a bit. Then I say… “If you want mommy’s attention, then all you have to do is tickle me…or hug….or ask… ” Cause that’s usually what he’s driving at.
This, a million times! The testing of boundaries is a totally normal and healthy developmental stage. The fact that Annie feels safe doing it most with you shows that she trusts you so much, Heather!
Ditto ditto ditto ditto!!!
My daughter is just one day older than Annie, so I follow your Annie stories closely to spot the similarities. And my little stinker test me more than any other adult. She’s sunshine to her sitter, peaches and cream to her daddy, and tests me to no end. I work full-time, so she spends more time with daddy and sitter and she’s still the meanest to me.
Lisa above said this, “They are pure little scientists, gauging reaction…and since you are the absolutely most important person in the entire world to her…and that is not an exaggeration…you are the most interesting of reactions. You are also the safest person to test boundaries with.” and it is 100 million percent true!! Just keep telling yourself that. And don’t beat yourself up if you loose patience with her. That’s perfectly normal too!
Lisa’s right… you aren’t failing at anything! You are a wonderful parent and it’s just Annie’s stage of development.
I had the same kind of day with my 4 year old yesterday. The arena for my test was church. Not only did I fail, but I failed BIG in front of over a hundred people. I went home and cried and then felt stupid about crying. Not a helpful comment, I know…but just know you’re not alone.
J in eire says:
I remember watching a programme on TV years ago where a couple had adopted a daughter, what absolutely stuck with me was the mums pure joy when her daughter started behaving like any normal kid instead of a guest in their house, slamming a door and saying I hate you after a row… It showed how secure she was with her new family. It showed a perspective that I had never even considered, my eldest was a toddler at the time. It helped to change the way I thought about her behaviour towards me. For me 2 and a half years to 3 and a half were the most challenging… 4 was a dream !!! Keep going Annie deserves to be the best person she can be, it’s not easy but it is worth all the effort.
Just want to offer support, as I’m going through very similar things with my son, who is just a few months older than Annie. It is trying to say the least and can be really disheartening.
Love to you Heather.
Just a note to let you know that my 13 year old still does it, albeit in different ways. I’m the one she tests, while it seems everything is fun times with Dad. It still bothers me, although not as much as it used to. I keep telling myself and others have told me that girls test their mom’s because they already know that we love them unconditionally. Keep up the good work…you’re obviously doing something right.
I too am going through this now. It’s because she loves and trusts you more than anyone in the world! You’ve taught her since the
moment she was born that she can count on you and you’ll always be there when she needs you. So, when she’s experimenting and testing her boundaries she’s doing it with you because she knows you will love her and be there no matter what. Sometimes I find when something is bothering me or I’ve had a bad day, I take it out on the people closest to me, like my husband. I don’t even know I’m doing it sometimes. He’s safe and for some reason he’s going to put up with me at that moment:). Same with mommies and babies, only much much more so!
I agree with Caroline. I don’t have children, but I view it as she’s testing you the most as she knows you have unconditional love for her. You as the mother will always be there for her and always have been… so she’s wondering what can she get away with? How far can I push her because I know she’ll love me no matter what…
You have to remember to stay strong and be the great mother you already are! Let her know by loving her during these tough moments and providing a ‘stable’ environment with guidelines and boundaries is what she can always expect from you. Testing you will get her no where but time out — from a mother who STILL loves her!
Tracey c. says:
As a mom and someone with an early childhood ed degree I agree that it is FRUSTRATING…but it is normal. Children are checking to make sure that they know who is in charge. She WANTS you to be in charge, she just has to test to make sure. I have had many parent teacher conferences with parents who can’t believe their children are such angels at school because they are so test-y at home. And my own son is one of them. He spend his third year of life constantly testing. Good lord did it wear me out. Four is better. Stand your ground, and take lots of time to do things for yourself. Good luck! She is an adorable dictator ;).
I agree with what you are doing – warning then consequence. I find that whole, “Show no reaction” thing to be nonsense. How else are kids supposed to learn the difference between right and wrong when there is no reaction?
Kate @ UpsideBackwards says:
Hugs! It’s sooo hard. But you’re the most important person in her world, that’s why she tests you. Be as consistent as you can be, take deep breaths, and always have a secret stash of chocolate
Lots of love!
As cute and funny as a two year old can be, they can also be such jerks. It’s a fact of all two year olds from the beginning of time. You are not failing. Your feelings are totally normal, and you’re experiencing a funky part of parenting, the part that happens to a lot of us….the I LOVE you more than life itself, but I may not like you a lot right this moment. I have 7 and 11 year old girls, and I’ve finally quit beating myself up over feelings like that.
Tracey Schmidt says:
It is because she feels safest with you. Totally normal. I remember feeling this same way….now that child is almost 10. It will not last. It is hard to think of it this way because it is NO fun now, but think of it as a compliment that she feels so safe and secure with you that she can explore her boundaries.
Well, she looks adorable in the picture regardless. My kids push and argue with me…but not their dad. He says it, they hop right to it. It really bothers me too. I love them more than anything though, and figure it’s because I’m the softy.
I’d guess that she’s testing you because she’s most secure in her relationship with you. You’re safe to test because she knows you’re still going to love her in the end. I’m not sure knowing that makes it any easier in the moment, but maybe helps when you’re up at night feeling bad about it. Three of my four children have done this and I’m sure the smallest one will too as soon as he’s old enough to make me crazy. Good luck. You’re an awesome mom!
Tricia (irishsamom) says:
You are not alone. By any stretch. I can so relate to your emotions and frustration in this post. It’s one of the most difficult things about parenting for me. My M is now 14 and she has always tested the limits, from about 15 months until this day. She is loved and adored by her friends and teachers and MY friends – who can’t understand when I am in tears at times at the way she pushes my buttons. But, I’m also the one that she’s learned all the hard lessons from – learned self-control, learned compassion, learned to be strong and individual. The way she copes in the world at this vulnerable age, the girl she is becoming is what keeps me doing it over again and again. Parenting the hard way, always pays off in the end. It would be so easy to give up and give in and not teach those lessons – but you don’t – and you are giving her life skills every day. Don’t ever feel that you’re not the best parent for her because you are. She is loved and adored, but she is also learning boundaries from you. They will last the rest of her life. Keep going mama. We ALL have those days (many of them), but somehow seeing them achieve the thing you are trying to teach them, catching them being compassionate and making good choices on their own – these make those moments and days worth every minute of the struggles.
She is amazing. You are amazing. And she will amaze you over the years, at how much she has really absorbed from these challenging days.
Hang in there – you have so many of us in your corner!
Tricia : )
I laughed while reading this only because I can totally emphasize with you as my daughter is just about 3. Although it doesn’t make it easier, like everyone said, it’s totally normal.
My only bit to add is don’t underestimate the power of apologizing, even at this age. If you felt the need, do it and Annie will understand at whatever level she can. You’ll be laying the groundwork for future instances and making it so she believes that apologizing is natural, as it is something she’s experienced from the start. And yes, I practice this myself, sometimes daily.
Ashley Tinius says:
Oh, Heather, Heather, Heather….my heart skipped a beat when I read this post. I could have written it about my oldest daughter. Since around the age of 2, she’s been the same way towards me. She constantly tests me, doing things I’ve told her and told her not to do. She does mean things. She says hurtful things. I’ve cried and cried, and berated myself night after night for things I’ve done “wrong” during the day, reacting badly to her ugliness. I wonder what in the world I have done wrong as a mother that she would be this way towards me. My mother and I are best friends, and as a child, I never in a million years would have thought of treating her the way my daughter treats me. I always dreamed of having a daughter that would grow up to be MY best friend….but now I just don’t know. She’s 6 now, and I’d like to say that things are better, but they’re not. I have 2 more girls, and they are as sweet as they can be, loving and kind, so at least I know that I’m not a completely horrible mother, or they would have turned out like my oldest. At least that’s what I tell myself, but I still feel like a failure, because I just can’t reach her. And I have so much resentment. I try my hardest not to let it show. The last thing I want is for her to grow up and remember being treated differently than the other 2, or to have somehow felt different, but it’s so hard. It’s so peaceful after she gets on the school bus in the morning, but when she comes home….sheesh….all peace is shattered and I become an unglued, yelling mess. I HATE it. She turns me into a person I don’t like. The only thing I know to do is to tell her I love her all the time and give her lots of hugs and kisses, even if I don’t particularly feel loving towards her. I want her to know that I do love her even though she tests me constantly. I am so sad every single day that our relationship is this way. I never, ever thought motherhood would be like this.
Anyway….I’m sure nothing I’ve said has helped at all. But maybe it’s made you feel less alone. Your post has made ME feel less alone, and for that, I thank you.
Ashley, has your eldest ever been assessed for any learning difficulties? I only ask as I have 2 children who couldnt be anymore different. The eldest is often referred to as the demon by all who know of him (though never to his face) and the youngest is literally an angel. The eldest has complex learning difficulties. The eldest reduces me to (private) tears everyday for his attitude towards me but I know its not him and more importantly not me! Thats the big one, its not me.
If you have 2 other children who are so different its most likely not to be you. So go and get help.
Charlene R says:
@ Ashley – I think Karen is right. I have a 10 year old that used to throw tantrums until 3rd grade – it was then that we discovered she has learning difficulties. She now has help in school from the Special Education program and we no longer have tantrums. She was having such a hard time understanding her work in school, that when she came home she was overwhelmed. She would then act out at home. She has been an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) but is still in regular class. Talk to your child’s teacher and see if she is having difficulty in class.
My 8 yr old daughter tests me by saying mean and hurtful things to me. She doesn’t do it to my husband. She knows it pushes my buttons and that he just lets her words not bother him. I cannot imagine having been this disrespectful to my parents at 6, 7, 8 yrs old, but she is. She does not have learning disabilities and is really a model child everywhere but with me. Even my mom couldn’t “get” what I was telling her until I was on the phone with her one day when my daughter took up an attitude with me.
When these stubborn, hateful outbursts start, I have come to realize that she almost doesn’t know how to deal with her feelings. It is like she is on a hampster wheel and doesn’t know how to get off. I have found that punishing her when she is mad like this just perpetuates the cycle. It is better to try to get her to be distracted away from her mad mood and then talk with her about the issues afterwards. Sometimes having her go to her room and turn on the radio is enough to get her off the “hampster wheel”. Other times, I insist that she go outside and swing on the swingset. Something to break the mood.
I have made a “mad book” for her – a bunch of copies of a form I wrote up: “Who was I mad at? What started the problem? What did I do with my voice and/or hands when I started getting mad? What could I have done differently? How were other people affected by my madness? etc.” She used to write just one word answers for everything, but now she is using this as a way to self-reflect on what happened.
We listen to audio books in the car alot. We recently finished “The Secret Garden.” During the days and weeks of listening to it, she and I discussed how she is sort of like “Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary” in some of her reactions. And, towards the end of the story, it is pointed out the Mary and Colin’s bad thoughts got pushed out of their heads by good thoughts and thus they were happier children. We have continued to talk about how she needs to push the negative thoughts out of her mind and think about something else when she starts to feel so mad. I also am hoping that she will be able to recognize the onset of a outburst and come up with a secret word or gesture that she can give me so that I can help her prevent a full-on problem. Maybe she needs to get away from her brother or from me for a few minutes and then come back, etc.
We are also trying something new this week. I read in a magazine how a mom made up “coupons” for family members to use while on a stressful international trip. The coupons could be redeemed for 10 minutes of a “hissy fit”. But to make the conscious decision to have a fit (and use a coupon) ended up negating the impending loss of self control. So, this week I made some coupons for us. And twice so far, when it looked like she was going to get very mean to me or start yelling at her brother, I asked her nicely “do you want to use a coupon?” That stopped her for a moment and she decided No both times. She is trying to keep all three of her coupons for the whole week.
You know, I think she’s old enough to be told “I love you, but I don’t like the way you’re treating me right now”. Then ease up a bit on trying to connect with her no matter what, and give her some space. Make her want that connection for herself.
I was that kid, and while every child is different, I know that my mom’s attempts to connect with me made me resent her even more. 30+ years later and 2+ years of therapy, and I’m not sure I can explain exactly why, either. If she’s like I was, she knows you’re trying hard to hug her and kiss her despite wanting to anything but, and it makes her feel even worse.
I didn’t want my mom to be friends with me, and though I realized even back then that it hurt her that I felt that way, I couldn’t help feeling the way I felt. I needed space from her. In general I really have a high need for personal space (which my mom says she should have known in hindsight, since I was only truly happy when I could have my parents’ giant queen bed to myself on sick days :P).
For what it’s worth, not only do I love my mom a whole lot, but our relationship has gotten a lot better over the years. It did take for her to stop trying to forge the relationship she’d always imagined she would have with a daughter, and accepting the one we had. Then I grew up, and I came to appreciate how she did that for me.
Totally been there and sometimes even though my daughter is 14 it still happens. While you never want anyone to feel this way, it’s comforting to know you’re not alone. Tomorrow is a new day.
It’s not you…it’s your princess just being a kid. I have a four year old son who has been like that to me and only me. It makes me nuts, because he is so good with everyone else. Just remember she loves you and trusts that you love her just as much. Teen years…yikes! We can hang on together.
Children test boundaries with the people they know they are the safest with. She knows you will always love her.
Given everything you have been through it must be hard to be cross at your child, a case of always wanting to part for even the smallest amount of time on the best of terms.
But from what I’ve read you had much more patience than me or most of my friends. There occasions my toddler almost flew into her bedroom on time out. She still loves me dearly and I her.
We test the ones we love because we know it’s safe and that they will always love us back.
Hang in there!
Exactly! My girl has been suck for a few days, and laying on the couch with her head in my lap and a bowl close by. This afternoon she asked sweetly for a cuddle, and as I leaned over she whacked me hard on the face. And then laughed. Sick or not – she has to learn not to hurt others, and I felt like the worse mum ever telling her off and having her cry. And then the little madam did it again!
She only does this kind of stuff to me, and all I can do us be consistent in my refusal to allow bad behavior, and to remember that she is only pushing my buttons to find her limits. In a way it’s a compliment that she trusts me enough to push her luck.
Delurking to say you have done nothing wrong. It isn’t you, it’s her—and that’s okay.
She is testing you because she feels safe with you. She knows there is nothing she can do to diminish your love for her. It’s a huge part of toddlerhood, and childhood. I have 8 kids and they can be amazing people and they can be total knuckleheads. Sometimes within the same minute.
She will learn. I promise. Your tenderness and patience, along with firm boundaries regarding what is acceptable and what isn’t will see her through.
Oh, wow, seriously, do our girls have some sort of secret communication system that helps them plot against their mummies? My toddler has been challenging ME more in the last two weeks than ever before. I tried to explain in by her having been sick again and her being exposed to a lot of boy talk/behaviour in her nursery…Or could it be just a phase?
She does it to you because you are safe–she knows you will always love her. It’s because you are a great parent that she tries it with you. (I’m sure someone else already said this, but I don’t have time to read all the comments.)
This probably won’t be helpful, but I honestly think it’s because she trusts that you will love her and be there for her no matter what she does. I ALWAYS pushed my mother, way more than anyone else, right up through my teen years. I wouldn’t have dared to push anyone else’s buttons like I pushed hers. I feel bad now, of course, but she was my MOM. I knew no matter what she would love me and have my back.
I want to echo what that others have said. She tests you because she knows you will love her no matter what. She is secure and comfortable with you, enough to test out these new impulses and behaviors. But ugh, I’ve totally been there. No fun. I hope tomorrow is a better day!
I haven’t read the comments, so I’m sure everyone has already said this, but: my gut is that she is testing you more because she probably trusts you the most. I’ts like when we have a horrible day at work, but keep our shit together. Then, as soon as we get home, we yell at our spouse for seemingly no reason. It’s because it’s “safe.” We know we can yell at our loved onces and they will still love us…whereas, our boss might not be quite as understanding. She trusts you. She feels safe with you. So she tests you – knowing that you’ll always be there for her.
I dealt with many of the same issues with my son, then I read that the reason he was acting up with me after a long (happy) day at day care was that he felt safe and secure enough to stop holding himself together after a long day.
This is probably similar, she needs to test boundaries and limits, and you are the person she feels most comfortable doing this to and around, because she knows you will not let her go too far.
It’s really a compliment to you.
I didn’t read the other comments, so someone else has probably already said this, but she does this to you because she feels safe and comfortable with you. She knows in her heart that you will always love her so she knows that she cang get away with it! You should feel honored that she chooses you to do this with…she can feel your unconditional love!
I asked a pediatrician that I work with the same question. Why am I the one that is stuck with the crazy, defiant behavior when my kids behave for my husband? He said that they simply test the ones that they spend more time with. They know we will unconditionally love them even when they are acting like turds. Doesn’t make it any more fun but at least I know it’s normal.
I’m sure everybody else has already said this but you are her “safe” person, the person she can practice testing boundaries with and still know she is every bit as loved at the end of the day. It’s a dubious honor.
I’ve been here. You’re doing everything right. Kids need rules and discipline and the reason she is so sweet with everyone and why people want to be around her is because of all the hard work you’re doing. This is the age where she’s doing so many things independently, she’s just testing how much freedom she has.
However, I have, even with this knowledge, still sat outside my daughter’s bedroom door crying because my feelings were hurt, it sucks and I totally get it.
I find that it’s usually not too ling before one of my kids does something sweet and unsolicited, and then I say, “Oh, that’s how I get through this.”
If you are failing then we all are failing. That was my day yesterday and it took all my strength to not completely lose it on my daughter. Kids don’t learn about boundaries unless they test them and, unfortunately, for us adults we take it personally.
My three boys respond much quicker to my husband than to me…not that you asked and I haven’t read the other comments so this may have been mentioned but…maybe you should respond to the “first offense” and not let it go until your fed up? Like if she pulls your hair, the first time, time out. Just an thought. It’s hard for sure!
So, I’m not a parent and it’s entirely possible that I have no idea what I’m talking about, but: I think she tests you because you’re the one who erects the boundaries. And they are boundaries she needs. It means you’re doing right, but right now that sucks. Hang in there.
She tests you because she knows that you love her unconditionally and there is NOTHING she can ever do to change that. Its a sign of her security, and absolutely nothing you’ve done wrong, rather, it is indicative of everything you are doing right!
Sort of unrelated to the other comments (as I’m sure everyone is correct and she’s testing you as you are her “safe” person), but she might be difficult at bedtime bc she considers the crib as her place of punishment since (it looks like from the photo) that is where she goes for time out. Have you considered having time out in a chair somewhere or sitting on the bottom step? Her bedroom should be a haven for sleep. It can be confusing if she associates it as someplace she’s banished too when she’s done something wrong.
Oh, her time out spot is a corner. In this picture, she’s mad because I’m meanly suggesting she lay down for her nap. But this is the look I get alllll day.
If someone put me down for a nap, I’d give them a megawatt smile and exclaim with joy Hang in their, Mama – you’re doin a great job!
I hardly ever comment, but I had to on this one. You are reading this all wrong–the fact that she tests you and no one else means you are the one she trusts the most–it means you have been completely successful as a mother! When my babies were little and doing this, my pediatrician told me he worries much more about the children who behave for their parents but no one else. Children have to test the boundaries to learn–and she knows she is always safe with you even if she is testing the boundaries. Keep doing what you are doing–you are on the right path!
My daughter is a little but older, but does the same thing and it’s very annoying. We gave her a little nickname to get through it all. Her name is Allison but we call her Ally-Qaeda. Believe it or not, it gets us through the day!
Heather P says:
My 3 year old son is the same way. He saves it for me because I am the stay at home parent with him. They are all like that.
Colleen from MN says:
It’s called being a mom and also the heavy. Sometimes the job sucks, but you have to do it. Mostly, it’s bliss, but sometimes it’s cr@p. You are doing the right thing and life will be much better soon once she knows the rules. Make no mistake, the groundwork you are laying today will pay BIG dividends in the future. I foresee happy sailing in a few years. Good luck Mama!
Wait until she’s 15 and she tells you she wants to live anywhere but home because her home life sucks. :o( She’s testing her waters and seeing how far she can push you. Be strong and hopefully you’ll never be in the situation I’m in right now. (not to make this about me but being a parent is hard and you’re not alone)
I don’t think you are doing anything wrong. Thats mostly because my two year old also does this, and I think I am perfect! hahaha, jk. No, I think its just like you said, testing boundaries. The less of a big deal you make it, the less she will, but I agree, kids needs to know that hurting someone on purpose is not okay, which is why we send our girl to her room when she laughs after we say it hurts.
Our toddlers are mini evil geniuses. That’s the total explanation. They’ve discovered that it’s going to take more than being cute to get whatever they want from us (unlike everyone else) and so they’ve obviously been taking night courses in how to make us miserable. It’s the only explanation I’ve got.
(You’re not only NOT failing, you’re doing a damn fine job. Trust me.)
i read a blog entry recently that brought me some comfort (and explained my own ridiculous behavior with my mother sometimes:
“Why? Why does my Perfect Mom get the worst of me when she deserves the best? Why does she have to deal with my impatience and sarcasm and early morning moodiness, while everyone else gets the more likable person I make a concerted effort to be? Like I said, I’ve been asking myself this a lot lately. And I think I’ve come up with the answer. Or part of it, anyway.
I never tried to earn her love, because I always knew I had it. No matter what.” http://embracingthedetour.com/mom/
Kids test the people they feel safest with…just like you can have a full break down with Mike because you know he’ll always be there, she can totally fall apart with you…she knows you will stay. And, being the one always there, she does need to know JUST how far she can push you! Good job holding tough, you are far more kind than I was with hair pulling. Hang in there, this too shall pass.
You are doing an awesome job!
I think it is easy to feel like you have to be doing something wrong, why else would my kid act this way! I know I feel that way on a daily basis. My 4 year can press my buttons like nobody’s business. She tests me most of all. I think kids just naturally test their parents the most because they know they can and because they know their parents will love them regardless.
Mommy Boots says:
My Nellie does the same thing. She pushes my buttons – tests her boundaries with me, but is sweet with everyone else.
My theory is this: We are their mothers. The know us inside and out – literally. We are the ones they feel most comfortable with; the ones they know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, will love them forever without any stipulation or hesitation. So they feel comfortable pushing, challenging, butting heads because they know we are safe. We will never stop loving them – ever. It’s woven into their DNA to trust us above all others.
That’s what I keep telling myself, at least, when mine gives me hell and makes me want to scream while being sugar-sweet to everyone else.
Isn’t it amazing how they knwo to pull the whole “I love you Mama?” And now my 4 year old son blows kisses when he knows he’s been naughty. He can be playing just fine and then i walk in the room and a switch inside him goes off. And then it all turns to whines and tantrums. My Mike walks in the room and it’s a whole different story. I am even the tougher parent and don’t give in, but really he just wears me down. I’d love to say it gets better with as people have assured me. It hasn’t so far. I guess we have to cherish those sweet well behaved moments over the ones that make us mad.
Good luck to a better day!
You haven’t done ANYTHING wrong. Psychologically and developmentally, Annie can’t know she has any boundaries until she tests them. Boundaries of behavior make children feel secure–other people will teach them how to act, and they don’t always have to know in advance. So she has to test them like this. The best thing you can do is be consistent, and let go of the guilt. Also, when you give her limits like time-out, I think it’s also good to verbalize your feelings. “Pulling my hair hurts me, I’m sad and angry.” Then you’re modeling how to handle anger and sad feelings. Also shows her that your feelings matter too, not just her feelings of needing to act out.
Um sweetie, she’s testing you because *that’s what kids do*.
How do you think they learn how to behave? How do you think they learn right from wrong? Or boundaries?
They learn by doing it, and finding out how far they can go.
YOUR job is to make sure she’s clear on what’s fun and what isn’t. What’s acceptable behavior and what’s not. Being a parent isn’t all fun and games, sunshine and glory. And as she gets older, it gets harder. This is the easy part. You haven’t even begun to tap into the hard stuff yet! But by the time she’s 13 and making you want to lock her away permanently, your skin will have gotten thicker….and you’ll realize this isn’t about you at all. It’s alllllllll about Annie!
amy d says:
The best advice I can offer is to just hang in there. HANG.IN.THERE.
I think you hit the nail on the head when you said ‘psychopaths’ It can be exasperating and frustrating, but believe me when I tell you that little girl will be so sweet and loving one day.
My son Jackson was beyond difficult from the time he was a baby up until he was almost 3. I would often just cry out of sheer frustration, and my husband would lovingly reassure me that he was going to be the biggest sweetheart one day. Some days I’d snap back at these remarks, but mostly I’d just shake my head in disbelief.
We continued to be consistent with him. Time outs were plentiful. And I can say with all of my heart that this child, my Jack, now at almost 4 is the BIGGEST sweetheart. He’s kind, and loving, and empathetic…he’s awesome.
And Annie will be too. HANG IN THERE Heather.
SO, I know it doesn’t help, but it will get better. I have had the same problem with my oldest daughter for the last 17.9 years, I am the one she unleashes her emotional outbursts on, but the truth of the matter is that a kid will often unload their emotional baggage on the person that they trust the most. She knows you aren’t going to beat or permanently leave her, so you are her safe-spot…It totally sucks, but I guess it’s an honor (of sorts…)
You are not alone. I’ll ask my 20 month old for a kiss and she will go give one to everyone (including the dog!) BUT ME – she loves to torment her mama….
Amy Collen says:
What was it about this weekend? My 5 year old and 3 year old were really testing my limits!!! Last night ended up with my 3 year old pounding and screaming at my bedroom door because I wouldn’t let him have storytime that night (but his brother got to). This was after giving him two chances to redeem himself and warning him if he didn’t. Pretty brutal but it is the one thing he really cares about and he needed to learn the consequences of his actions. So when I was done I came outside and calmly explained what just happened and asked him if he knew why he didn’t get storytime (he knew the answer). I then explained to him a little about consequences. Kids are going to test you. It is completely appropriate to do so. They trust and feel safe with you so it is the perfect ground for establishing good boundaries and consequences for their actions. The reason why they are so great for everyone else is because of the job that YOU do!!! If you didn’t do your job your Annie would be a brat to everyone, all the time (ever see My Super Sweet 16 on MTV? There are some big time brats on that show who get everything and treat everyone horribly. Are they ever really happy? I don’t think so). Anyway, keep up the great work Heather! Don’t feel guilty!
Meh, it’s what they all do as toddlers. Us learning how to deal with this and not take it personally is probably good practice for when they are teenagers.
They test boundaries, they push buttons. Sometimes one parent gets the brunt of this sometimes both. Sometimes it changes. I know it can be really frustrating but it’s useful not to take it personally. Also, hard as it is consistency really pays off and although you might not see the results at Two or at Three, most people see them at Four.
I actually found Three to be the hardest, attitude wise, because my son was just as defiant as at Two, except that when he incurred parental punishment for those actions he would folow it up with screaming “I hate you! I hate you! I’m never going to love you or be your friend again!” and used to try leveraging by trying to play one parent off against the other “I only want Daddy, or I only want Mommy” etc.
We had to keep telling him firmly that he is not the boss of us and that he could take what was offered or nothing at all. Always reinforcing that we loved him but that if he was going to behave in naughty or hurtful ways we would not necessarily want to spend time with him unless there was an apology or other reconciliatory behaviour.
He’s a stubborn and clever child, so as a Three year old he chose to march away from the dinner table rather than bend to our terrifying demand that he sit nicely and use a fork while eating, but then got it out of his system and began to behave nicely. I have to say that his going to Nursery really helped – the staff were absolutely wonderful at helping to manage his behaviour and his seeing that all the other children were being asked to do the same things helped reassure him that he wasn’t being singled out for unreasonable torment by his parents.
If my child doesn’t play nicely with me, then I stop playing with them and explain that I will resume play when I’ve heard an apology or seen them try to repair what they did. (I mean I don’t do this with my 20 month old daughter because she doesn’t understand, but I would still stop play look at her in a sad way and shake my head and then she will pat my face to show she’s being gentle until the next time she grabs me with her demon claws and cackles.)
A toddler may not look like it is not paying much attention, but inside it is just gathering data for its study of human behaviour and how much who can be pushed and what it means. Children that age may hate boundaries, but without them they don’t feel safe. They may not act cooperative until a few years on, but just keep up the good work.
It does suck! I agree w/ what most comments said but yeah, it hurts when they do those sorts of things. And actually, I think they need to learn to accept anger as an appropriate response. When you speak hatefully and shortly with someone, it hurts their feelings and they respond differently depending on who they are. There are sometimes where I say, “Everly you just made me mad. I’m not happy, I’m mad,” because I want her to know it’s totally okay/normal to feel that way.
No, they can’t feel empathy, but they can make associations. They can associate behavior with responses and responding by tone of voice (as long as you’re not screaming I mean) is totally appropriate in my opinion, though of course we all feel like crap after we do it because we’re moms and that’s who we are, haha.
I don’t have much more to add that the others haven’t already said, but you’re obviously not alone.
What infuriates me, besides the limit testing, is when dad comes in and “saves the day.” That’s what breaks me.
Amy Stone says:
I didn’t read through all of the comments so it may have already been said, but you are doing nothing wrong and everything right. It seems like kids always do this to mom and I happen to think its because they know the love you have for them is purely unconditional and that you are the most nurturing…and that they can be testy like that 24/7 and you will love them NO less at the end of the day. I honestly don’t know WHY they don’t do this with dad, it has baffled me for 16 years (since my oldest), because daddy loves them just as unconditionally!!! And my husband is not the hard-handed-wait-until-your-father-gets-home type at ALL! I always say….that if my kids get annoyed with me for disciplining them, then I am doing my job!
It seemed with my son and daughter, everyone else (including daddy) was an “unknown quantity,” meaning the kids weren’t sure what they could get away with, so they behaved with them. For me, they were always testing the boundaries because they were around me more and needed to find out where those boundaries were. Good luck!
*sigh* Thank you for making ME feel like I am not alone in this. My 3 (almost 4) year old daughter does this to me ALLLL the time. I will pick her up from “school” and My provider will tell me she had an awesome day and then I will go to grab her hand and she will turn into a demon child. It’s like my voice or my touch flips a switch in her. And she will act that way up until bedtime. And the Weekends are not much better. There are times when she is this amazing, funny, sweet and loving child and then there are times when I have to remind myself not to punch her.
I too have the same problem. My daughter is just a month younger then Annie. When I’m gone for a while she’ll be a perfect angel for her daddy. However, when I walk in the door she starts throwing fits, whining, crying. My husband’s famous words are “she never acted that way the whole time you were gone” *ouch* However when it comes down to it she wants me to do everything for her i.e. baths, putting her to bed, getting her dressed, helping her on the potty. I have had people time and again tell me that all kids do that to their mothers. They play us, b/c they can and they know how.
Hang in there!!!!
You did nothing wrong, Annie is testing her boundaries and will continue to do so for many, many years. Time outs are good for both us and the child. Sometimes we just have to walk away from their behavior. I once walked out of the house to the back steps and put myself on a time out so I didn’t say anything I could not take back! (Mine were older than Annie at the time).
My only suggestion is that you find a different place than her crib for “time out” Go to the dollar store and get a small plastic chair and have that be the time out chair and you can place it anywhere you need to or use a step or something that she would not normally sit on for a “time out” space. Time Outs at her age are going to be a challenge – but trust me she will learn and she will get it.
Oh yeah, she has a time-out corner. This is just a picture of “the look” I get on a daily basis.
Hi, I’ve only commented on here once or twice, but I’ve read your site faithfully since before Annie was born. I am no parenting expert, but I have seen with each one of my four kiddos that they test boundaries most with me. It is so hard and so draining. It took me years to see that most kids act the worst for their mama. You are a good mom!!
So. Totally. Normal.
I have 5 kids and they all gave been harder on me in the toddler stage than anyone else.
It does not make it any easier to live with though.
You can only be consistent with consequences and be sureanyonewho takes care of her knows the rules and consequence so you aren’t the “bad guy” (only person enforcing the rules).
Gosh, there’s already lots of comments there, so rather than repeat them all, I will share what my therapist told me once about motherhood (because I swear my 18 month old has been testing me for at least a year): “A child always reserves her worst behavior for her mom (and dad, sometimes) precisely because she knows that her mom will always love her unconditionally. After all, that’s who she learned what love is from.”
Annie knows you love her to infinity, but she probably didn’t realize until bedtime and seeing you frustrated that sometimes her mommy wonders if that love is mutual. How sweet of her to try and reassure you that she does love you (because she totally does).
And now excuse me, as I get back to my toddler, her high chair, and the peanut butter smeared in her hair.
YOU have done nothing wrong. She is a toddler and testing her boundries. You are the stay at home mom that is the primary care giver…hence she tests those boundries with you! Just hold on to that moment of “I love you mama” as you tuck her in bed and know she truly does!
Children of any age test those they trust most because they know that they will still be loved.
My 2 year old does the same thing, and pretty much just to me (although sometimes to her big sister – that’s right, she picks on her big sister). I’ll be playing with her, and she just slaps me, digs her claws into me or bites me. Then when I yell no, she usually does it again. The ONLY effective punishment I’ve found is putting her down and saying, “Mommy’s walking away,” and I physically leave her sight. She doesn’t like that. I wish I knew why they aim their boundary pushing at their mommies. I bet it has everything to do with us being the females in the house, not anything against us as their beloved mommies.
Try not to feel bad. Like everything, it’s just a phase.
Your the one she pushes the boundaries with because your the authority figure. She does it because she loves you not because you failed. To fail would be if you didn’t do anything at all when she acted out.
Alexandra :) says:
You’re her mother and she knows that if she pushes boundaries with you you’ll still love her, that’s why! You’re an amazing mother
Sleeping Mom says:
I just had the same weekend. After months of bliss, my toddler decided to remind us that tantrums are yet to be done with. I sometimes get snappy with him but I apologize and make sure he knows I love him. It’s so hard to discipline calmly sometimes! I make mistakes too and he should know that. But yes, sometimes the best remedy is to just wait til bed time and relish in your alone time!
I just wrote this about my daughter last month. She’s 3 in a few months! I literally named the post psychopath.
So you are definitely not alone on this lol!!! It’s just unfortunate that you are her target. I have great hopes my daughter will grow out of this….probably?!
I’m a pre-kindergarten teacher with a degree in early childhood education. At the beginning of the school year, parents are often amazed that their children are terrors at home but angels at school and think that it’s their fault that their children test boundaries and misbehave at home. As others have said, this is not true at all. Children test boundaries with the people who they trust the most and who they know will love them unconditionally no matter what they do. Annie loves you and trusts you and know that no matter what she does, you will still love her. At this late part of the school year, now that children are finally feeling comfortable in the classroom and have come to trust me, many of my former angels are starting to be argumentative and are trying things like shooting at me and telling me they want to flush me down the toilet, yet cry if I leave the room for a meeting. It’s hard but try to keep in mind that Annie is doing this out of love.
Autumn Canter says:
It just means she is comfortable expressing herself with you. My two do the same things.
She loves and trusts you the most because you’re with her the most. She’s testing you because she knows she can.
Not saying it doesn’t SUCK, but at least it’s not evil.
The parent educator at our co-op preschool says that kids test their moms the most because it’s the safest, most comforting relationship they have. Annie is not afraid you are going to abandon her, so she is practicing her independence and testing boundaries. You are not alone in your frustration (I have twin 2-year-olds, they team up on me)… and try, hard as it may seem, to take it as a compliment.
um, yes. you have described the last 6 months with my 3yo.
You, my friend, are doing nothing wrong. She LOVES you. She trusts you enough to be able to try out all her new emotions and ideas.
Sure daddy is fun but mama, she’s where the action is…and the discipline. I am in no way implying that Mike doesn’t discipline your girl but you’re apparently the authority figure.
Like everyone else said, she trusts you, she knows you are her mommy and you will love her forever and she is testing you. She wants to see what happens when she makes certain choices, and you are doing an AMAZING job. She is doing what every two year does, experimenting and testing boundaries and limits. Don’t beat yourself up or think you are doing ANYTHING wrong. I know it is hard sometimes not to feel bad, but you are a wonderful mama. Yours girls are so lucky they got a mommy like you!
I thought 2 was hard until my little guy turned 3. Then he no only tested me but he learned that he could get a reaction from me by saying things that would hurt my feelings. A few months ago he said, “You don’t love me, Mommy, you only love the baby.” Oh. Em. Gee. It was soooo hard not to cry and freak out at the thought of him thinking that, but my mom gently reminded me that he was just trying to see what I would do, so I tried (and failed) not to get upset. I practically smothered him with kisses and went on and on about how much I loved him so very much, and he started laughing at all the kisses, which then made it a game, so now he says things along that line any time he wants attention. Sigh. Way to go, me.
My point is, as mommies we beat ourselves up constantly, and our little ones have the ability to make us feel awful sometimes, either on accident or on purpose, but it only hurts because we love them so. She is so lucky to have you, and vice versa. Hang in there mama, you are doing such a great job!
Also, I am soooo sorry to my parents for the times I said I hated them or that my little sister was their favorite.
Gretchen Gerth says:
She pushes you because she knows she can, and you are not going any where. Those other people she’s not as sure about, you she knows, you’ll love her no matter what.
You’re not doing anything wrong, you’re doing it all right. She trusts you enough to push, and learn, and grow.
You’ve done nothing wrong…please don’t think you have. She’s TWO, it’s a phase…it will pass!
We had a similar terrible bed time. I am so sick of feeling like I spend the entire day being stern with her, or wanting to tie her up in the yard. She can go test the boundaries of a link of chain, staked to the ground!
Leigh Elliott says:
Thank you for always being so honest. I understand this so well and have been tested by my daughter so often in similar ways. I think she feels safe and loved and knows she can express herself- good and bad- with you.
I am a mom of 5 and I honestly believe that children only push that hard when they feel safe with you. It’s tough and some days are insanely difficult but honestly, it’s a huge compliment to you as well. She feels safe to test boundaries with you and she knows you will be consistent to teach her where those boundaries are.
Is it wrong that I’m kind of laughing a little at the hair pulling? My advice is to pull her hair back. Hard. And then yell “SEEEEE! IT HURTS!” That’s what I would do.
laura m says:
I so so feel you on this one. My little dude is almost 2, and pushed me at least every other day, and it’s only me. My husband says something and he jumps, but me, he just keeps going and going and going until I want to pull my own hair out. It shall pass, and I think they take their pokes at us because we are the closest ones to us, and most nurturing. Hugs and much patience
My nephew is 3 and he does this. When he’s told off he then cries hysterically and wants cuddles from his mother. Often with wailing “I want my mommy”
I guess that’s why it’s called the terrible twos?
Young kids push limits more with the people they love most and feel most secure with. It’s incredibly frustrating, but it’s honestly a sign that she loves you very, very much. Obviously, the behaviors themselves aren’t good, but the reasons for it just being with you are actually good. Hang in there.
Well I didn’t read the 100+ previous comment, though I bet many of them echo these thoughts:
-It is totally a toddler thing. My now 7-year-old daughter pushed me to the edge of frustration every day from age 2.5 to 3.5. Thought I would go insane. And I swear the day my son turned 2.5 he started to act like a maniac… he’s four now and mostly outgrown it. So what Annie is doing is frustrating but completely normal!
– She tests you the most because she feels safest with you. She knows you love her no matter what – she’s just making sure.
I hope the truly frustrating days are few and far between, but it is perfectly normal if the crop up more often during these toddler years.
Rachel R. says:
My daughter Piper is 22 months old and I always love reading the things you write about Annie because I can relate (or get a taste for what’s coming). Maybe I have an overachiever on my hands because the whole testing-her-boundaries things? My kids already doing that. Not with her father. No. Never. But with me she’s all “Oh you don’t want me to shake milk out of my sippy cup onto the floor? Now I’m definitely DOING IT.” And you’re right… it is very frustrating and hurtful to see how well she minds until she notices I’m in the room. Also, the whining is amplified times a million, but only to me. I have so far been able to keep my annoyance/frustration under check, but there are times I feel like screaming and pulling out my hair because Piper wants crackers. BUT NOT THOSE CRACKERS. MY GOD, WHY WOULD YOU GIVE HER THE WRONG CRACKERS?!?!
Hang in there. I hear it gets easier when they’re six.
I don’t honestly know that because I just made it up, but I’m hoping.
Actually I’ll be reading your blog for a light at the end of the tunnel so be sure and update us when Annie turns back into the obedient ray of sunshine we all know she is deep down. Way down sometimes, but still. In there somewhere.