As unpleasant as testing behaviour is, it’s a crucial part of early development. Just as we view “walking” and “talking” as milestones for motor and language development, “limit testing” is a milestone for emotional and cognitive development.
Viewing limit testing as “healthy” rather than “manipulative”, changes our perspective on the behavior. And a simple change in perspective is often enough to change our response to our toddlers, and improve their responses, as well.
So, why do toddlers test the limits so often?
It’s because toddlers are the ultimate scientists. They’re increasingly aware of how the world works, the “rules” of life, and where they fit in. We can almost see their experiments in action, as they navigate their world.
“What happens if I jump in this big puddle?”
“Does something happen, if I rip the pages out of this book?”
“Would it be interesting if I step onto the black part of the road where all the cars are?”
Toddlers are curious about cause-and-effect, whether it’s the objects in their environment, jumping in puddles makes splashing sounds and lots of water everywhere, or the people around them, jumping in puddles makes the cat run away. And because toddlers are so intensely curious about their world, their experimentation is endless.
As parents and caregivers, it’s our job to establish limits for the unsafe or inappropriate experiments.
And toddlers like to test those limits, just to be sure they’re real. It’s a bit like when we see a “wet paint” sign, and we feel the urge to touch the paint, just to make sure. The big difference between us and toddlers, of course, is that we have mature impulse-control and rational-thinking
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