Here's How To Tell If Your Toddler Actually *Needs* You Or Is Just Testing Limits

If you have ever put a toddler to bed and answered just one more question, responded to just one more call for a sip of water, given in to just one more book, then you are a bona fide pro at dealing with kiddos who like to see how far they can stretch their boundaries. There is, after all, a reason why the book Go The F*ck To Sleep was written. But what are some signs your toddler is testing you and you need to stand your ground? Because knowing when and when not to give in can be a tough line to walk.

We've all been there, of course. When I posted the query on my social mediums, Joan commented: "First sign: is he awake? He's testing you!" Because, right? Even the royal family knows what it's like to deal with temperamental toddlers. According to Town & Country, the photographer had to bribe the kids with candy in order to get them to smile for post-wedding photos.

But sometimes you have to draw a line in the sand. After all, if you give in too many times or chalk everything up to them being tired, then you might all of a sudden have a toddler on your hands who thinks they run the show.

And because that's not an option, I've put together the inside scoop on what's happening inside that tiny mind and how best to navigate it. Because moms, we stick together.


Despite Your Warning, They Do "It" Again

You know the moment: Your toddler throws a toy. You advise them to not do it again. They look you straight in the eye ... and do it again. "Children at this age are exploring on their own, learning independence, and asserting autonomy," Maria Lianos-Carbone, the author of Oh Baby! A Mom’s Self-Care Survival Guide for the First Year and publisher of, tells Romper in an email interview. "Give your toddler choices, and opportunities to try things on their own, for example to dress themselves, or the chance to pick either the blue or green ball." That way, they feel in charge and might not see a need to flex their independence in other ways.


They Do One Thing, But Seem To Need Another

Kate Orson, Hand In Hand Parenting Instructor and author of Tears Heal: How to listen to our children, tells Romper in an email interview that often toddlers who are testing their limits are trying to "tell" you about their feelings via their behavior. When this happens, Orson suggests setting limits in a warm way that actually builds connection. For example, if your child is throwing toys and giggling about it, then that's them trying to release feelings. Try redirecting them to soft toys. "You can turn it into a game where you pretend to try and stop them, and they can laugh a lot and soak up the connection they need," she says. "That way they don't need to try and push more boundaries to get connection."


They Are Stubborn As H*ll

If your kid is holding firm and not looking like they are going to back down, then they might be seeing how far they can push you, according to Psychology Today. "What makes these kids successful in the long run is their tenacity," the magazine noted. "So rather than hate it, embrace it." Try finding a game that challenges their strong will and you'll see their bullheaded-ness channeled into determination to complete a task.


They Won't Move On

If your little one is ultra-engaged in what they are doing and won't budge when it's [insert thing you need them to do here] time, then you might have to do some fancy footwork, according to Parenting. The magazine suggested helping them to transition by saying something like, "We're going inside in three minutes, so finish putting the sand in the dump truck." When the time is up, encourage your child to "say bye" to the thing they are playing with, the magazine noted.


They Push & Push & Push

If your child is seeking attention negatively, then they might be toeing the thin line that separates your patience from losing your cool. Claudia Luiz, a psychoanalyst and author of The Making of a Psychoanalyst, tells Romper there is a very specific way to handle this type of acting out — and a lot of patience is required. "Here, you want to explicitly tell the child 'I get mad after the third time you ask me for something (e.g. to stay at the park, not go to bed, keep begging for candy). I don’t want to get mad at you, so you can only ask me three times.'" If the child says it a second time, the Luiz says you'll want to say, "I’m already feeling frustrated, and I don’t want to, so you can only do this one more time." If the child then continues to frustrate you, then Luiz says you should say, “Is this where I’m supposed to get mad at you? I don’t want to get mad at you."

The idea here is to deal with the test itself, rather than the demand or the problem, she says. "You are trying to put a stop to the overarching problem, which is that the child is seeking negative attention, and you refuse to give them that kind of attention," she says. "So, basically, you are calling them out on what is happening."


They Resist The Stroller

... or grocery cart, high chair, car seat, or any device that keeps them from their freedom. According to Parenting, when your child pushes back because they would rather be roaming the aisles of the grocery store, you'll want to meet them in the middle by lowering your expectations. Don't try to tackle a long list of errands and expect them to sit quietly throughout, and don't venture out when a nap or bedtime is upon you. Bring snacks and toys, and watch for signs that your little one has had enough, the magazine said.


They Won't Put Their Darn Clothes On

Chances are you've fought the battle of explaining to your child why a nightgown isn't clothes and, if you're like me, then you may have even given in a few times and said, "to hell with it" and let your kid traipse outside in their pajamas. But, more often than not, you'll need to convince them to get into their clothes, so you might want to try the tactic of offering up two outfits from which they can choose, according to Parents. That way, they feel like they have some control over the situation.