What teens and toddlers have in common

As you struggle through some of the challenges of raising a demanding toddler, you might look across at your neighbour with a teen and think they have it easy. Not so.

Experts agree that the toddler stage and the teen stage have a lot in common, and it takes similar skills and the patience of a saint to get safely through both stages. Here’s some behaviour you might recognise.


Toddler version: ‘Noooo, Mommeee! Don’t wanna!’ *Writhes on the floor going red in the face*

Teen version:
‘Why do I have to? You don’t understand anything! *Slams door.*

Sibling rivalry

Toddler version: ‘Mommy, you can take my baby sister back to the hospital, she can’t talk.’ *Tries to carry baby sister to the door by one arm.*

Teen version:
‘Why does she get everything? You never do anything for me, she gets her way all the time. And get her out of my room!’ *Forcibly ejects sister from room. Slams door.*

Fussy eating

Toddler version: ‘Don’t want nasty cereal, want ice-cream!’ *Shoves plate onto floor*

Teen version:
‘Are you trying to poison me? Don’t you know ice-cream is fattening? Haven’t we got some cereal somewhere?’ *Finishes ice-cream, fills bowl with cereal and adds 6 spoons of sugar. Slams kitchen door on exit.*

Toilet training

Toddler version: ‘Wanna make a poo! Wanna make a poo! Watch me, Daddy!’ *Sits on toilet for 20 minutes while Daddy sings ‘Wheels on the bus’, then poos on the floor.*

Teen version: ‘I need the bathroom!’ *Sits on the toilet for 40 minutes listening to iPod. Fails to change empty toilet roll.*

Biting, swearing and hair-pulling

Toddler version: ‘Jackie took my fairy wand so I bit her leg and she told the teacher. She’s a bithcth, hey Mommy?’ *Beams happily as if having done something very clever.*

Teen version: ‘So I said to her, if you don’t change your Facebook status then I am going to make you. I HATE her!’ *Slams door, saying not-so-cute swear word under breath.*

Strategies for teens and toddlers

These two things work for both these age groups, who share a short attention span and a love of shiny things, but are not worth it in the long run:
  • Bribery. Offer to swap a handful of sweets for the precious family heirloom before it gets smashed. Now he knows: ‘If I want treats, I should pick up the breakables!’ Teen version: Offer to swap a crisp R20 for her sister’s favourite scarf. You’ll soon be broke, but peace will reign, temporarily.
  • Capitulation. The last resort of the exhausted parent, a place most parents end up sometimes: ‘Take it, take it all, yes, go wherever, break whatever, my handbag is your oyster, just let me watch the Super 14 final in peace.’
These are actions you might want to try:
  • Distraction. Offer your toddler your precious charm bracelet or the car keys to play with, and she’ll soon be preoccupied with finding toilets to flush them down. Teen version: Offer your teen the car keys and well... maybe not. Rather show him a new picture of his favourite sports star or teen idol on a website so he stops strangling his sister for a second.
  • Patience, understanding and firm boundaries. Easier said than done, but the only way to get through these tricky stages.
Which is trickier, a tantruming toddler or a temperamental teen?
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