8 Things Toddlers and Teens Have in Common


Photo by Corbis/Offsett

The other night, I told my daughter it was time to turn off the TV and to start getting ready for bed. She immediately shouted “No!” and then burst into tears, ran to her bedroom, and slammed the door. Take a guess — is my daughter a teen or a toddler?

She’s two-and-a-half, but her behavior could easily be that of a teenager.

Adolescents and toddlers may seem like they’re world’s apart, but from powerful mood swings to a fierce desire for independence, they have more in common than you might think. “The major similarity is that toddlers and teenagers are still developing in terms of their brains,” Daniel L. Davis, Ph.D., a forensic psychologist who specializes in adolescents and author of Your Angry Child: A Guide for Parents, tells Yahoo Parenting. “The human brain really doesn’t stop developing until the age of 24. It’s on a continuum.”

So whether your kids are tots or teens, here are some striking similarities between them.

They struggle with impulse control: “The last part of the brain to develop is judgment, impulse regulation, and executive function—that’s the ability to monitor and control yourself,” notes Davis. So when your frustrated toddler suddenly yanks out a chunk of his sister’s hair or your teen blows off her homework to hang out with her friends, keep in mind they’re not trying to be difficult. Their brains are still under construction, so they should probably be surrounded by orange safety cones.

They have wild mood swings: That same lack of self-control also means both toddlers and adolescents are often ruled by their powerful emotions, switching from hysterical laughter to tears in a matter of minutes—and then back again. Parents, this is why wine was invented.

They have huge egos: “Young children are egocentric because they have a very limited perspective,” says Davis. “The world revolves around them and their families. Adolescents are far more capable of abstract reasoning, but they still have difficulty taking in another person’s perspective.” In other words, it’s all about them—we’re just living in their world.

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They court danger: Risk-taking isn’t just the hallmark of teenagers who drive too fast. Every parent of a toddler knows that the second you look away, your child will suddenly channel Spiderman as she attempts to scale a tall bookcase just to reach the specific book she wants.

They’re hell-bent on independence: Whether it’s driving themselves to the movies (teens) or trying to button their own jacket (toddlers), kids want to do it themselves with little input from you, thank you very much—and that’s a good thing. “Both toddlers and adolescents have a positive need for autonomy,” says Davis. “A toddler is beginning to develop a sense of identity—that can be sometimes seen when the child says ‘no.’ He’s really saying ‘I’m my own person here.’ In adolescence, we see individualization and the development of personal identity.”

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They crave structure (even as they fight it): Toddlers and teens may balk at and rebel against your rules, but they both need those boundaries to feel safe and secure.

They know how to push your buttons: “Adolescents will test limits, in the same ways that toddlers test limits,” says Davis. Teens can be especially skilled at saying something that cuts you right to the bone (“I hate you!”), while toddlers will look you right in the eye as they do an arm sweep across their highchair tray, sending the dinner you slaved over flying across the room. In both cases, they’re seeing what they can get away with, which goes back to the importance of boundaries to make them feel safe.

They sleep like hibernating bears. Both can easily log nine or more hours of sleep each night—and that’s healthy, particularly for teens who often don’t get enough shut-eye. Sleep is crucial for their developing brains and bodies, and it helps keep those stupefying mood swings in check.

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