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5 Traits We Admire in Adults But Are The Worst in Toddlers

Photograph by Getty Images

Tantrum. Terrible. Tyrant. Toddler.

These four words are connected by more than simple alliteration. Toddlers are, in fact, terrible tantruming tyrants.

Before someone accuses me of ganging up on these poor, innocent, tiny humans, please know this: I completely understand that they can’t help it. They cannot help that they are such a-holes.

Toddlers experience rapidly accelerating physical development with approximately zero accompanying rationality. And the only way that they can learn about things like cause and effect and social expectations and, you know, the world is by exploring their surroundings like a drunk King Kong on steroids.

I’ve parented three such monsters. I also never loved that stage in parenting. But while I was deep in the toddler trenches, I always tried to remind myself of the following: All the things that annoy me about my toddler will make me proud once they are adults.

I still think that’s true.

Stick him in a boardroom someday. He’ll do just fine.

What is terrible about toddlers will, one day, make them terrific—if only they (and their parents) can learn how to channel these traits properly. Here's how to look at your toddler's traits differently.

1. Kid with a stubborn streak

When a toddler plants themselves belly-down in the middle of the grocery store and refuses to budge until they’ve spilled a liter of tears onto the floor, we might describe them as “stubborn” or “strong-willed.” (Or “ruining my resolve to take them to the store again.”)

But that tenacity is admirable. At least from afar.

Given the right training, that toddler might one day transform their superhuman stubbornness into perseverance. They’ll get that scholarship. They’ll go for that job. They’ll run that marathon. They'll hold out for a better healthcare bill.

And you will say, “I’ve always known they had it in them ever since they were a (stubborn, infuriating) toddler!”

2. Picky about…well, everything

What you have is a person who is decisive. There’s no wishy-washy waffling here. That kid knows what he wants—even if what he wants is blueberries on Monday and no blueberries ever again you wretched parent, don’t even let them touch his plate or the plate next to his on Tuesday.

Stick him in a boardroom someday. He’ll do just fine.

3. Relentless

But when they’re grown up, you can call them motivated.

Let’s hope they never stop being curious about the world around them.

Hear me out. That kid who just won’t give up? Who literally tries to fit the square peg in the round hole and erupts into red-faced rage when the peg refuses to do her bidding?

She'll grow up to be an engineer or policy wonk or community health provider whose relentless motivation pushes her to solve problems like a boss.

4. You call your child “spirited” in front of company, but deep down inside you call them hyper AF

I know a toddler who once grabbed a syringe out of a nurse’s hand while she was giving him a vaccine injection and then scraped the needle all the way down his thigh.

The kid was beside himself. The parent was mortified. And the pediatrician’s office instituted a “Parent Must Restrain the Child’s Arms during Vaccines, Especially Toddlers, They Are The Worst” rule.

But that kid has some chutzpah. Channel it, little buddy. Use that energy not for needle-stabbing but for running a non-profit organization or starting your own clothing line once you are an adult. That way, your parents will have a “but he turned out alright” story to accompany the “even though he stabbed himself with a syringe” story.

5. Curiosity killed the cat, and it can certainly kill a toddler

(And for those of you who have cats, how many times have you had to say, “No touching the cat’s butt!”?)

Toddlers learn through exploration, but that exploration can be dangerous—and quite literally so. All the climbing, the sticking things in their mouths, the peeking, the pulling, the leaping before they look. It’s a wonder that parents of toddlers aren’t all grey-haired by the time their children turn 3.

But there is a bright side to all of this lethal curiosity. As children age, they do get smarter. They develop a greater sense of risk and time management. They learn lessons and apply them to future events.

Their curiosity becomes less deadly and more inspiring.

Let’s hope they never stop being curious about the world around them.

Just as long as that curiosity stops extending to the cat’s butt.

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