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It Turns Out We Were Never Meant to Tolerate Our Insane Toddlers

Photograph by Twenty20

Have you ever noticed your toddler tending to act like, well, a toddler? Demanding, frustrating, emotional, and overall just entirely and completely illogical?

Yup. Welcome to toddlerhood.

But here's the thing: As frustrating and generally relentless the terrible twos and threes can be, the hardest part can be wondering if your toddler is actually completely irrational and off of his or her rocker or if they're actually just acting like a toddler should act.

As parents of toddlers, we try to rein those irrational behaviors in. We insist on sharing and timeouts and taming little toddler temper tantrums. We console and soothe and try, rather idiotically, to reason with a small version of ourselves about not sticking metal objects in outlets or impaling themselves on kitchen spatulas or putting on pants in sub-zero temperatures. In short, we drive ourselves crazy trying to control their crazy.

As it would turn out, our efforts are entirely unnecessary. Because we now have scientific proof that toddlers are just little jerks and the best—and I do mean the very scientific best—thing we can do for them is to back the eff off.

Don't believe me? A recent study published in Developmental Psychology found that helicopter parenting can actually hurt our children in the long run, because they never get to learn to do important things like regulate their own emotions.

The researchers looked at children at ages 2, 5, and 10, and compared how parenting through the early years affected how emotionally healthy the children were later—especially in environments where it's important to know how to regulate their behavior and emotional changes, such as in school. According to researchers, "overcontrolling parenting" when a child was 2 was "associated with poorer emotional and behavioral regulation at age 5."

As parents, less is sometimes more—especially in the early years of dealing with young children.

And what exactly is "overcontrolling parenting"? Well, surprisingly, the researchers' definition of overparenting doesn't sound too different from our typical American expectation of regular parenting. "Helicopter parenting behavior we saw included parents constantly guiding their child by telling him or her what to play with, how to play with a toy, how to clean up after playtime and being too strict or demanding," says lead author of the study, Nicole B. Perry, Ph.D.

Did you just get a flashback to the last time your toddler tried to have a playdate like I did? Cue me trying to get my kid to share or play with the baby doll and not throw it down the stairs or not smash another toy to pieces.

Now, you can take away whatever you want from this study, but what I took away was fairly simple: As parents, less is sometimes more—especially in the early years of dealing with young children. We are at an unprecedented time in parenting where we have never spent as much time one-on-one with toddlers and infants and preschoolers and, frankly, we don't know what to do with ourselves. So, we try to overparent and help them be "good" kids and, as a result, we may not only be making ourselves exhausted, we may be thwarting our kids' ability to learn to grow on their own as well.

So, if you're pulling your hair out at your toddler throwing yet another tantrum over putting on their own socks, you can be comforted in knowing that backing off a little as a parent really does benefit our kids, and that toddlers are meant to be little terrors because it helps them figure out how to deal with life.

It's OK to walk away, Mama. The kids will be just fine.

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