Why Your Youngest Kid Can Trigger Your Anger the Most … and what to do about it!


Do you overreact to your youngest child? Even though you know that they are just learning, do you find yourself yelling or getting upset more easily? There’s a reason for that.


We all know that toddlers and preschoolers are new here. They are just learning the ropes. Heck, we could still count their age in months if we wanted to! But, for some reason, they’re also the first to send us over the edge. Whether it’s biting, hitting, touching things we’ve asked them not to, throwing, or ignoring us – all of the above trigger us to yell, bat them away or issue a timeout.

This is especially true for three year olds. They maybe on the cusp of being able to understand and do what we ask but rarely do they ever do it. A simple request to go get their shoes usually results in twirling around the living room, running upstairs or hiding under the table. (Or is that just my 3yo?!)

Even our babies can send us into tears! Yet, our older kids don’t have the same effect on us anymore. Is it because they usually follow our directions? Probably not. Is it because they don’t have challenging behavior. Nope.

We can’t reason with our younger kids the way that we do with our older ones. Even if my 9yo runs away laughing when I ask her to get her shoes on – I know that I can tell her we need to leave and she’ll understand. She knows how to change direction even when my desires impede on hers. She has self-regulation and control skills that my 3yo does not.

With our youngest kids we are often required to be hyper vigilant. I know that I can’t leave out anything that I wouldn’t want my 3yo to destroy. Her dad can’t leave out his good paintbrushes or leave his computer unlocked – because she won’t understand how to treat the brush gently or not press all the buttons on the keyboard. She isn’t ready for that kind of self-control. She isn’t able to discern the difference between HER paintbrushes – which she can smoosh and press down with as hard as she wants – and daddy’s brushes that cost a bazillion dollars.

The ability to REASON with our kids is a giant milestone. A milestone that we sometimes try to push too soon. And this is the reason that our youngest kids trigger us so much.

It is our expectation that they are able to comprehend, stop themselves, think of others and act accordingly. This set of skills is not fully developed until age 25! Around ages 6-8, self-control and regulation can be more readily expected. Before that, we are setting ourselves up to be disappointed and angry!

Even though I know the research, I still get suckered in by this. I bet you do too. And that’s because the kids are tricky. At times they seem perfectly capable of self-control – we see it with our own eyes. Our 2yo passes up the plate of cooling cookies fresh from the oven. When we tell our baby ‘no biting’ she stops. Our 4yo colors only on the paper – and not the table – 4 out of every 5 times he draws pictures.

And while this can lead us to begin expecting that same behavior every time – let’s try to look at it a different way.

When you’re learning an instrument you can’t just pick it up and go. In fact, your learning isn’t linear. One day you can play all of that really hard song and the next day you get tripped up halfway through. You keep practicing and eventually you can play the song with the expectation that you’ll nail it almost every time. But it takes a lot of time and a lot of practice to get there.

Same for our kids. Practice and time is what they need – not a lofty expectation of mastery. It helps to know how long self-control really takes to develop. It also helps to know that you aren’t just repeating yourself for fun! Kids are actually learning and assimilating the information – it just takes a lot of time because these are some pretty complex tasks were talking about.

If you want to stop being triggered by your youngest child so much you’re going to have to give up the expectation for self-control/obedience and start looking at how their developing brain works. Look at each example of ‘not listening’ and see it for the practice and preparation that it is!

What behavior sets YOU off the most? How do your expectations change the way you react?

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