Toddlers aren’t ‘bad’—they’re little scientists and explorers!

When your tot pushes your buttons, imagine her in a tiny white lab coat taking notes on her experiment—on you.

Toddlers aren’t ‘bad’—they’re little scientists and explorers!

Much of what looks like “bad" behavior is really just exploration and experimentation. Kids are naturally curious and it's their job to figure out how the world works and how to get what they want or need.

Like scientists, they do “experiments."

In my view, these “experiments" are in two primary domains: the natural world and the social world.

The natural world includes what adults generally think of as physics (the water will spill if you invert an open cup), chemistry (when you pour milk into Mom's beer it makes an interesting mixture), civil engineering(when you flush Dad's ring down the toilet it disappears and does not return),and so on.


Think of the world from your child's perspective: If you weren't yet familiar with gravity, you might also keep dropping or pouring things to see if they will go down every time. Kids really do experience the world in a different way than adults.

The second domain—the social world—is where the action really is. Experiments in the social world focus on the important people in children's lives: parents, siblings, family members, caregivers, and teachers.

Kids need to know how each of these people work and how to get what they need or want from them: love, affection, five more minutes at the playground, ice cream, screen time, privacy, and so on.

The answer to these critical questions (How do you work? What happens if I ____?How do I get ___ from you?) varies from person to person. To get the answers, kids must do“experiments" on us, experiments we often think of as “testing."

When your child appears to be misbehaving, I encourage you to imagine her wearing a tiny white lab coat and taking notes about the results of her experiment (on you) in an imaginary lab notebook:

“When I throw a tantrum in public, I'm more likely to get what I want than if I do the same at home. Interesting…"

If what we want kids to know about us is that we mean what we say, that we can be relied on to do what we say we're going to do, that we are fair and reasonable, and so on, then we need to teach them this through our daily interactions with them.

Seeing our children's behavior through this lens—as an experiment aimed at getting useful information about how people and the world work—can also help us not to take it personally when they push our buttons or ignore us.

Try this: The next time you find yourself dealing with your child's challenging behavior, change your lens to see it as an experiment intended to get useful information about how things work (in the world or in your family) and respond accordingly.

Ask yourself this crucial question: “What do I want my kids to know about me?"

Write down two or three words (e.g., “kind," “patient," “fun," “reasonable,"“centered," “reliable") that you would like your children to think of when they think of you.

Now try to see yourself from your children's perspective. How might they view you?Do those qualities match the ones you would like for them to associate with you?

For each word that you choose above, write down two or three specific behaviors relevant to your life that would clearly demonstrate those qualities to your kids in your regular interactions with them and others.

Here's an example for “reliable."


1. When my daughter asks me to play with her, and I tell her that I will in one minute, I will stop what I'm doing in one minute and follow through on that commitment.

2. I will not tell my kids that we will go to the movies (or the park, or whatever) next weekend unless I am willing and able to make that happen.

3. When my son wants to show me the new trick he learned in skateboarding, I will not say, “Sure, after I finish this report!" without also making a note to remind myself to follow up with him later that day.

The final step is to implement those new behaviors purposefully in your daily life.

Pick one specific behavior per week, and put it into practice. Add a new one each week until these behaviors become part of your regular way of interacting with your kids.

Excerpted from What Great Parents Do: 75 SimpleStrategies for Raising Kids Who Thrive by Erica Reischer, Ph.D. © 2016by Erica Reischer. Tarcher Perigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

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    These challenges from Nike PLAYlist are exactly what my child needs to stay active

    Plus a fall family bucket list to keep everyone moving all season long.

    While it's hard to name anything that the pandemic hasn't affected, one thing that is constantly on my mind is how to keep my family active despite spending more time indoors. Normally, this time of year would be spent at dance and gymnastics lessons, meeting up with friends for games and field trips, and long afternoon playdates where we can all let off a little steam. Instead, we find ourselves inside more often than ever before—and facing down a long winter of a lot more of the same.

    I started to search for an outlet that would get my girls moving safely while we social distance, but at first I didn't find a lot of solutions. Online videos either weren't terribly engaging for my active kids, or the messaging wasn't as positive around the power of movement as I would like. Then I found the Nike PLAYlist.

    I always knew that Nike could get me moving, but I was so impressed to discover this simple resource for parents. PLAYlist is an episodic sports show on YouTube that's made for kids and designed to teach them the power of expressing themselves through movement. The enthusiastic kid hosts immediately captured my daughter's attention, and I love how the physical activity is organically incorporated in fun activities without ever being specifically called out as anything other than play. For example, this segment where the kids turn yoga into a game of Paper Scissors Rock? Totally genius. The challenges from #TheReplays even get my husband and me moving more when our daughter turns it into a friendly family competition. (Plus, I love the play-inspired sportswear made just for kids!)

    My daughter loves the simple Shake Ups at the beginning of the episode and is usually hopping off the couch to jump, dance and play within seconds. One of her favorites is this Sock Flinger Shake Up activity from the Nike PLAYlist that's easy for me to get in on too. Even after we've put away the tablet, the show inspires her to create her own challenges throughout the day.

    The best part? The episodes are all under 5 minutes, so they're easy to sprinkle throughout the day whenever we need to work out some wiggles (without adding a lot of screen time to our schedule).

    Whether you're looking for simple alternatives to P.E. and sports or simply need fun ways to help your child burn off energy after a day of socially distanced school, Nike's PLAYlist is a fun, kid-friendly way to get everyone moving.

    Need more movement inspiration for fall? Here are 5 ways my family is getting up and getting active this season:

    1. Go apple picking.

    Truly, it doesn't really feel like fall until we've picked our first apple. (Or had our first bite of apple cider donut!) Need to burn off that extra cinnamon-sugar energy? Declare a quick relay race up the orchard aisle—winner gets first to pick of apples at home.

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    To wear: Suit up your little one in comfort with this Baby Full Zip Coverall so you're ready for whatever adventures the day brings.

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    Scavenger hunts are one of my favorite ways to keep my daughter preoccupied all year long. We love to get outside and search for acorns, leaves and pinecones as part of our homeschool, but it's also just a great way to get her exercising those gross motor skills whenever the wiggles start to build up.

    To wear: It's not truly fall until you break out a hoodie. This cozy Therma Elite Kids Hoodie features a mesh overlay to release heat while your child plays.

    4. Have a touch-football game.

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    To wear: From impromptu games of tag to running through our favorite trails, these kids' Nike Air Zoom Speed running shoes are made to cover ground all season long.

    5. Create an indoor obstacle course.

    Pretending the floor is lava was just the beginning. See how elaborate your personal course can get, from jumping on the couch to rolling under the coffee table to hopping down the hallway on one foot.

    To wear: These ready-for-any-activity Dri-FIT Tempo Shorts are perfect for crawling, hopping and racing—and cuddling up when it's time to rest.

    This article was sponsored by Nike. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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