Improving my Teaching Practice

Testing Behavior, Asking for help and How we respond


I know I post A LOT about staying unruffled with toddlers and how I’m always trying to keep my cool. This is by far the hardest part of my job. I know that toddlers test the people they have the strongest connection with, I know it’s a sign of feeling safe, I know that testing is a way of asking for help but I still lose it sometimes.

I know that when a toddler tests you, you should stay calm and collected because a big reactions is sometimes what they are trying to get out of you. Making an adult turn red, use a big loud voice and move fast is probably a pretty exciting event for a toddler.

So last week there was a child in my class who was doing a lot of testing when I was reading with a few other children. I was the only teacher in the room and this child started pushing all of the kitchen materials off of the small table next to the kitchen. I asked the child to pick up the materials and they wouldn’t so I helped. I held the child’s hands and we picked up everything that was on the floor. Then I went back to reading and the testing behavior started once more. The child knocked everything off of the kitchen table AGAIN! And this time I did not help pick up because I figured that is what they were going for. I should have known right then that this child was asking for my attention and closeness but it didn’t even cross my mind. Then the child threw a block in my direction and it hit me. I was already losing it so I yelled “ouch” really loud, louder than I had expected, I guess it hurt more than I thought and I was madder than I had thought. The child looked at me and started laughing. I spoke to the child firmly (and not so loud) and right after this all happened everything hit me at once. I had reacted in the exact opposite way that I should have and that this child was asking for my attention or for me to be close or to sit and read the book with us.

Toddlers will always test adults and it’s not about them changing their behavior to fit our needs it’s about US adapting to their way of asking for our help, uncovering their wishes and supporting them in discovering different ways to ask. I might lose my cool sometimes and not be pleased with my responses but I’m thankful that right after an event like this has happened I am able to think about what I should have done. This just means that one day these thoughts will get to my brain before I yell, instead of right after.

3 thoughts on “Testing Behavior, Asking for help and How we respond

  1. We have to retrain our brains, unless we were raised in this way! (I was NOT!) it never ceases to amaze me how hard wired punishment is in our brains. I had 2 awesome staff, one has been with me 7 years, the other 10, and I still hear punishment come out instead of seeking the goal of the behavior when we are stressed.
    I find this very helpful. We have it hung up at the school,, and it helps me to respond in a, possibly, more appropriate way!


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