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Yes, toddlers and teens are developmentally similar. And finally, it all makes sense.

It wasn’t until I had my own children that I drew the similarities between pre-teenagers and teenagers with toddlers. But once I did, it was a connection that could not be undone.

When I was a teacher (before having my own children), I observed adolescents daily. I witnessed their confidence when stating an opinion as if it was a fact – ‘Tu Pac is still alive’, ‘Drop Bears are a real thing’, and ‘there is no point in learning English’. All of these statements made with complete conviction.

I tried to squash arguments about why it was imperative three girls had to go to the toilet together right after lunch or why they must have access to their mobile phone while completing an assessment. And I ignored the eye rolls, grunts, slamming of chairs, pencil cases, doors and the like when I said no to these requests.

Is there a ‘right’ way to tell your teen it’s time they start wearing deodorant? We discuss, on our parenting podcast. Post continues after audio.

Then when my first daughter reached toddler-hood, it was like déjà vu. While on a play date, I was mentally transported back into the classroom as I watched the tantrums, feet stamping and strong opinions of a group of toddlers as they communicated, typified by my own daughter.

“I need chocolate,” my daughter would say. “No, you ‘want’ chocolate Addi and no, not today,” I would respond. This would be followed by the throwing of a literal dummy across the café and the ear piercing screaming of, “I NEEEEEED CHOCOLATE!”

But why is it that a three-year-old and a 13-year-old can act in such similar ways? Well the similarities all come down to their natural developmental progression through different life stages Clinical Psychologist, Dr Judith Locke, tells Mamamia. 

“It can easily look like they are similar because at both ages, they might seem to be constantly challenging you,” she said.

“Teens and toddlers are both transitioning into different stages of life. Of course when they transition from one stage to another – then their behaviour is also changing.”

raising a teenager
"It can easily look like they are similar because at both ages, they might seem to be constantly challenging you." Image: Getty.

"They might respond differently to parents and trying to become more of their own person with more control over their world - and that mean that they start to challenge you more than they did previously.

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"This is especially evident in toddler and teenage years. Both are trying to establish more independence, having and sharing their own opinions is a part of this."

In order to do this, toddlers display often less than ideal behaviour.

“Toddlers don’t have as many communication skills so instead of the eye roll to show they disagree, they might do a much more physical display such as kicking and screaming,” Dr Locke says.

So this explains my daughter’s chocolate tantrum and the many others that followed. But what about teens? They have much more established communication skills and have a far greater knowledge of appropriate behaviour, so why do they act the same?

For pre-teens and teens, the reason their behaviour is so similar comes down to ‘mental hijacking’ that is out of their control. Yep, we can’t even blame them (well not entirely at least).

Parents of toddlers translated. Post continues after video. 

“The kind of sensible part of the brain, the frontal lobes, are not fully formed yet in teens and not at least until they are in their early to mid-twenties," Dr Locke says.

"This means they are not going to see the common sense in not being allowed to go to the mid-week party and are much more likely to argue tooth and nail against what they see as a pointless ’no' from you."

So thanks to mental development parents have years… yes, years to enjoy this behaviour.

Dr Locke also encourages parents to be proactive and establish “self-regulation of their [toddler’s] behaviour. And to not just give into manufactured rewards or offering distraction.”

Doing these things early will help at the next stage when they face the pre-teen/teenage transition stage.

Tantrums, tears and strong opinions - whether you are the parent of a toddler or a teen, as it turns out is all the same.

Do you think that toddlers and teens act similar? What has your experience been like? Tell us in the comments section below.

Shona Hendley is a freelance writer from Victoria. An ex secondary school teacher, Shona has a strong interest in education. She is an animal lover and advocate, with a morbid fascination for true crime and horror movies. Shona is usually busy writing and raising her children: three goats, two cats and two humans. You can follow her on Instagram

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