Mad Hatter Toddler Logic

Once upon a time I gave birth to this sweet baby. We cooed and giggled, and when she cried I could quickly console her by meeting her immediate needs. Then something started to change. Shortly after my daughter’s first birthday she began developing her first words and toddling. We were so excited and proud. “Our baby is a toddler!” we exclaimed. But then something happened… something DREADFUL… our baby actually became a toddler… temper tantrums and all. Who was this and where had our sweet, well tempered baby gone? Can I have her back? Because I am pretty sure this one HATES me!

It started out with simple things… She took my phone; I took it back. She wailed. She was hungry; I would heat up her milk. She threw the milk at me and screamed.

Then one day my daughter was playing with her new favorite toy — this toy is developmentally appropriate for 4-year olds (my daughter is 15 months) but it was a fun tool set that I knew my electrical engineering husband would love to play with too so I bought it anyway. Big mistake. HUGE. {Insert hand gestures and intonation of Julia Roberts in Pretty Women here.} With fierce determination and novice motor skills she attempted to fit the screws into the pieces that just would not fit. With vengeance for this evil toy, she flung the toy parts in the air, wailed, and threw herself to the ground. I tried to console her. Nope. I tried to give her a different toy. Nope. I tried to show her how to work the toy. Nope and 0 for 3. I pondered to myself, “THIS, I believe is a temper tantrum. But aren’t we too young for this to be starting???”  Apparently not, and now… NOW my daughter is Toddler Official –tantrums and all. Oh yay. 

You see, I kept trying to reason with my daughter. However, to my astonishment she had no interest in my problem solving skills. Where cooking play money in her kitchen pots makes sense and combs belong in tennis shoes, I pondered, “What is this unique world of toddler logic I have happened upon?”  

I witness splinters of logic. For example, she finds it HIL-arious when I wear a pot on my head. Why is this so funny to her? Because she does in fact know that a pot on the head is out of place and thereby funny. She understands a pot is used for stirring objects-even if said object being stirred is not only play food but also play money. This prompted me to investigate a little further. If I cannot comprehend how my daughter sees the world, how can I understand her seemingly illogical temper tantrums?

The toddler world of illogical logic is confounded by three important facets:

  • Toddlers live in a world of magic

    Ever feel like when playing with your tot you have entered upon an alter universe akin to a Mad Hatter Tea Party and a world filled with illogical logic? There might be a reason for this. A toddler lives in a world of magic. Our toddlers live in a mystical world full of possibilities and misunderstood constraints. To the toddler there is no logical reason the toy is not working properly, but rather the universe has conspired to not allow her something she deems inevitable.  Not only can it be extremely frustrating to not have a reason for these injustices, but seemingly normal events can be very frightful to the toddler as well. When I think about the way my daughter sees the world I envision myself as Alice in Wonderland (this movie has always terrified me) and how scary this unfamiliar magical place would be for me.

  • Their brains hurt! (So does mine…)

    Oh all those growing pains! A toddler’s prefrontal cortex does not even begin to develop until approximately preschool age. The prefrontal cortex will continue to develop well into adolescence and is responsible for executive function of the brain: logic, social, emotional regulation, planning, and decision making. I am not going to lie. I have been known to throw a temper tantrum or two even as an adult. However, as an adult, when I escalate to this point, I take a deep breath, and talk myself down. “I am sure this person in the GIANT black truck did not intentionally cut me off the road nearly killing me and my daughter. No one does this intentionally. They didn’t see me, and I know I have accidentally done the same thing to someone else at some point (ahem possibly yesterday).” Thank you prefrontal cortex for assisting me with my road rage this evening!  However, my daughter’s literally mushy brain is not capable of this. For her, in a nutshell, this toy must die because it does not work. She has toy-rage, and only time will release her from it.

  • Language

    So here we are.. a new universe we are still trying to navigate daily, a mushy brain unable to regulate these emotions, and a lack of language acquisition to explain their most recent injustice.  In sum, life is TOUGH! My daughter knows how to express about three words verbally and a few more in sign, not exactly enough language to explain to me that her toy is not working properly.  Of course this will be frustrating and potentially escalate into a full blown head throwing, body arching temper tantrum.

So what can we do about it? Work through whichever temper tantrum strategy works best for you and YOUR family — You ARE doing a fabulous job! Also, while I am by no means an early childhood expert, I do have a tiny little bit of experience in being a human, and what I do know from being a human is a dose of empathy can go a long way for anyone — ESPECIALLY our tiny people that are trying to navigate this VERY confusing world.

So put yourself in your toddler’s shoes and remember no matter how frustrating it is for you, it is even harder for them. Give them a hug, and say “I get it. Life is hard, buddy. I am here. I love you.” 

And when they kick you and scream at you while you embrace them with love, I will give you a virtual hug, and remind you from mom to mom “I get it. It’s so hard sometimes. You are amazing.” 


  1. Dont know if its just me or not, but I cant even concentrate on the article because all I can do is worry about the baby in the photo eating that paint and crying because it hurts going down and tastes bad. Breaks my heart!


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